Bwog’s suburban diarist Madeline L. is spending the summer away from the city — and she’s enjoying it. Here, our diarist disects the nature of the suburban summer, and why it beats Morningside anyday.
Summer in the suburbs is built on a founding myth; an event within a circle of friends that becomes retold in different heights of enthusiasm, with different details added or subtracted. It becomes so recognizable that the difference of experience between people who lived it and those who heard about it is nonexistent. Collectiveness and camaraderie encapsulate the suburban summer — that and a lot of weed.
For me, the summer of 2007 was the summer of getting thrown in a pool — completely clothed, mascara trickling down my face, contacts mangled in the white of my eye, shirt pulled down. The boy who playfully threw me in the chlorine perils argued after the fact that it was my own fault. I made myself fall in, he reasoned. “You just have really shitty balance,” he said.
But the gods of the suburban summer must have had a sense of humor that year. My friend, who had become panicked once it looked like my fall was no laughing matter, ended up with a bloody nose. (I did not punch him in the face. In fact, as he extended his arm to pull me overboard, between gulps of pool water and air I kept telling him to let go, he was hurting me. He must have taken this as his cue to grasp harder, and I inadvertently dragged him closer and closer to the asphalt, until the flesh of his nose met the unforgiving cement.) It sounds like something out of Seventeen’s Most Embarrassing Teen Moments, where the stories are rated with blushing smiley faces. I give this one three and a half blushes.
A year later, the kids who watched me fall into a pool — or at least felt as if they had — are looking for a different story to hold onto. It’s hard to come by the universal story when high school friends who so used to closely knit groups are dispersed throughout the country. Each of us returns home from college with different stories about hooking up, vomiting in an elevator, gulping down goldfish in the frat house. Amusing yes, but inclusive no. We weren’t all there. We didn’t taste the goldfish as it slid down your throat. So this summer needed something we could all latch onto.
Summer 2008 was the summer of the berries. My friend (not the poolside villian) has a backyard. His backyard has a berry tree (taxonomic classification, though we collectively refer to it as “that fucking berry tree”). The berry tree has created problems. It disperses what seemingly endless supplies of sticky deep purple goo — one could go as far as to call it black — that settles on the grass and the rock slabs that lead up to his backyard and leaves irremovable stains on the bottom of one’s shoes. This is probably the biggest problem of all, as suburban kids have really nice sneakers.
The smell and mess caused by the berries pales in comparison to the unmitigated power of my friend whose property the berry tree partially inhabits. Understandably, my friend will not let anyone in or out of his house without first inspecting his or her shoes; if they’re black, you must go back. And we all know not to set foot in his house if that foot has even a trace of berry mush on it.
But then there is a third problem. When one wishes to go outside to smoke a cigarette or take in the night’s moist, thick air or escape the Berry Czar, the tree that gives the merciless czar his name rears its ugly head again; this time in the form of a plague. Mosquitoes, attracted to the berries, pepper the air and slowly suck away at the sweet young blood of yours truly and others.
You may ask, why not just get the hell out of there? Find another house with a deck of cards (for poker) and sleeping parents? Suburban summers are about escaping the wrath of authority and reliving traditions. The berry tree combines both: My friend’s house has been a longstanding institution in our network of friends. It was where we would throw remnants of fast food into an outdoor clay fireplace and watch as burnt lettuce and charred tomato skins shot out from the top. We would play poker into the wee hours and listen to the mesmerizing click clacking of poker chips as they hit a marble table. (My friend happens to be a remarkable poker player, with professional earnings in the mid 5 figures.)
And so the sound of poker chips and memories of vacations past make the drastic move to another house out of the question. Well, that and the fact that his parents are never around. It’s impossible to enjoy—no, not enjoy—endure a summer in the suburbs without having a sappy place in your heart for tradition. None of my friends would admit to it, but everyone likes going back to something familiar. Even if the familiar is sticky, buggy, and smells like Franzia.
Tradition aside, summer in the suburbs is a game of tug-of-war with authority. Unlike most cities where real crime and violence exist, the suburbs of Long Island of which I speak are home to minimal offenses. Police congregate in parking lots in unmarked cars waiting for a teenagers to emerge from a convenience store with a six pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
We curse the authority; blame them for not letting us have any fun. Yet our summers would not be as enjoyable without them on our case. Outsmarting them, analyzing them, and getting caught by them. This is what makes a summer in the suburbs. Exaggerating the details of what actually happened — “the cops totally put hand cuffs on this kid, and not only that but they like made him spread his legs and started feeling him up; true story — define the suburban summer.
Here in Morningside Heights it’s a little harder to get excited. Columbia might have NSOP and its rootbeer pong, but something about city living just isn’t right. Maybe it’s the forced fun that makes you forget that you have a pulse, a personality. Sometimes it takes boredom to get enthused about something. You can have your museums, skinny jeans, and myriad of zero calorie frozen yogurts. Give me the suburbs and a berry tree any day.