♫ My sister got lucky, married a yuppie, took him for all he was worth… ♫
–Lyrics from “Yer So Bad” by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne
“This is suburban music, right Jeff?” Maria, denigrating my friends from Virginia. We stood immersed in a din of drinkers shouting over, or singing along with the album Full Moon Fever. My group house in Washington, DC, so urban, gunfire sounded daily. The city wouldn’t shed its infamous moniker: the murder capital of the world for several more years.
“The music can’t be that suburban, it’s my album.”
Full Moon Fever, I love this album all the way through. Maybe Maria was right. These days, I couldn’t possibly be less urban.
I sit with the depth of summer.
We vacationed early this year, done before July, leaving too little to look forward to. Our brand-new patio, still a squared-off hole four inches deep, accompanies a mound of dirt and a plastic bin loaded with the rocks I dug up. Lots of rocks. The lawn needs attention, and the mower needs maintenance. Something broke off, the oil escaped. Mechanics aren’t my bag, it’s a standoff I can’t win. The lawn grows whether I fix the mower or not.
Our roof is three weeks old, financed on a zero-interest card with ambitions to pay it off in a year. The prior roof, just six years old, installed as we vacationed in Utah, leaked almost immediately. I struggle with the shame of being taken. That roofer disappeared as soon as he completed the job.
A tangle of flowers borders the street—a cottage garden—endearing to some neighbors, annoying to others. “You know, Roberta invested a lot in bushes and shrubs. Your garden would disappoint her.” Bees circle, dive, drink, pause and breathe, come autumn, goldfinches take their place. Cats shelter among the stems, too lazy to make a kill.
Humidity spoils the unusual, temperate weather, encouraging central air despite the lack of heat. Turned too low, I’m sometimes cold at night. Susan sits beneath a blanket as we read. Our porches, front and back, draw me outside, invite lazy conversation, encourage grilled meat and dining al fresco.
As a young man, I found romance in urban living. The gunshots, and car windows broken for ashtray change, circling the block for parking, bicycles in my living room, bicycles in the hallway, a low price for cool. I once hammered nails into my windowsill, a half inch exposed, and sawed off the nail heads. I barbed my window. My neighbor saw someone trying to climb into my house. I felt vital.
Not enough space, too much crime, too much hassle. I’m old(er) now; urban living seems hard. My single-story house on a gardened lot—my suburban home—comforts me. Seven bikes crowd the garage. Four are mine but everyone rides them—no one is much taller or shorter than me. A sparrow family, for three years now, lives in the light fixture above the door. I turn on the light to work on my bike: “No! You’re disturbing the birds!” Suburbia brings its own challenges.
When I first moved to Gettysburg, every day felt like a vacation. Yes, I still had my job in DC, plus a really long commute one or two times a week, but each time I drove home, as the scenery changed from urban, to suburban, to rural, and then suburban again as I neared my house, I felt my stress melt away.
For the reader composing a pissed off comment in their head right now, save your effort. I know urban living isn’t synonymous with crime. I know that people in cities live rich and happy lives, I was one of them. But along the way, something changed. My quiet existence suits me; my home is an oasis. Suburban summers—with ice cold drinks, the sound of distant lawn mowers and playing children, the smell of bonfires and mint—bring back a lifelong love affair with sitting on my porch and wasting time.