City Girl in the ‘Burbs

The first several years of my life were lived a few yards from the thundering Atlantic ocean on Beach 129th Street in Rockaway Beach, Queens. Wildlife came by way of seagull, pigeon, the occasional crab and sometime dolphin. The rest remained under the surface of the sea. At 18 I moved to Manhattan and spent the next 21 years living apartment life. Dogs were on leashes except in dog parks. Cats were indoors except for those being rescued by an animal rescue organization. Rats were poisoned and mice met their fate in  a snap trap. Even those animals living in the Central Park Zoo lived the city life, returning to their comfy indoor shelters at night. In the city it is light even when it is night. There are no darkened streets. When it snows the plows and neighbors armed with shovels begin removing it before it is over. And when the snowfall has ended  big snow melters are used to melt the large snow piles on the corner. When it is hot the AC blows from every business and apartment building door. You need sweaters for August shopping trips. Even the subway cars seem chilly after a long mid-July ride.

In other words, I have not spent much of my life in nature. Or even suburban nature. As such, there are some stories to share. Here I give you two.

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Each December, just before Christmas, my children’s school erects a stable. It is small, with only a back wall and 2 half walls and a roof that really is the width of the awning outside Left Bank Books in the West Village. (Anyone who has ever sought shelter under that awning in a rainfall or snowstorm quickly discovers it is useless.) Then a bunch of stable animals arrive, a goat, some sheep, a donkey. It is all in preparation for Christmas and the quite lovely live Nativity the children put on during an evening of caroling.

Well, I pull up one blustery morning with cold rain falling and flurries on the way. I see the animals standing there and can’t decide if they are bored or freezing. And then I realize that the office probably doesn’t know it is raining and windy. So I march into school and announce to the secretary “It’s raining and flurries are  on the way! Would you like help putting the animals away?”

The whole office went silent. “Excuse me?” the secretary asked. “I’m not sure where you put them, but I’m happy to help get them inside.” I say, thinking they didn’t really hear me or were perhaps stunned that a city girl like myself would be so willing to handle the farm animals. Then she and the other secretary and some women I hadn’t met yet began laughing.

I learned then that they stay outside. Under that awful half roof next to the sorry bale of hay. And they are apparently very happy about it (if not bored) and are not at all freezing to death. As I left I stopped by their double fenced pen and whispered “The animals get indoor houses in Central Park.” I’m pretty sure the donkey thought I was an ass.

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Everyone who has never lived in New York City thinks those that live there must be very familiar with crime. I enjoy stating that I have lived in every borough other than Staten Island and very rarely witnessed crime at all. I was never mugged (knock on wood) and pretty much just skated by. I figure people either knew I had nothing or thought I was too crazy to bother with. Either way, I came out of my nearly whole life of city living quite unscathed.

You can imagine my dismay driving through my sister’s Jersey Shore neighborhood in early December to see nothing but one slaughtered Christmas lawn ornament after another. Just the night before they were all lit up and inflated, bobbing in the wind, looking like those punching bags you can’t knock over. One neighbor’s lawn featured Santa going down the chimney. Another a snowman. And several had penguins and reindeer and even a Snoopy & Woodstock display that took up much of the property.

But today, they all lay there, crumpled up and splayed out. And I was aghast. Who would do such a thing in this neighborhood? Clearly these suburban children have way too much time on their hands. Teenagers in NYC are still trying to figure out the subway and 2 bus routes to class each day coupled with getting past the metal detector when you have you ear, nose and throat pierced. City kids would never run around slaughtering Christmas decorations! What is wrong with these kids? Don’t they know their neighbors own guns?!

I got to my sister’s house and promptly announced the mass slaughter to her police officer neighbor who I saw had his own Frosty slaughtered as well. “I can’t believe it!” I exclaimed. At this he responded by plugging in Frosty. Which promptly shot up and began dancing in the breeze. “No one slashed the decorations, Alison. We just unplug them during the day.” I believe he thought of me the same as the donkey. What an ass!

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