braaivleis n. a picnic or barbecue where meat is grilled over an open fire
I can track my life in barbecue memories. From the crack of the Naragansett tall boys and fireworks at McCoy stadium in Rhode Island to the outdoor shower and savannah bugs of our Brooklyn deck, barbecues have become an important part of my summer life. This summer we add a third chapter to our barbecue memories here in Maplewood, NJ…and it has me pondering the urban vs. the suburban.
There is something about the summer barbecue that brings a smile to my face. It reminds me of one of my favorite bars in the world – the Gowanus Yacht Club in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Eating and drinking outside while wearing shorts and talking to friends is one of the most fulfilling simple things we have in life. I miss Brooklyn often for this reason. Here in the suburbs, I feel like people are locked up in their pretty houses, not having to face the unwashed masses out in the street. The city forces you to deal with people on a daily basis whether you want to or not. Sometimes interactions are good, other times you’re having a trash bag of urine soaked clothes swung in your face by a homeless man on the subway (true story). I think this is why I was always so exhausted when we lived in the city. Our apartments were utilitarian and small – for sleeping and eating during the week. We had to get outside just to stretch out and live life. In the city, your neighborhood is an extension of your apartment. Once a week I would drop off the laundry downstairs and almost daily I would stop into the Ki Grocery for milk or yogurt covered pretzels. I could probably walk into both of those places today and the owners would still know who I was. Our landlord had a man cave under our deck and we could always count on leaning over the deck railing and seeing him a few days out of the week to catch up on neighborhood gossip. There were block parties and festivals almost every weekend of the summer – sometimes too many. When you went outside, it still felt like your living room…sometimes it was great and sometimes you wanted to run.
The suburbs are…different. Transitioning to life here has been a bit of a challenge. Since we have a mortgage, we spend a lot of time “feathering our nest” rather than going out. Every one seems cooped up in their houses making it prettier and better – hell, we paid enough for it. Our neighbors are great, but people just don’t spend unscheduled, unorganized time outside waiting for conversation. People feel like puzzle pieces here – as if they have a space carved out for them – a square peg for every square hole. Things are much more scheduled and routine. There are also a lot less watering holes and spontaneous conversations with strange / interesting people. We go to our local pub almost every week and the damn hostess is still a bitch to us and acts like she’s never seen us before.
This summer, we will have a few braaivlei in our yard as opposed to our old deck in Brooklyn. There will be more mosquitoes and less cockroaches (the huge kind that live outside…scary…won’t miss them). I suppose we are beginning a new chapter in our barbecue history book. Quite some time ago, grilling out in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and catching the Red Sox game in the den was a weekend past time. We shall see what this summer brings…