Thursday, February 2, 2012

Housing works

Ever since the abusive geezer upstairs planted that sign at Eden’s gate -- “Keep Out” in big letters -- I’ve been on the lookout for a nesting place, just like my cousins in the Animal Kingdom. Could be up a tree like the crazy uncle’s in Amarcord, could be in a cave like Will’s in The Second Coming. Could be in a railroad flat in Hoboken down the street from St. Mary’s, could be in a barn off Ridge Road halfway between Ithaca and Aurora. God I love the land up there, where those glacial fingers crept down the river valleys and left their permanent mark upon the earth. I want a nest with clean air and green hills and water nearby. I want what everybody wants, like those palaces and gardens on HGTV or in the real estate section of The Times.

I look out of my twenty-fourth floor window onto Park Avenue and 33rd Street. There's a red-tailed hawk perched on a chimney grate across the way at eye level studying the pigeons below. Food. It makes me hungry to watch him.

For years I would get in my car on weekends and drive through the neighborhoods of the rich. Slowly. Far Hills. Greenwich. Bedford Hills. The Hamptons. Those monstrous homes, that acreage, those barns and pools and plantings. Those five-car garages with those Bentleys and BMWs and Benzes out front. Those stone walls and equestrian rings and caretaker's cottages. In my effin heart I took possession of everything I saw. There in the car, I would discuss the pros and cons of the homes I passed, as though I could choose one to buy -- "too big," "don't like the way it sits on the property," "wonderful fenestration but the shutters are the wrong color," "I'll bet the drainage is no good," "ooh, I like that one."And on and on, going up and down the shady lanes and exotic arbors, emotionally jerking off to all that wealth.

It was like going to the movies and imagining myself DeNiro or Redford or Connery. Walter effin Mitty has got nothing on me -- look in the mirror: it takes a long time before the smiling arsehole looking back at you gets up the courage to mock your triumphs and put you in your place.

Your place. Hah. Your place is small and functional, but always in need of repairs. Your place will never grace the pages of Architectural Digest or the Sunday Times. Your place is mortgaged and the monthly payments are a killer. Your place is too close to your neighbor, too far from the station, too noisy on Saturday nights, too quiet when no one's around, too cold in winter, and too hot in summer. The only good thing you can say about your place is that it's yours, and even that's not true -- it really belongs to the effin bank.

After last year's hurricane, D. chopped down what remained of the pine trees in her backyard. That's where the neighborhood crows lived. Now they're gone. A couple of months ago, J. got rid of a couple of mature oak trees so he could level his side yard and enlarge his septic field. That's where the blue jays lived. Now they're gone. A while back, Sweet Lou had a stone wall facing Lakeside Drive repaired. That's where the chipmunks lived. Now they're gone. Hell, nobody's nest lasts. We creatures are always getting expelled from the gardens of our dreams, even if we can afford to stay. But at least we get to keep the dreams, and our envy.

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