“I don’t know why my place in the suburbs is adequate to the demands of my desire. I can’t imagine it satisfying more sophisticated consumers of place. It’s only the skin I won’t slough off, the story I want to hear told, my carnal house and the body into which I welcome myself."
(D.L. Waldie, in Where We Are Now: Notes From Los Angeles)
I grew up in a 50s- and then 60s-era suburb, housing that was one step removed from the post-war Baby Boom tract housing built for returning soldiers or even, in the case of Don Waldie, for Okie transplants come to work in the aerospace industries of Los Angeles. Waldie grew up in a tract house of 957 square feet in Lakewood, California. My house was bigger, and colonial, but it was suburbia nonetheless. Curb and gutter. Sidewalks. Street lights. Lawns. Cars to wash in driveways, grass to cut, back yards to traverse at night, a park, a neighborhood school. Fireflies in summer. Unlocked doors. Oldsmobiles and Buicks. Carports. Backyard grills. Sounds of arguments bleeding through the sideyards and into windows. Capture the flag. Street ball. Bullys and bikes with playing cards flapping in spokes. Milkmen and Charles Chips deliveries.
When I walk the streets of my suburb, I trace a bit of that history, let it seep back in. I cross the creek and imagine it a tributary of the one near my childhood home, wonder if it too has tadpoles. I kick a rock down the street and watch it skitter across the asphalt, and I remember absent-mindedly doing the same while walking home from General Greene Elementary. A school streetlight flashes, and I flashback to the one I threw rocks at, the street light I used to kick out. Sometimes I find myself in the nouveau lodgings of the hip and professional, of the sophisticates, and I try these digs on for size, imagine myself among the bustle of shops and restaurants, among the urbane. I even say to my wife, “You know, you could walk to everything you need, if you lived here, if we did.” Then I think about what it feels like to walk barefoot across my grass, to have no one tramping over my roof, to walk on a cool summer morning, alone or with my best friend, and hear the birds, the hum of homes, and the trickle of a brook, to feel the luxurious emptiness of its space and walk among its trees while the irrigation sprinklers rise to their call.
I love suburbia. It’s a skin I won’t slough off. It’s in my DNA. It’s the only home I’ve ever known. It’s adequate to the demands of my desire.