Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back in the Matrix

The new job is going well. Here I am showcasing three of the many wonderful perks: the iMac digicam and Photo Booth program, free bottled bevs and company-wide shared iTunes.

The people are great and the work is interesting and creative and fun. For instance, last week I researched and wrote a 1500-word essay about shape-shifters that will be published in an 11th grade educational workbook. Something I didn't know before last week: a few historians theorize that werewolf and vampire legends arose as explanations for serial and mass murders in the olden days. Clearly this is information that children in public schools need to know and I'm glad to provide it for them.

In other news, the stork has been busy this summer. Has everyone I know given birth in the last two months? Yes. Stay tuned for a baby round-up. No babies can escape the incredible reach of my magical lariat!

And last, but certainly not least, a summer crime update update: Jill--she of the improbable-but-accurate kinship association, common-law-step-sister-in-law (I'm hers too)--told me last night that someone she knows was attacked for sport a block from my house last week and nearly beaten to death. Attackers put him in intensive care, smashed his skull and face and didn't take his wallet. He's out of the ICU now, but his jaw is wired shut and he never wants to leave his house again.

Dear reader, I have lived in St. Louis and Jersey City and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I've traveled all over the world, including some of the most crime-ridden parts of Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam and Thailand. I've never felt as unsafe as I feel in Iowa City right now. Today, after work, I'm going to buy some pepper spray. Seriously. This is fucking ridiculous. Also, Iowa City police force: yeah, um, I know arresting 19 year-olds downtown for drunk walking is like, really profitable, but people are being brutalized in my neighborhood. Is it really so much to ask for JUST ONE BEAT COP TO PATROL MY EFFING STREET BEFORE SOMEONE GETS MURDERED? Thank you. (and p.s. yes, I realize I'm turning my voice to the heavens here, but a friend and I are planning to write a letter to the editor this week about the recent crime wave and the utter lack of interest on the part of the city to protect its citizens because everyone is too busy playing in loco parentis to the college students. Also, boo college students!)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trouble in River City: A Summer Crime Update

Iowa City likes to bill itself as “the River City” which--considering that we don’t live on the Mississippi or Missouri, but rather the small (though lovely) Iowa River--is a little piece of Midwestern hubris. Still, it’s a nice catchphrase that invokes the quiet, peaceful, bucolic town that Iowa City usually is. Lately, however, “River City” is a woefully inadequate slogan for a friendly town that seems to have suddenly become crazed with Crime Fever. It’s like—you know how trucker hats are just catching on out here and the radio stations and bars still play Will Smith on heavy rotation? Well, I guess it’s sort of the same with sex assaults and arson.

This summer, my historic Northside Neighborhood has been haunted by a mystery groper who knocks women over, pins them down and fondles their business. He is described as a white male, about 5’8, usually wearing a baseball cap, which helpfully describes almost everyone who lives in the state of Iowa. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a couple of weeks ago, several blocks away, at ten in the morning, four houses caught fire at the same time and burned to a crisp. Cops are calling the fires, ahem, “suspicious.”

Luckily, so far I’ve avoided a run-in with the perv. But imagine my surprise last night, when, returning home late from the state fair, Brad and I turned the corner for home and almost ran headlong into a flaming, exploding van that was parked on our street. We beat the fire trucks who were already on their way (we were told after calling 911) and most of the neighbors who had apparently written off the first few smaller explosions to drunken college kids with leftover fireworks. For a few minutes, it was just me and Brad and a towering inferno blocking our entrance to the back alley where we park. It was actually quite breathtaking. I didn’t get a picture even with my cell phone, I was so entranced by the thing. Also: worried that if I turned away from the wheel even for a second we’d be tomorrow’s headlines--Couple Decapitated By Burning Shrapnel. I kept my foot on the brake and the car in reverse and we watched the thing blow it’s gas tank until the fire trucks arrived and we felt safe going around the back way to our house.

One of our neighbors, a lady I don’t know but who seemed trustworthy enough, said she heard a crash and looked out her window to see someone biking like crazy away from the van, which was just starting to catch fire.

Cops are calling the fire “so weird! Huh. Yep. Anyway, anybody up for a Donutland run?”

To top it off, in the ensuing melee, someone walked off with Brad’s dill plant from our front porch.

So in the spirit of keeping open the lines of communication in a troubled neighborhood, I would just like to use the rest of this post to write an open letter to my hometown:

Iowa City, I get you. I know you’ve always had this chip on your shoulder about your perceived lack of sophistication and culture in comparison with other cities like Chicago and even Minneapolis. I understand that. I’ve often felt the same way in my own life. And you do an admirable job--you can be as pretentious as SoHo; as decadent as L.A. I’ve seen it, Iowa City. I know what it’s like when you go too far to try to prove that you are an urbane and chic community with contributions to make to bourgeois society (we’ve all been snubbed by Writers Workshop students, Iowa City). But listen: The New York Times has written travel features about you! Denis Johnson set his iconic novel Jesus’ Son in you! Kurt Vonnegut curmudgeoned up your nubile coeds for years!

I get it Iowa City. You’re hip. I really, truly believe you. Trust me, you don’t need soaring urban crime rates to prove it. That is not sophisticated, Iowa City. That is Newark. And I didn’t leave New Jersey for this bullshit.