Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Avenue B Was The Place To Be

I lived on Avenue B and 3rd Street during the heroin epidemic in New York City. That intersection was ground zero for junkies, dealers and the network of watchers, carriers, and enforcers that facilitated this lucrative and soul-destroying business.

I had no air-conditioning so kept the windows ajar from April to October. Gunshots rang most nights – and days – for trade was brisk and competition fierce.

I have since been to every red state in the union - all quite tame places in comparison to the Lower East Side. I also recorded two albums in a studio down the road from the massacre of the innocents in Newtown, CT so am familiar with the area.

In my years of living in the battleground of the Lower East Side, I never carried a gun – or knife. Very few residents did. Why not?

Well, it was dangerous; since I was always under the threat of burglary or assault my weapon could be used against me.

One hot summer night a junkie stuck a bayonet in my throat. While negotiating the exchange of my few dollars, his hand shook as he gave me the once-over for any bulges that might betray a weapon. He was faced with the existential choice of what to do if I was “carrying.”

He would have had to disable me so that I wouldn’t have been able to shoot him or give chase with my own knife.

It was a great lesson – weapons kill – especially your own.

What in the name of God was that unfortunate woman, Nancy Lanza, doing with such an arsenal of lethal, semi-automatic weapons?

She was a gun-enthusiast, one hears. She liked to go to the shooting range – with and without her children. Fair enough. But did she ever give thought to the fact that her legal cache could lead to the deaths of so many others?

We faced that choice every day on Avenue B. Any weapon we chose to keep could be used upon us – and others.

The Bill of Rights does grant the right to bear arms. It is a fine document, though introduced by some men who owned other humans and considered their wives and sisters second-class citizens.

But their main aim was to encourage the citizenry to keep arms handy so that they could be summoned quickly into militias; thus, there would be no need to keep an expensive standing army that might subvert their nascent flawed democracy.

They were wise in many ways. They knew that armies eat up a nation’s resources. They must be turning in their graves at the cost of America’s vast military-industrial complex. I daresay they wouldn’t rest much either if they knew there would come a time when up to 300 million weapons would be rattling around their United States of America.

I wrote somewhat of a similar column after the massacre in the Colorado movie theatre. Recent as that was, I was less optimistic of any “meaningful” change. But I think something broke in this country with the slaughter of these children – just as it did in Ireland when the Catholic Church was seen to protect those who ruined their children’s lives on an institutional basis.

Will we allow this tragic moment in Newtown to pass without seeking to halt the current, and often casual, violence that we take for granted in this country?

Will we allow this moment to pass without politicizing it? For that’s what it will take to drag it screaming into the halls of power – local and national.

We have a choice – just as we had on Avenue B & 3rd. We can hound our representatives and let them know that they will not get our votes or money if they do not ban assault rifles, high-capacity ammunition clips, and institute thorough background checks on all who wish to buy weapons including those by transactions with “occasional sellers” at gun shows and over the internet.

Or I can just copy this column and change the names and locations when the next atrocity takes place – and rest assured it won’t be long in coming.

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