Saturday, August 30, 2014

Suburban Blight – Unpleasant Valley Sunday

"Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Charcoal burnin' everywhere
Rows of houses that are all the same
And no one seems to care” – Gerry Goffin

“I pray for the kids in the suburbs… I pray that one day, we’ll all graduate from similarity.” - J. Merridew

“Imagine, if you will, a Baskin Robbins where all 31 flavors are vanilla and there you have the suburbs.” – um…me, nycityman

I sometimes wonder of the, now 145, very opinionated and often exaggerated, blog essays, which of this accrued collection most will rile up my valued readership and online public at large.  Presently, I believe, to quote Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters, “I have my answer.” The words that lie ahead may indeed leave many peeved and piqued, irked and irritated, vexed and violent – reactions all aptly justified - I’m not even particularly fond of myself for penning them. Previous posts have already occasioned a physical threat or two, one hopes that this admitted realization and recognition of self-fault will pacify prospective possibilities of impending peril.

Let’s get to it then, shall we? From almost my first opportunity of observing an existence straying from the white-picket fenced, early Saturday morn lawn mowing, keeping up with the Jones’s (or rather the Costellos, Mangarellos or Martinis) upbringing, two related and harshly negative and voluble thoughts crossed my modest mind - 1) the suburbs are where people go when they’ve given up on life, and 2) the suburbs are where people go when they’re ready to die.  Severe assessments and obvious overstatements? Undeniably so. The gospel truth?  No, just opinions of personal bias not reflective of others needs, wants and  lifestyles. And, for those reading this lounging upon your chaise, enjoying your recently re-stained back deck, I’m sorry.

 “O Suburbs of Despair, where nothing but the weather ever changes!” - Dana Gioia

Now, surely this punitive opinion is not one unheard of to even the most ardent admirers of commuter trains, Miracle Grow and satellite dishes.  Deriding suburbia is one of our country’s clichés, the stuff of Johns Updike and Cheever and three quarters of all the Great American Novels. But triteness and conventionality does not render a view invalid.  Friends and, soon no doubt to be, ex-friends, the topic is one of great familiarity. This is not just an egotistical, arrogant, attitudinal, superior, cocky, conceited, condescending, self-important tirade by a condemnatory city-boy without a base of knowledge or experience (although it may be undeniably all those things and more) for I am no outsider contemptuously looking in, but an escapee who, once having tasted the fruits of freedom and multiplicity, could never again lastingly revisit the stultifying and suffocating sameness left behind.

All other members of the nycityman clan (now denying kinship to yours truly) still call one of these pre-planned, pre-fab hamlets home - be it Staten Island (not a permanent habitation, but very often a way station for those starting in Brooklyn and eventually settling in New Jersey) from whence I effected my borough to borough exodus after a decade or two of boredom, uniformity and ennui; or the aforementioned Garden State where Bruce Springsteen reigns supreme and Chris Christie pillages for his own gain. I love my family, the company is superlative, the surroundings, however, dispiriting.  After but a few hours in the isolated, unimaginative, Xeroxed environs of the “little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky,” color me Sinatra’s Man with the Golden Arm, itching for a fix of urbanity and a need to once again be amongst a population vibrant with the richness of diversity; a diversity sorely lacking on the would-be Italian isle that is Staten Island. I’ve been to Italy, as is required by law of all Italian-Americans born on the borough, and Italy is less Italian than Staten Island.

 “Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.” – Bill Vaughan

The voyage from juvenility in suburbia to maturity in a metropolis mirrors Dorothy’s mystical journey from the beige hues of Kansas to the Technicolor of Oz – departing monotones for the full Roy G. Biv and a sampling from the complete spectrum of life’s offerings. And while, at conclusion, Dorothy did head back to her “no place like home” the book sequels return her to the Emerald City time and again, and it’s not just for the poppy fields, the love of a good Munchkin or to relive the homicidal thrill of Elphaba annihilation.  It’s enlightening growth. It’s Sir taking you from crayons to perfume. It’s the season when I Dream of Jeannie went from black and white to NBC color - all that more magical and with a Jeannie genie even more enchanting.
Jeannie - suburbs

Jeannie - big city version
“I grew up in the suburbs and basically associate the suburbs with cultural death.” – Billy Corgan

If I may posit some cultural conjecture, admittedly stated in broad generalities but presented with the contention of a connection to the post-war flight to our Levittowns and Pleasantvilles established from sea to shining sea. We are a nation that once innovated and now pay others to do so. We are a government that once encouraged growth and invested in its people and now impede all progress.  We are a people who once created and now disengage and observe.  While many causal components may be at play, the residential shift from the cities into the comparative placidness and lethargy of the suburbs may have hastened the decline of invention, the drive of upward mobility and the passionate pursuit of the American Dream into an attitude and prevailing lifestyle of stagnation and acceptance of what is as opposed to what can be.  Additionally, the accompanying separation of population – minorities and newly arrived immigrants in urban areas, established, middle class white folks in the suburbs and the lack of interaction, understanding and shared experiences between the two, lead to the verbally denied, but proven by behavior and actions, rise in intolerance and racism that has become so evident since the ascension of a black man to the Oval Office.

 “Paradise is a state of being, more than just the name of a suburb or a home.”- Raquel Cepeda 

Please feel free to comment and counter, I long for the rarely expressed contradictory point of view. My workplace is full of commuters - daily riders on buses and trains and ferries and carpools and hovercrafts and jet packs and lunar modules and who knows what else; all of whom, to a man and woman, gripe and grumble about their grind while expressing envy for the  good fortune of their Manhattan-inhabiting colleagues.

“My thoughts all seem to stray
To places far away
I need a change of scenery” – Gerry Goffin

Any comments, questions, criticisms, candid confessions, cash contributions? Contact me at butchersaprons@mail.com.

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