Ours is a typical American story: boy and girl meet, fall in love, marry and then decide what a great idea it would be to have a family, a dog, cat and a slew of fish and live in the suburbs. Ours was a noble goal: we would have kids, learn how to paint and mow, and in all respects act and, therefore be, normal.
Our experience in this regard is all too familiar. My wife Susan and I bought our first home in 1988 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, a nice relatively up-scale suburb about 35-40 minutes west of Boston. We were in our late twenties, and the day we closed on that first house we spent all of our remaining money on tools, paint, and drop clothes to whip that starter home into shape. For my thirtieth birthday my wife bought me a massive tool kit. I
can still vividly remember the pride I felt at owning a torque wrench (by the way does anyone know what the hell one is supposed to do with such a wrench?) We’ve since sold that home and moved to a larger one in the same town. In the 23 years since, we’ve become suburban clichés. We shop in massive box stores and malls, and have wonderful neighbors, but we’ve managed to maintain a healthy distance. Sure, we attend the annual neighborhood events, cookouts, and the regular “fire pit” sessions, but we tended to avoid becoming BFF’s with our neighbors, at least until all of our city friends abandoned us. Between us we had a lot of friends who lived and worked in the Boston area, but sadly we’ve drifted away from those friends and become members of our town…for the love of God, I’m a member of a damned country club. I understand how this happened, but I just don’t understand why we embraced this process. It is now time to reflect and come up with an exit strategy. Our oldest is entering his senior year of college at UMass/Amherst and our second son will be a junior in a prep school north of Boston, where he lives during the school year. We have become “empty nesters,” and it’s time to get moving onto the next phase of our lives. Yikes!
Don’t get me wrong, my wife and I are happy, but we’re just getting a little freaked out by the march of time and the growing realization that we are surrounded by people who accept that they will take care of the house until the kids can convince some judge to pop both of them into a “retirement community”. You see, we’re not your average suburban people who look forward to yard work and the great feeling that these people apparently
get when they’ve spent four hours perfecting the paint on a shutter. I have tried, I really have, but the truth is I do not give a rat’s ass about which number in the Scott’s fertilizer program I should be applying. I recently had a conversation with a close friend where he admitted, no boasted, that he spends 6-8 hours every weekend keeping his large lawn perfectly groomed. This same champion of the lawn tractor can explain exactly when one should apply lime, fertilizer, pesticide, and anti-fungal lawn preparations. He can probably also speak for hours on the one true religion of the American Suburbanite—gas grill or charcoal. For years I lived in blissful ignorance of what had happened to me, until earlier this Summer when I was riding my bicycle up near the town’s cemetery and I had something of a panic attack at the thought of someday being buried in that boneyard. It was a real eye-opener, because my own mortality is becoming more of a reality, not to
mention the fact that even a momentary mental lapse on a bicycle in suburbia is risky business. One slight swerve on the road creates a real risk of death at the hands of that 40ish soccer mom all hopped up on Starbucks and Xanax who is bearing down on you in her new Chevy air craft carrier sized SUV. Oh, calm down, I’m not being a sexist, you know her, she’s the really fit blonde in your local gym who’s going at the elliptical machine like it did something to one of her 3.2 children. That woman will run you down.
I need the city. Every time I’m in a city, almost any city, I’m happiest. There’s
life in cities. There are no minivans filled with noisy little people being carried from soccer to cheerleading and then to the basketball clinic before finishing off the day with a microwaved meal at one of suburbia’s best restaurants (Chili’s, Appleby’s and on those special occasions Outback). I want real restaurants where the “chef” is not a kid I used to coach in Little League who knows as much about food as he did when he was working the snack bar at the Little League field. People yell in cities, and you can give the middle finger
to people who cut you off without the obligatory, “I’m so sorry Mrs. Johnson…yes ma’am, I really do need to slow down”. I’m 53 years old now and I know too many of these people, way too many, and it is stunting my continued growth as a person. Shit, the other day I made two pies for a “summer pie buffet” (coconut cream and apple cranberry crunch if
you must know)….what the hell is happening to me?
I’ve tried to anesthetize myself with the motorcycle, the tattoos and this notion that someday I will get rid of that house, throw away all my tools, and make my triumphant return to Boston, but it hasn’t worked. So now I’m a middle aged suburbanite who wants
to move to the city and maybe buy a beret and a single speed cruiser bike with a bell and a basket so that I can pick up my daily loaf of bread at the artisinal bakery on the corner. A condo on one of Boston’s tree lined streets in the South End or the Back Bay sounds wonderful in theory: nice views, restaurants, bars, great neighborhood… homeless people, noise at all hours of the night, crime…..oh God….I like Chili’s…and what the hell am I going to do with my smoker and three grills? As our planned move becomes closer to reality, I can’t help but wonder whether we’ve become too much like the whale in “Free Willy” who’s lived in captivity for so long that it’s forgotten how to fend for
itself? How tragic will it be when I’m run down by a Green Line trolley because I’ve forgotten how to cross a street, buy all of those fake Rolexes or when I lose all of my money playing three card monty? Will I come to realize that the security I now take for granted has been ingrained into who, and what, I am to such a degree that I’ll feel even more
insulated moving closer to people? The truth is that I like a ten-minute commute, and I like the fact that I do not have to have an alarm and seven dead bolts on my door….screw it, I think I’ll fire up the smoker and whip up a few slabs of chipotle infused scallops with a mango salsa……