When I was a small boy, I let my imagination run wild, like most children, and thought of all the places I would go, all the things I could do. Fireman… Wimbledon… Jeopardy champion. But the thing I wanted most, desired more than anything, was owning a house in some leafy green suburb. Where the Brady Bunch lived next door. Where there were credenzas and slip-covered couches. Tree swings on tree-lined streets.
You see, I grew up in two-family house where we were the renters. Our “apartment” was fine, but it wasn’t ours. We had a poker table in the dining room and some mix-matched furniture in every other room. It was home but it wasn’t a house. My cousins lived in split levels and detached bricks with wall-to-wall carpeting, early American reproduction furniture and maids’ rooms. It was their life… made for me.
When I “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed” over every detail, my mother said I had “delusions of grandeur,” though all I had were visions of a baby grand. And so I plotted out my life to get me one of those subdivision plots. Jet set life was not for me; a kitchen set was all I needed.
The plan was set. Top college. Great wife. Big backyard. My wife, who grew up in a beautiful Dutch colonial with a rambling front porch, said I fell in love with her house first. Not true but the custom curtains surely were an aphrodisiac. And when we got married, living in Manhattan on Park Avenue (okay, Park Avenue South), I still read the real estate section of the NY Times every Sunday as if it were a hymnal in church. My contemporaries took planes to places far and wide. We took day trips to suburbs near commuter trains and soccer fields. Diner french fries instead of the French Rivera. It was worth every penny being pinched.
And then it all came together… my 30th birthday present was a crashing real estate market. Suddenly, upscale suburbia was right around the proverbial corner. And I pounced like a tiger, stare set on the rarefied jungles of Connecticut. I was going where no Jew in my family had ever gone before. I was Home and Garden bound.
Three months later, closing in on my boyhood dream came on closing day. The three-bedroom split on 1.5 acres with a tree-lined drive was just a key and all our savings away. We wrote the checks, took the keys and opened the door to broom-swept floors and two, yes two full bathrooms.
Too tired to consummate the house, my wife and I fell asleep early only to be awoken by two animals consummating in the woods. The backyard noise jarred us from our rose-scented backyard barbecue dreams. We were used to sirens and bridge-and-tunnel revelers’ screams, not skunk scents and sex-crazed squirrels (or whatever else lurked outside). And I realized in my sleep-interrupted stupor… my American dream house might just be a suburban nightmare.
Suddenly, there were the nosy neighbor’s kids and slobbering dogs crashing my alcohol-coma afternoons with friends. There were storm-drenched trees raining down on my lawn and patio furniture. Falling leaves meant dwindling finances as gardeners had to help me rake and bag. Spring downpours led to basement rivers with no return on investment. And who knew the biggest snowstorm in nearly half a century would transform me into the abominable man on not-so-pleasant lane? I mean… what the fuck was I thinking?
And yet, I weathered the storms of hail and ice, the onslaught of termites and carpenter ants, hale and fortified in my resolve. To live if not always adventurously, at least happy and peppy with my family and hard-earned contents on the shores of the Long Island Sound. No dream deferred, but a childhood dream made real.
Though I wouldn’t trip the night fantastic in Bora Bora, I would make sure my breakers wouldn’t trip with upgraded 220 amp service. Refinished hardwood floors in my refinanced center-hall colonial (purchased with the funds made on the split) would harden my resolve in living a child-centered life. I was more than fine with sitting on the sidelines watching my children run and leap. Every goal, every kick-ball-change would give me the daily kick start I needed.
And now when those cicadas start mating, I will be snoring contently in dreamland, contemplating the places I will go, the things I will do, one day when I land near the balmy retirement waters of condo living in Florida.