Monday, September 15, 2008

Mired in dullness

I haven’t had any work trips for a while. So I haven’t had time on the plane to take a break and write a few things. And now I just watched The Visitor from Row 3, Seat D, looking down on the Great Plains while a movie about America is showing on the small screen. The film is about an unlikely relationship between a dull old typical American male professor leading a dull suburban life and a family of undocumented immigrants from Syria and Senegal. They are scammed by one of the many scammers across this great land of ours who prey on immigrants.

It was a good story and is a good reminder of the need to break away from dullness. I’m sure it conjured up other thoughts for other people -- the need for immigrant rights, families being separated from one another -- but for me it was clearly about making a change in your life to avoid isolation, to avoid suburban plainness.

I get depressed about the thought of people living in the burbs. Those dull boxy two-story homes built in the 60s, 70s and 80s. I’m sure they are still being constructed in this century, but I try to look the other way. Those new housing developments from the nineties and naughts just look like strip malls with lawns.

The real suburbs were the neighborhoods I was envious of as a child. People lived in bright new homes with thick wall-to-wall carpet, had giant family rooms in a subterranean basement, and had a separate television dedicated to the Atari. They had big rectangular front yards, and even larger rectangular back yards, always fading off into a creek. Their lawns were perfect, with thick green grass growing right up the trunk of the magnolias and pines. Their driveways were perfectly paved in grey, taupe or blacktop.

The house of my childhood was one long floor, only three steps down to the sunken living room. It had an interesting ranch-meets-Lloyd Wright style, with cork floors and skinny horizontal windows. As a child it was far from the big clean newness of those suburban homes. It was in an older neighborhood close to downtown. It was where the not-so-“new” members of the middle class resided.

Today, I look at the matured suburbs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The once sun-covered lawns now shrouded in pine cones and pine straw falling from the trees on all sides. Some driveways have cracks and some have been repaved. Some houses have been remodeled and others look just as they were. The houses built for families with young children now house the adults of my parents’ generation. They live isolated, hopping in their cars for trips to restaurants in shopping centers and they watch as their home values decline.

Meanwhile, the people living in the one-story older houses have remodeled and re-landscaped. They walk to the new restaurants that have popped up here and there. They mingle with migrants, students, tourists and other people. Their children interact with other children and other adults at cafes. They go to the park not for a family picnic, but to walk around and smile and listen to music and rollerblade with other people. They don’t live isolated suburban lives, living in the denial.

Life’s a bit dull. I can’t shop for furnishings; I can’t travel far and wide; I can’t cook; work is too demanding. A remodel is happening and my money will be spent. It could be bad, and it’s not. It’s all good. Just a bit dull. But it’s all good. Same job for 14 years. Good. Overall it’s good. And when the house is remodeled, I won’t have to get in a car and drive to The Olive Garden for a drab dinner to make life feel very dull and isolating. I’ll walk down the hill to grab a bite to eat and walk around looking at all of the interesting totally freaky wacky people that can help make life less dull. Then I’ll walk back up the hill to look out at the vista of other people’s houses: the same people who were just walking around down the hill, now in their little dull houses.

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