On my way to work, once I hit Bloomfield Avenue, I like to take the scenic route to Montclair State University (where I teach American History; more of that once school starts in six weeks) heading northeast on Upper Mountain all the way over to Normal Avenue.
It's the early morning and so I listen to the BBC World Service turned down rather low as befits the English accent of the news announcer. Under a dappled green canopy, I speed by noble, prepossessing mansions on both sides. My attention is inexorably drawn to the houses on my left -- or what's left of them.
The road is more construction zone than residential -- one house has a 30-foot high pyramid of topsoil in front; another one is surrounded by piles and piles of slate and paving stones; another one looks as if it has been entirely gutted, so all that's visible is a shell of outer walls, within which I discern shadowy depths of nothingness -- rooms of the future yet unborn; the next one has no lawn because the grass is flayed up and away like a superfluous extra layer of skin; the next one there's a curved, ragged-edged gouge, ascending toward the main entrance, a raw, brown gouge which will eventually be transformed a new and better driveway; the next one is surrounded by scaffolding so I cannot even guess what is planned.
Passing these ripped-up, torn-up, inside-out sites in never-ending progress, I am distressed to find I've been shaking my head and thinking negative thoughts, such as "What is with these people -- can't they be satisfied with their house the way it is?" and "Do they have to take away the entire insides? Can't they leave anything the same?" and, most crankily, "I guess when you have that much cash you need to do something with it."
Then it dawns upon me that I should not be so quick to take the uncharitable approach to this phenomenon, blaming it so expediently upon blatant consumerism. No. I'll equivocate!
How does this sound: There are two kinds of people in the (suburban) homeowners' world: Visionaries and Domestics.
Short of tearing the existing house down and starting entirely from scratch, Visionaries see their new home as a tabula rasa that has to possess certain elements unknown to Victorians, such as master baths and swimming pools and family rooms.Whereas the Domestics settle in, nice and cozy, then adapt modestly, incrementally, to changing conditions as they come along in their lives, building from within, content to leave well enough alone because, after all, well enough is good enough...for now.