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The Suburban Summer

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.

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  • wow says:

    @wow this girl sounds like a tool

  • OMG says:

    @OMG love this. going to school in morningside and coming from long island (even though i, as opposed to the writer, hate it) i think this sums up suburban summers pretty well. write more things!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous this is some funny shit, i love me some suburbs and some good weed

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Does it pail in comparison?

    Why doesn’t it bucket in comparison?

    Poor editing. Eh, summer editors, what are you gonna do?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous reading this at work reminded me of buying mike’s hard lemonade back in the day. stuff is nasty though…tastes like lemonade and piss

  • huh says:

    @huh “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.”

    Funnily enough, this is also the hunger striker’s position on Manhattanville.

  • Is someone says:

    @Is someone forcing you to go to Columbia?

    There are plenty of schools in the suburbs.

    1. stfu says:

      @stfu she goes to barnard not columbia

      and she’s also staying in soho part of the summer, because clearly there are no skinny jeans and fat free yogurt there.

    2. EAL says:

      @EAL Ever think that maybe she chose to come to Columbia for the academics? Not everyone applies here just because the school is in New York; it’s also a world-class university that excels in many subject areas. I didn’t care about the City when I applied. I just noticed that Columbia had fantastic professors in the fields I wanted to study, and I loved the Core Curriculum. As a suburbanite myself, there are certain pleasures I too miss from my hometown as well, though not the smoking parts. Just because someone might prefer the suburban lifestyle to one in the city (heaven forbid!) is no reason to jump on them.

      I have to say, in my three years here it bothers me to no end when the only reason people give for attending this school is that it’s in New York. If you really wanted to go to a city school with no campus, no athletes, and no school spirit, where you could sport tight jeans all the time and chat about the latest music recommended by Pitchfork, why didn’t you just go to NYU?

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous word.

      2. again... says:

        @again... she goes to barnard, no core curriculum

      3. this says:

        @this is definitely a 2012-er

        1. EAL, CC '09 says:

          @EAL, CC '09 Nice try, asshole. I’m a rising senior. What, is it outrageous that someone might base their college decision on academics, rather than whether or not they want to live in a city? Columbia was the best school I got in to, and I chose to come here. Three years later, that’s still the reason.

  • umm says:

    @umm “Here in Morningside Heights it’s a little harder to get excited”

    im sorry ny is so boring to you

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous dude have you ever walked around morningside heights? i mean i know going to morton williams is really something to get excited about (not sarcasm) serioulsy, i cant think of a more boring place than morning side heights its all apt buildings, crappy restaurants and ollies. awesome.

  • yikes says:

    @yikes This reads like a really, really bad “personal essay” written for University Writing, back when we were all so concerned with sounding disaffected and cool that we actually ended up sounding like great, honking tools.

    1. ... says:

      @... even after university writing, when i write i still come across as a great, honking tool. does that mean UW has failed or i have?

  • People says:

    @People who don’t live in the city don’t know wtf they’re talking about. Ooooh I play poker late at night and burn fast food in a fireplace…WOW, wish I could trade NYC for THAT experience.

  • still complaining? says:

    @still complaining? Dredging up the same tired criticisms is unproductive. If you want better quality writing to be posted on bwog, become that poster.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous seems like a good time chililng with friends from home. kids here dont seem to remember what it was like to just hang out and have a good time. sigh

    1. DHI says:

      @DHI Yeah, but that comes from having good high school friends and a hometown you like, not from being in the suburbs instead of a city. My guess is that if you grew up in New York you’d still be able to chill out the same way if you were just hanging out with old friends all summer.

  • umm says:

    @umm I grew up in New York City and my summers here have generally been great. I’m not sure what the writer is trying to imply, but I was able to hang out with my friends and have fun… amidst all the pretentious things the writer lists.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous i think we can agree that everyone loyal to where they’re from. i grew up in a shithole in bostom but i loved it cus that’s where family/friend/childhood memories are. its called repping your hood

  • even says:

    @even the very first sentence uses a semicolon wrong.. can’t bring myself to read further

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous i liked it. reminded me of the good old days

  • nyer says:

    @nyer there’s nothing to “rep” about the suburbs except 1950’s values and your UBER REBELLIOUS defiance of them.

  • i dunno says:

    @i dunno columbia isn’t all about morningside heights either. its near exciting neighborhoods and is a train ride away from others. i think going to a city school is such a specific choice, its strange to me when people who don’t enjoy city life choose to go to columbia/barnard when there are so many more options in suburban settings with comparable academic programs

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous not sure about that..of course the city has obvious pluses (“culture,” musuems, various ethnic foods, attractions, etc) but other places have their merits too. For example suburbs offer cheaper food, cheaper entertainment, fresher air, more laid back vibe. it’s just kind of whatever floats your boat. in the author’s defense, she is just talking about summer. and for health reasons alone, i dont blame her; getting out of the city for the summer is an excellent idea. plus campus is dead anyways

  • Good: says:

    @Good: The sicko who raped that J-School student was sentenced to 422 years in prison.

  • well says:

    @well i thought it was a fun read until the last paragraph. why does city life have to automatically suck as a result of the author having fun in suburbia? why can’t they just be different? seems like a halfhearted attempt to make the post “relevant,” when it would’ve been fine, if not great, without it.

    1. Agreed says:

      @Agreed It was pretty cool up until the part where it seems to put down city natives.

      You get to see the same people all the time in suburbia, but you also only get to see the same people. You also always end up in the same place. I guess that’s why you drink and smoke more in the burbs (if anyone thinks urbanites drink/smoke more than suburbanites, you are flat out wrong).

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous if this is who i think it is this girl is pretty cute. probably one of the nicest people i ever met too. well idk about that, dont really know her but i saw her do the nicest thing. i remembr we were in a class in the mathematics building and there was some guy in a wheelchair and she held the door for him and got him to where he needed to go despite the fact that we had an exam that day and everyone else was rushing like mad to get a seat. makes you remember that (some) people here have souls

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous agreed. suburban people def drink more. does that mean they’re more upset cus they need to drink, or happier cus they’re always drunk and high? i thought it was pretty cool too. i dont know if she was really puttind won city natives or just relaying how shitty morningside heights is. idk if you can really disagree with that. if she’s talking about all of nyc then yeah thats not true

  • yellow says:

    @yellow I actually thought it was rather cute. Although I completely disagree with the last paragraph. Otherwise, a nice summery piece.

  • ugh says:

    @ugh Fuck the suburbs.

  • She's a says:

    @She's a senior. But still she heeds the Bwog comments.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous nope. i know her shes not a senior, shes a rising junior

  • ... says:

    @... morningside heights is kinda like the neighborhood incarnate of an obama-clinton ticket. the weaknesses of the suburbs meet the weaknesses of city life to form something nobody is particularly thrilled about.

    1. dude says:

      @dude i know youre trying to be clever but that doesnt make sense

      1. ... says:

        @... in morningside heights, you put up with all of the bullshit that comes with the city, but get very little of the fun.

        if obama were to end up with hillary, he’d get all of the bullshit that is associated with her and the strange irrational hatred that is aimed at her and very little from her strengths.

        is it really that fucking hard? do you need a fucking picture? cos i can make one for you…

    2. DHI says:

      @DHI Morningside Heights is like the neighborhood incarnate of the Obama/Sebelius ticket: the neighborhood is a 46-year old Senator from Illinois, running with a 60-year old governor from Kansas. The “nominee” part of the neighborhood is a biracial male, and the “running mate” section is a white female. Some people like the neighborhood’s charisma and massive volunteer-based organizing, as well as its economic experience in the vice-presidential area, but fear that it lacks foreign policy experience. Like this ticket, the neighborhood does not exist at the present time, but it may come into existence in the next month or two, although it likely will be an entirely different neighborhood.

  • moi says:

    @moi if this is who i think it is this girl’s mad ugly. doesn’t matter she’s got “soul” haha

  • Yeah, says:

    @Yeah, I enjoyed this up until the last paragraph. If you love the ‘burbs so much, then why didn’t you pick a school suited to that? Okay, maybe you came to Columbia (read, Barnard) because of the academics etc, fair enough. But there’s bound to be a trade-off, and you gave up your beloved suburbia for the city. Get over it.

    Or maybe this isn’t really about Columbia at all, as much as how you like suburbian fun a lot more than city fun. Well, then you’d better start filling out transfer apps.

  • ... says:


    1. .... says:

      @.... yeah this really is..wat a tool

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