Book Review: Home Girl: Building a dream house on a lawless block, pt 2

See part 1 here.
One chapter says it well, “Nice Bones, Rotten Organs”. Besides the drug trade going on outside the author’s house the other main drama of the book is the renovation of the house she bought in Harlem. I have to say I’ve been lucky. I found one main contractor for the big stuff and I have stuck with him and it has been a good relationship. The author, Judith Matloff, sadly has a multi-ethnic, multi-skilled, multi-competent, crew tearing her house apart at any one moment. Old houses are like old people, they are charming but they do have problems that come with age, and poor maintenance. Part way through fixing the place up she calls in some experts who come up with a laundry list of things that needed addressing.
I’m also lucky in that I got to live in my house long enough to have a clue of what it needed and how I wanted to live in it, before taking on major renovations. I know, for me, that my bedroom only needs to be functional, and not some oasis or retreat from the world. And then there are a bunch of things that I wanted to customize to the way I live and want to live (radiators, claw foot tub, Corian counter tops, etc), that no developer could ever foresee. But enough about me.
The second major theme is the business of drug dealing and it is a business. It confirms Sudhir Venkatesh’s work in looking at the drug dealing that goes on in the streets of Chicago, NYC and DC as a business with a hierarchy. In Gang Leader for a Day, the manager of the drug trade was J.T., in this book it is Miguel. Our street has one too, and so reading Matloff’s and Venkatesh’s experiences, re-affirms what I am (thankfully) seeing less of, on my street each year. Managers, main drug leaders, whatever tend to be a little older (in their 20s or early 30s) and keep their foot soldiers, the younger men selling, running, looking out, etc in line. A manger’s primary interest is to move product with as little interruption as possible. Which on the good side means they are not interested in starting up turf wars or any other activity that would bring greater police presence. This is illustrated (in a chapter I’m currently at a loss to find), when the author is very pregnant, is threatened by a female crackhead and her boyfriend on the author’s front stoop. She calls the cops, however Miguel lets it be known that if she had just informed him, instead of calling the cops (bad for business) he would have taken care of it.
I know it sounds strange, but in these situations it is not unusual to work out some sort of ‘peace’ with the dealers, while at the same time battling the drug trade through other channels. As a middle class (white