Life in the ‘Burbs

Growing up in a 20th century-New York suburb had its perks… handy playmates, trees to climb, a yard big enough to play hide ‘n’ seek, chasing fireflies, tearing around on our bikes. Later it was TV in Peggy’s finished basement (my family had neither), making out in other finished basements, football games, long afternoons at the country club (not ours, we didn’t have one of those either) and jumbo parties with no downstairs neighbors to complain.

But once I had a taste of urban living in collegiate Boston, it was bye bye ‘burbs. I loved the city energy, the people, the entertainment options, museums and restaurants and art films, live jazz, coffee shops I could walk to… This was heaven. Visits to relatives and friends in various suburban housing developments made my throat constrict, and much as I loved hanging out with them and their kids, I realized I was infinitely happier somewhere either more rural or urban.

Then I moved to LA, which is, arguably, almost all suburb. Still, Venice Beach and Topanga Canyon have their own charms, and it wasn’t until zero-down mortgages coincided with our landlady’s son (an elementary school teacher, gasp!) knocking up his girlfriend that the thought of living in the suburbs again emerged. Our daughter would be closer to her high school, we could have a garden, and we could ride our bikes on flat streets. The plan was to fix it up and sell it quickly, make a tidy profit and buy something closer to the beach.

Twelve years later, we’re still here. I’m still not a huge fan of the suburbs, and now that said daughter has a job and apartment elsewhere, it’s safe to assume she’s launched. Still, it’s not all bad in this particular housing development. Tonight I went for my evening walk and first I passed Norm, a native of Belize, fixing the backboard on his basketball net. At 14 his son is already a formidable player, and with the name Jordan, what else would you expect? Norm has had a key to our house for years, but tonight, after I’d walked Sparky for them this week, he gave me a remote that lets me into their house. I guess I’ve finally earned his trust. I poked my head into the kitchen to say hi to Marcia, who was frying up something that smelled infinitely more delicious than my leftover salmon. I was glad to see her smiling; they’ve had three deaths in their immediate family this year.

On up the street I passed Gary, out watering his lawn. Gary’s retired and still in his 60s, but he has nagging health issues. He has to go back in for surgery this week, same damn leg problem. His wife Lois was out walking their dogs.

Jill motored by doing her usual power walk of two or three times around the ‘hood (her dog, Isabel, is too old for more than one round), and told me sweet stories about preschoolers at the school where she works. I know all about her son Dillon and her husband Glen, but you probably wouldn’t be interested. They’re brave and strong and unique, but they’re ordinary people meeting ordinary challenges.

Jay just waved, he’s in the film biz and was on his cell phone.

Little Jessica wasn’t out tonight. She’s only six and her parents, Carol and Mike, are friendly to me, even though they’re horrified I’m a Michael Moore fan.

Then I saw dear Willie. A Danish expat, he and his wife Annalisa have two gorgeous grandchildren that their daughter Anna brings to visit regularly. Willie came over and asked why he hasn’t seen me, inquired about my daughter, gave me a huge hug. His front yard tree will need trimming again next year.

I can’t say these people are my friends, but they are the fabric of my neighborhood, giving it warmth, color and substance. I know their names, know or have met their kids, hear about their triumphs and challenges. I doubt I’ll ever see any of them again once we move, but I’m so grateful they are here now. Ordinary people. Wonderful people. My neighbors.