Tag Archives: suburbs


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…

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hodiernal adj. relating to the present day

Today is a hazy 66 degrees with the sun just beginning to burn off the fog of the morning. Graham has just finished 8 ounces of formula gone down for a nap. I am roasting eggplant which will be assembled into a vegan muffelata sandwich that needs to marinate for at least 3 hours before we eat it for dinner. When Graham wakes up, he will eat something pureed and then we will head out to the mountain for a run. When I am done writing this post, I will check on the eggplant, fold some laundry and eat some soup for my own lunch. Stella is somewhere sleeping and the painters two houses down are done with their annoying sanding machine. The neighborhood is suburbanly quiet as it’s too early in the season for landscapers. This is what is going on today in my life.

In writing the above hodiernal blob, I have started to think about how vastly different my life is as compared to this day last year. I was about 4 months pregnant with Graham and we were living in Brooklyn. My feet had not begun to swell up to twice their normal size yet and I was feeling pretty good (and getting big already.) I would head into work everyday and go about my business. I met with vendors, followed up on projects and dealt with the drama that came my way that day. These days I think a lot about going back to work and lately I am starting to doubt what I should do.

It has taken me awhile to learn that what I have now is freedom. I have struggled with this new freedom over the course of Graham’s babyhood. I always used to say with pride that I have never known a day without work since I was 16. My parents instilled the mentality that if you are not employed than you are lazy. I come from a working class family and I remember my dad working 3 jobs at one point so we could survive. Being busy has always been the goal and I have always been an incredibly hard and dedicated worker. But as I write this I have come to learn something very different about myself and the world. Just because you work hard does not mean you will get ahead.

The working world boils down to about 3 different personality types : laborers, careerists and intellectuals. My parents were laborers, not careerists – and I am a laborer. Laborers are people who work hard and put in honest work, sometime even physically difficult work. Laborers are not good at playing games, gossiping and making alliances. They go to work with the intention to put in a full day of thinking and doing and solving problems. They take pride in being punctual and dependable. They are the backbone of a company but never seem to rise above the middle. They establish deep friendships, but are never seen as popular.

Careerists are politicians. Their entire goal is to climb the ladder no matter the method. Going into work for the careerist is not simply about putting in a full day and getting things done. At all times the careerist has an ongoing campaign. They are always running for the next rung on the ladder. Work and performance is secondary to a true careerist. Establishing relationships, being seen as a leader and making sure the perception people have of them matches the criteria for their next promotion. Careerists are always working on the bullet points listed in their review. They tend to be ruthless in their endeavors. Personally, I tend to think they are of below average intelligence…but I’m a laborer and thus biased.

Intellectuals are the doctors, chemists and professors of our world. They go to school for long spans of time to learn their trade and are the smartest. However, having an advanced degree does not make you an intellectual. Professional students sometimes travel in the guise of the intellectual, but do not be fooled. True intellectuals are able to use their intelligence to provide for themselves. They convert the book smarts and theories into skills that can be used for the good of others and making money. They are the unique minority that is smart enough to make money off of their brain power alone. I admire intellectuals more than anyone else.

In viewing these categories, I have come to the conclusion that I am 80% laborer and 20% careerist. I don’t consider myself incredibly smart. I just work really hard. In order to do well in the corporate world, I need to get my careerist qualities to at least 60% – at least for the line of work I have chosen. I need to smile more and complain less. I need to give more false compliments and tone down the sarcasm. I need to be someone who I am simply not.

So should I strive to have a “career” because the world tells me it’s important? Am I even capable of becoming more of a careerist? If I am successful at doing so, will I even like myself anymore?

I think I am going to focus on the hodiernal task of assembling my eggplant muffelata…

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