The SMITH Diaries Project

A Backyard for Gus

Thursday, May 4th, 2006

By Brad Wieners

So if you’re so manic about leaving the city for the ‘burbs, why do it? Why not wait until your edgy Brooklyn lease runs out, or search until you find your own 2BR with southern exposure, somewhere on the baby-crazed, sun-dappled lanes of the softer Park Slope? These are good questions, the right ones, and I wish I had a ready answer for them, or a better one, anyway, than “a backyard for Gus,” when friends, family, acquaintances, and committed Manhattanites first heard about our plans to move to Nyack, a town of 7,000 where the tired, evidently doomed Tappan Zee Bridge hits the far side of the Hudson 20 miles north of New York City. In the estimation of some I mentioned this to, I might as well have said we were setting sail for Columbus, Ohio.

Mind you, room for Gus to roam out-of-doors as he finds his feet (he’s all of one) is, in the end, the truest, sufficient motive. But it’s not quite enough to retire all of the ambivalence my wife M and I are experiencing about the move. Above and beyond the hassle of actually closing on a house (our first and only real estate), there’s the fact (well, not fact, but subjective reality) that moving to the country represents a failure of imagination, an inevitable, soul-leaching slouch toward conformity. Hell, we’ll be a ready made case study for David Brooks. (And yeah, yeah — who cares what Brooks thinks, but let’s face it, Brooks is the master definer of the New Typical, and who among us aspires to typical? I do not represent a sociological category; I … am … a ‘human’ being!)

Though we’re latter-day beneficiaries of the American Dream—and even though I’ve played a futurist at times—M and I are not the sort of people who ever saw our own future clearly, especially not the cars, house, dogs, kids (aka: CHDK). Little observed, even by Brooks, but completely real: folks certain of their 2.2-kid future are Dog People. Up to now, we’ve had cats.

In our twenties, in San Francisco, where we met and fell, we knew some dog lovers, but few Dog People. If someone we knew yearned for CHDK, no way were they uncool enough to admit it. The norm for our set was serial, pseudo-monogamy (some overlaps, periods of sexual confusion/ambiguity, affairs of the corazon). Our friends didn’t bring sweethearts home to meet the parents; they brought them to the Tuesday night dinner to see if they’d be welcome at Haiku 4 Beer, our Burning Man camp. (To his immense credit, one of our friends got a whole book out of this “never-married” phenomenon—the same year he got married, had a kid, and renovated his kitchen.)

Granted, if M and I didn’t acquire much of anything, it was more down to lack of funds than righteous principle, even if the latter made good cover. We made it nine years without a television (West Wing at its height and 9/11 finally forced the issue). We shared a car, a beloved Toyota FJ60, once, when we lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico for 18 months. The other 11.5 years of our 13-year relationship we made do without, and rented cars for autonomy during extended visits to family. We’d dated for more than a decade before I could admit to myself—much less to M—that I wanted to “one day” be a daddy. When I did break it to her, on a Valentine’s Day at a café in Greenwich Village, I couldn’t have handled it much worse. In the midst of a conversation about our oft-postponed wedding, I managed, “If we aren’t going to have children, that would be a problem.”

Needless to say, a lot changed when Gus—Augusten, in full—arrived last February. For one thing, we needed to move down from our perch on a fifth-floor walk-up on the Lower East Side. As space and a reduced rent were on offer in cheap livin’ Greenpoint, Brooklyn, we hit Craigslist, picked up a Polish phrasebook (G’Point is predominantly Polish emigres), and made our way north of McCarren Park.

Bad move.

If you try hard enough (and it?ll sure help if you?re working on a twopacka-day habit and consider carp at Christmas peaceonEarth), Greenpoint can be made to work. But where we ended up, on Morgan Ave., is 12 blocks from the G train, and the G is such a clean, safe, and reliable conveyance, it has spawned its own NGO/protest political campaign.

To reach the G (or home), we usually ended up hiking those dozen blocks because the B48 bus is so infrequent it rarely beats you to your stop. En route you inhale one or all of the following in place of oxygen: cigarette smoke, cologne, hairspray, and diesel fumes, the latter layered over an ever-present skunky whiff of the expressway known to those who live in its shadow as the BQE. Add the underemployed, hard-living neighbors to the right (all their children live with foster parents), the (since-evicted) rock-n-roller pot dealers a floor above, and, for example, the day EMT services removed a comatose drunk from the kiddies’ area where M had taken Gus for a swing, and you can well imagine the good times.

One of the few things I will miss about G’Point is the ceaseless freakshow of horrific fashion. In G’Point there are, generally speaking, women of two ages/styles: hussy (sub-25) and matron (26 and above). Both wear a ton of makeup. But whereas the matrons wear gaudy clothes to go with the caked-on makeup, the younger generation will combine vintage StarTrek levels of eye shadow and shiny lips with super-low-low-rise cut jeans that reveal midriff and hips in all kinds of weather. G’Point also has the highest per capita concentration of men in America who wear shorts and dark socks with sandals, and not just any sandals—gels and Adidas slides.

Most crucially (and this is not to make them feel guilty, really, even if they’re reading this in beautiful Mexico), the one couple with an infant we knew in Greenpoint—our original, cop-their-lifestyle inspiration to check it out—moved out of the country six months after we relocated. One of the hardest lessons for us as new parents has been that it really does help to live near other new parents. Much as we might disdain the competitive parenting of other parts of Brooklyn, or despair of the predictable conversations about breast feeding, junior’s BMs, rashes, allergies, etcetera, you need other parents for line-of-duty wisdom, and/or commiseration. We ought to have considered that one other couple does not a village make. In short, G’Point gained us all the isolation of the ‘burbs with none of the perks.

And so, during the worst of our troubles with the rock musicians upstairs, we began dreaming of escape. We did not yet have the means to buy a home, but we sure as heck had the desire to correct a bad move, or, to put it more closely to our feeling at the time—to get the fuck out.

In no time, M had developed a serious real estate habit online, and one morning her browser landed on an old colonial in Nyack. She forwarded it to me. I thought it was cute. We looked up Nyack on a map. She wrote the lister to ask about it. And the e-mail she got back would—even though I’d forgotten about it until I sat down to write this?change the course of our lives profoundly.

Up Next: "Don't tell Bill the Realtor, but I feel like such a fraud right now."

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