I walked out on my balcony last night, with my camera in hand and lens cap typically misplaced. I was expecting to see the fireworks, given that I live on 8th Street, directly in the bend of the East River, a Yankee pitcher’s arm from the FDR.
The explosions began in earnest, sonic booms cascading as I pushed out of the air-conditioning, my feet moving across the warm Astro-Turf of my small balcony to the railing. Yet, it wasn’t to be. I hadn’t planned properly. I could only see the illuminated smoke, first a haze of pink, then a cartoon-sinister puff of green.
A sign of the times, perhaps, that the city approved a 10-story new apartment build directly across from ours. There are no more views of the fireworks now.
A 2-bedroom will sucker-punch you with an $899,000 price tag, for less than 1,000 square feet. You don’t even get a balcony for that.
Immediately I was hit with another sign of the times––much more impressionable than Macys’ pyrotechnics.
The windows in the Penthouse of the building across from me are now draped in two Confederate flags and one German Iron Cross. While the German Iron Cross has many meanings, when you flank it with controversial remnants of the Confederacy, the Neo-Nazi sentiment rings pretty clear.
However, then, in the corners, you’ll also spot smaller flags of Israel.
Cut to today, and I’m investigating the entire meaning with the building’s management team. They requested all of these be removed, but they have no legal right to enforce it.
In an email, the renter expressed his views to the owners, claiming his nationalist feelings in a long rant. He’s installed the Israeli flags, he says, as a protest to a bombing in Israel in recent times.
When I lay down in my bed last night and gazed out, amid the soundtrack of cheap Black Cats and Roman Candles set off by drunken revelers in the road, there they were, these gleaming, 8-foot-high, scarlet reminders that the times have changed.
Below the flags and 400 feet across the street from my apartment window, you hit The Jacob Riis Houses––one of Manhattan’s large projects that serves as home to nearly 9,000 people. The majority of my neighbors living in the livid glow of these flags are black.
The Jacob Riis Houses were constructed in 1949, and they extend from 6th street to 13th, a last vestige of an affordable rent option for struggling families––an anchor for those without expendable income on a seesaw that begs to tip towards the hipster other-half of the current East Village.
A block of 19 identical, shabby buildings with windows like dark teeth, named for a famed photographer, who showed the world How the Other Half Lives more than a century ago.
The children of these conditions now fall asleep under the rouge illumination of hate, just as I do.
This backwards olive branch, this dead dove, this perpetual, screaming, political rant that goes on with the light switch every night, is spoken loudly through the massive, silent windows.
It’s tough for me to write lately. I’ve been dulled. Desensitized. Demoralized. I’ve struggled to find the ire lately.
My fury in February was warm in my gut. Those seemingly centuries-ago days, when President Trump declared a travel ban on Muslims––and I felt a hot, scared rage in learning a woman had swallowed a handful of pills in the terminal in JFK, seeking death before returning to the horror she’d only just managed to escape.
The stories of injustice, of us sliding backwards as a collective community, of hate being handed a microphone, of being able to shove the Prime Minister of Montenegro out of the way after you fire the FBI director, of lying about armadas approaching North Korea and of women bleeding from facelifts … they just land on me like last-round punches in a prizefight I’m not fit enough to endure.
I stood on my balcony on July 4th to watch the fireworks, feeling heavy and tired, too frustrated to really go out with sparklers and excitement for a country I now view like a wayward juvenile delinquent.
And while I couldn’t see the fireworks because of the brand-new, million-dollar-per-unit luxury condo in my way, I could see the vestiges of past hate alive and finding purchase once more.
It hurts my heart most tonight that last year, those flags were not there.
Last year, the people who hung these inflammatory curtains felt marginalized.
Last year, these symbols were something I most connected with through old stories recounted by my Mississippi grandmother, of the Klan in the cotton. Stories of my grandfather, who was among the first battalion in to liberate the concentration camps at Dachau.
If you don’t think President Trump’s refusal to denounce David Duke’s support, matters … if you feel the hate groups who marched to his rallies were fringe … I’d like to have you over for a drink.
We can sit out on my balcony in the warm night air, under the glow of these symbols that flutter in this new America.
Please bring whiskey.
Because these days … this particular Fourth of July … I feel I need it most.