I was attending a concert in what was the lobby of the 2nd run movie theater in my neighborhood when I was growing up, the Bing, when I had one of those moments of clarity where a known fact seems to make material an idea or a concept. This is where I grew up. This is where the people I knew growing up walked to the movies. The houses lining the surrounding streets were where they lived their lives, watched tv, ate dinner, and went to bed. These streets are where I road my bike, and played street hockey, touch football, and would go bumper sliding if we had the right snow.
I’m amazed sometimes that we had enough room to play football. We went curb to curb, the cars were in bounds; “Stop and go at the front door of the Buick” we must have said, I can’t remember anymore. We’d move the goals every time a car came down the street when we played hockey, that is if we had brought the goals out and we weren’t using two jackets or some boxes. All the parked cars made sneaking behind a car stopping at a stop sign, grabbing their bumper, and sliding along the road easy to do if enough snow had fallen; it seems to be a lost art.
I have no idea what the neighborhood girls were doing while we were doing all of this and, no, there was no “Tom-boy” who joined with us in our escapades as there always seems to be in any film depicting that era.
This would have been in the mid 1970’s. My parents would have been in their 50’s by then. These homes were evenly split between single and two family: some had gardens, some had grills, none had a front “yard” and for some the back was a mystery unless you were invited. I lived at the end of a dirt road a mile or so away from where all of the action was. There were only a handful of kids on my street and, strangely enough, on most days the dirt and rocks, the woods and fields seemed less apt for play than the gridded streets nearer the X.
And it was all good enough. I never heard anyone talk about moving, about finding a better life (As if that were possible!) in a suburb, or down south or out west. I have no idea how the cost of living compared to those aforementioned places, or if they had jobs to offer or anything like that. This was our world and we, and as far as I know, our parents were happy in it.
Perhaps because I don’t recall seeing them when I was young, except at church, I’ve always hated the “not good enough”-ers; whether it was the event we were at, the car we were in, the clothes we were wearing, or the television we were watching I never could feel the phantasmic pleasure they got from their aspirational acquisitiveness. It was different from washing your car, or ironing your clothes, it wasn’t improving what you had, it was tossing it out and replacing it with something better. I get the most pleasure out of extending the use of what I have and, to a fault, I’ve needed seismic shifts in my life to force me out of my apartment or my home.
With the ebb and flow of the election cycle and the economic cycle each doing their part, it seems as though the zeitgeist has willed that another round of lamentation take place for the loss of the American Dream: homes are too expensive, cars are too expensive, taxes are too high, and jobs pay too little for anyone but the elites to have that promise fulfilled. Except that is not at all true.
I’m not going to add all of the caveats here. Of course We’ve deindustrialized and financialized the economy and all of that, and my workaround wouldn’t be available to everyone if everyone tried to avail themselves of it…but everyone isn’t. So it is. There are jobs here. There are high quality, inexpensive houses, and low taxes. There is cheap public transportation. There are beautiful parks, well stocked libraries, and high quality schools.
I’ll admit, I view life differently. Some colleagues were talking about retirement, I’m much closer to it than most of them, and they were, each and every one of them, figuring out what they would “need” to live the lifestyle they wanted. The conversation continued for a while. Only at the end did I offer that my perspective was 180 degrees different: I’m going to make my life conform to what I get, and I’ve made preparations in my life which can flex from sharing 600 square feet with the love of my life in our English basement apartment while we rent out the fancy shmancy parts of the house to our betters, to living high on the hog; which is to say more or less as we do now in my view.
My life will conform to my resources. I won’t strive to reverse that unless I slip below a fairly low bar. I don’t need vacations or a car; a book and a little path in a park or down by the river to walk through will do. This weekend, for much less than $100, I paid for myself and two friends to see one of the best goalkeeping performances I’ve ever seen(unfortunately he played for the visitors!), and my wife and I attended an absolutely sublime musical performance by Peter Blanchette. Betwixt and between we saw Luna perform once again at the Drama Studio. I’m not at all against making or spending money but I see too many people caught up in searching for more things to want, instead of finding ways to enjoy the life they already have.