Tragedy in Lush Surroundings.


For the past 30 years, my parents and some of us children, have lived in Bergen County, NJ. We moved here from Chicago into an area of small towns, woods, farms, and historic homes.

Some of the charm that once existed here has been replaced by the sweep of corporate headquarters or in the robotic commercialism of strip malls. But there is still an old fashioned human feeling in the day-to-day interactions.

I have come back here from Los Angeles, almost yearly, and now the reasons that I return have to do with medical emergencies. The latest has been my mother breaking her hip. My father is disabled, so I flew in to oversee his care. And most heartbreaking to me, to put their house up for sale and move them to the “safer” confines of the badly named “Golden State”.

I wish that Northern New Jersey were not so lovely. I drive my father to physical therapy past vast green lawns and little towns with flag draped streets. I pass the barn where he once sat in art class; I stop at the Ridgewood Library to return a book; I take him for a walk in the park. We cut through country lanes and those suburban roads where one still may see the occasional horse and where vast forests of maple and birchwood keep homes cool even when the humidity is 80%.

Once upon a time this region was my promise of a glorious future. I would live in Manhattan, and when it got too stressful, I could come back to Woodcliff Lake and my parents would barbecue on the back deck, surrounded by hundreds of trees…never planted but spontaneously growing and enveloping the house. Down there, along the property line, an old stone wall stood as a border.

I guess I am one of those who went West, more out of escape than adventure, and landed in Los Angeles as one lands in a prison. I tried to convince myself that the friends who never showed up for lunch and the hours I sat on the 405, were somehow just small inconveniences and not evidence of a larger pathology, a geographical cancer that grows and grows each year and devours more of America and the world and calls itself…Hollywood.

Here in the waning days of the New Jersey chapter, the neighbors are still here to wave hello; the local handyman is working on three different houses on this street; and someone at the Town Hall owes my mother $100 as reimbursement for joining another town’s library since this one is too small to have its own.

Was I spoiled? Yes, I think I have been. I haven’t yet bought into Charles Phoenix and his paens to the junk and kitsch of the Southland. I still admire the stone houses of the Dutch settlers, and think it looks nice when men in gray flannel suits board a train to go work in the city. I love a thunderstorm and look forward to waking up everyday in New Jersey and knowing that the weather is unknowable. I don’t need sun everyday.

But mostly what I need now is what’s gone. I dream of a restoration of a lost time, but each day this summer is one step closer to the end of the best years of our lives.</p

4 thoughts on “Tragedy in Lush Surroundings.

  1. Andy…

    Our backgrounds are so similar it’s almost scary…I was born in Chicago, moved to Ringwood, NJ where I spent my formative adolescent and teen years, and finally landed out West in the Valley for reasons I can no longer remember…

    Every time I go back to Passaic/Bergen county I can’t help but draw a comparison to LA and pine over how much I miss lush landscape, “full serve” cheap gas, fresh air, and real people…

    I almost wish it was mandatory that all LA natives spend a min of 2 years in Jersey to see what real people live like!

  2. I grew up in SoCal and I get what you’re saying because I went to college in Ohio and I spent some Thanksgivings in Princeton, NJ and Westerly, Rhode Island. I also lived in CT for a summer. People think that California is the end all, be all, but I have to disagree.

  3. Andrew,

    So well put. I understand completely. Been there myself. I moved west a long time ago & my mom, although she was here, got Alzheimer’s and passed away. I can completely relate to what you’re going through. At first we missed our family back there & our summer house in upstate NY. Then as the years passed we didn’t fly back as often. Then with my mom getting ill it was a huge issue to deal with. Watching someone you love disappear in front of you. And now I miss her more than ever. I do understand, believe me. Oh, I live in Van Nuys and work in Hollywood too.

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