Ticky Tacky Never Looked So Good

Suburbs1

On a winter break from college, I sat bored and lonely looking out a kitchen window in suburban New Jersey. One of the tertiary benefits of college is dorm life: You’re constantly surrounded by dozens of friends, most of whose doors sit wide-open while they watch videos on YouTube. (A closed door may just mean a full room and a packed bowl.) But in the burbs, people ensconce themselves in brick and vinyl siding, castles bridged by green lawns and moated by “Beware of Dog” signs. It all seemed so cloistered and remote.

A few years after I graduated, I sat bored and lonely on a Brooklyn rooftop. Life in the city has the allure of everything you can imagine within an hour’s subway ride, and the curse of knowing you’re not doing any of it. I watched a parade of F trains wind down from the elevated station in Gowanus, I watched the traffic build up on the BQE. The Statue of Liberty was watching too, her torch a mirror of my Miller High Life.

The suburbs have been fodder for dread porn ever since Americans learned to stop worrying about daily survival. But when we found out my wife was pregnant, suddenly our studio on the quietest block in Harlem seemed like a minefield. The thought of a leisurely day trip turned into a Spartan race of strollers, diaper changes in the nearest Starbucks and deadlifts of gallon jugs of hand sanitizer. Every time I saw a stroller tip gingerly at the top of a subway stairwell, I saw parenting in the city as a liability. We needed a place where the world’s tiniest humans had enough room to be their irresponsible selves without inconveniencing the cosmos around them.

So we moved to Bergen County. My mornings once sound-tracked by sirens now have only lawn-care Wednesdays to contend with. At night I hear crickets and watch the tall grasses sway in the man-made pond behind our building. A trip to the grocery is a stroll to the car instead of a Herculean cart-push up the mountain of 145th street. Life is better in so many ways.

But just as I saw the wonders of college dorm life from a kitchen window, I now see city life better when watching digital satellite television. I miss walking everywhere, the accidental exercise you get just navigating the neighborhood. I miss the morning bacon-egg-cheese at the bodega, saying hi to the mouser cat in the back of the store. I miss seeing thousands upon thousands of strangers every day, up close and personal, wondering who they are or where they’re going or why they’re taking up an extra subway seat with their bag (unless it’s a diaper bag, of course, then more power to them). Mostly I miss knowing that for $2.50 and a book, I can ride anywhere in the city and eat every kind of food in the world. But when I look at my new daughter kicking on the changing table, gearing up for her first day in the almost empty park that sits 20 feet from my front door, I know we made the right call. And I know she’ll disagree, as soon as she’s old enough to be bored.

Photo courtesy of Elaine/Flickr

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