Mount Vernon really has changed, and unfortunately, not for the better. I’m talking about in the past four years, and not just since I left for college and Pittsburgh twenty-three years ago this week. As some of you may know, I was threatened the week of my sister’s death and funeral by a young thug because I stopped him from choking his girlfriend in front of me and her three-year-old daughter.
That’s not a completely accurate description. I yelled “Hey! Stop!” as I ran toward the side gate of 616. I saw a short, nappy-headed, unkempt-corn-rowed-haired, light-skinned thug. At first, he was yelling, “Get out the godd**m car you B***H” at a young woman in a blue older-modeled Toyota Camry, punching his fists on the driver’s side window at the same time. Then, when she did get out, she grabbed her three or four-year-old daughter and attempted to get toward the side gate. The fool then pushed her up against the back right side of the car and proceeded to wrap his hands around the young woman’s neck, as if no one else was around.
I was on the telephone with my father, talking to him about the rough week it had been, standing outside to get away from folks for a moment or two, staring across the gates and driveway to the five-story red-brick sister complex 630 East Lincoln when I witnessed this episode of domestic violence. After I yelled and distracted the dumb ass, the young woman ran inside with her daughter. Then the short butt attempted to run up on me, telling me to “mind your own godd**m bisness, you stupid f**k!” He tried to get in my face, but at five-foot-four, he was much too short to intimidate me with rage. I told him if he took another step, that I’d call the cops. He did, and then I dialed 911.
“Oh, you think your life’s miserable now! It just got a whole lot worse for you and your family. And for what? You willing to risk your life for her? For a b***h?,” the stupid ass said as he gradually backed out of the yard and then outside the 616 gate. Apparently he wasn’t as stupid as he looked, as he kept moving farther away while yelling “I ain’t goin’ nowhere, you stupid f**k!” Finally, I said something. “Yeah, I’m a stupid f**k. You and your homies could beat me up, kill me, put me out of my misery. But I’m not the one walking away, you are!” Mr. Thuggish Ruggish Bone then disappeared.
There were numerous other reminders that what was once my hometown would never be again. The fact that neighborhoods that were once affluent White ones were now a mixture of White, African American and Latino, and weren’t so affluent anymore. The closings of Athena’s and Baskin-Robbins and other businesses in once ritzy Fleetwood, the rundown sense that I saw in faces Black and White and Brown all during that week.
Other parts of the city had long succumbed to poverty, crime and neglect, but with the middle class regardless of race in full flight, the uphill battle for a thriving bedroom suburb was now an unorganized retreat, with carnage all along the way. The newest thing I saw in Mount Vernon during my midsummer night and day-mare was the track behind Mount Vernon High School and the construction crew working on a new wall for the southwest corner of the building.
I know that a fair number of my Mount Vernon-based or nostalgic readers will think me biased, ungrateful even for having grown up in a town that they themselves found enriching and enjoyable. If that is the case, then that’s wonderful. Your Mount Vernon wasn’t the one I experienced, and “your blues ain’t like mine” (as the late Bebe Moore Campbell would say), sorry to say.
Aside from the atypical experience of dealing with the death of my sister, the Mount Vernon I grew up with and the one I witnessed last month were one and the same. My time growing up there included unpleasant moments with young punks and thugs, far too much rage and violence and poverty for me to stick around after high school. The difference now is, the city as a whole has become a reflection of my worst experiences, and not a “city on the move.” Silver linings like Ben Gordon or Denzel Washington or not, anyone who refuses to acknowledge that this is the reality for most living in Mount Vernon should tune into a 70s station and look up Michael McDonald for advice on foolishness and wisdom.