Suburban Rite of Passage: Filling Up Your Kitchen With Appliances You Never Use, EXCEPT a Juicer.

One of the things that happens to you when you move to the suburbs is that you start accumulating a lot of new stuff.  I’ve written before about how one of the big challenges in making the move is buying all the new furniture you need to fill up your new home, after spending years in a cramped city apartment relying on “transformer” furniture: tv trays that become coffee tables, couches that fold out into guest beds, collapsable end tables that turn into seating for six, stuff like that.

The effect is even bigger in the kitchen.  When I lived in the city, I pretty much had one appliance: a toaster.  That was it.  To the extent that I might have had any culinary ambitions, they were pretty much limited to recipes that relied heavily on browning slices of bread.  The funny thing was that I don’t actually eat a lot of toast — I rarely eat breakfast, and toast is not really a dinner food.  But when I got my own place, my mother got me the toaster, telling me that having a toaster was a sign of maturity, a sign of settling down.  I honestly never knew that a humble toaster could say so much about a person.

Nevertheless, that toaster stayed with me for years, prominently featured in my tiny little kitchen, just sitting there like a scrub basketball player at the end of the bench waiting for the coach to call him into the game, patiently biding its time until the day that I would have a dinner party featuring 15 different varieties of warmed bread

Now, of course, it didn’t really matter back then, because I never cooked.  Two people with full time jobs living in a small apartment with no kids and access to about 100 restaurants that will deliver food to their door have little need to roll their own pasta. But now that I’m in the suburbs, and well outside the Lenny’s delivery zone, I’ve suddenly found myself cooking more.  And as a result, my toaster has suddenly spawned a whole new array of cooking appliances:

  • A food processor, which according to most people who cook is the one indispensable cooking appliance.  To me, it seems like the one indispensable way to cut off a few of my fingers.
  • A pasta maker, which I haven’t actually used yet because I can’t figure it out.  I’m not sure that I have all the pieces, because it just looks too flimsy.  I need to do some research.
  • A slow cooker, which I think we might have had in the old apartment in the city, but it was always stored in an upper cabinet above the refrigerator, and required me to get a stool to pull it out, and it was heavy, and I am very, very lazy, so that was pretty much it for slow cooking back in the city.  Now it sits on the counter, just waiting for me to fill it with vegetables and meat and then find something else to do for six hours or so.
  • A waffle maker, which is just about the most frivolous appliance you could possibly have.  It does one thing. One thing!  And moreover, you only need that one thing at most once a month, unless you really, really like a lot of waffles.  To paraphrase Robin Williams, a waffle maker is God’s way of telling you that you have too much space in your kitchen.

That’s all on top of all the new pots and pans we have stored away in our ridiculously big cabinets, including a couple of cast iron pans that I like using just because it makes me feel like I’m some scrappy short order cook in a diner or something.  COOKING WITH IRON!

One thing I will NEVER get, though, is a juicer.  I’ve had a juicer. It was horrible.  I think a lot of people at some point in their life fall victim to the hype about juicers — that we all need to drink more juice, it’s so healthy, so tasty.  What no one ever tells you in those commercials is the amount of sheer pain that goes into making a cup of juice.

First, you have to buy an absolutely ungodly amount of fruit.  I had no idea how little juice there was in an orange until I tried to make orange juice. You need like a whole SACK OF ORANGES to make a decent glass for just one person.  You want to make juice for your friends coming over for brunch?  No problem, just back up the car to the produce stand and start emptying it into your trunk.  Why haven’t those geneticists come up with an orange that is nothing but juice, that you can basically stick a straw into like a coconut?  Something to work on, you scientist geeks!

Second, once you have your crate full of oranges, you have to actually CUT them before you can stuff them into the juicer’s big scary sharpy maw.  But doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of the juicer?  If I wanted to sit there and cut oranges all day, I could just squeeze them to make my juice.  I don’t even need you, Mr. Juicer.

Third, once you’re done stuffing 87 orange halves into the juicer to make a small cup of juice, now you have to actually clean the juicer.  And it’s not like cleaning a juicer is like cleaning a pan — the juicer has this sharp, complicated blade that is perfect for severing more of my fingers, and which ends up all matted up with dismembered orange parts. “Scrub scrub scrub the blade,” sings the juicemaker!

Bottom line, if you want a nice cup of juice, expect to spend about half an hour between the cutting and the stuffing and the cleaning.  And that’s for oranges, which actually have a decent amount of juice in them.  You want, say, carrot juice, with all those helpful anti-oxidants or whatever it’s supposed to have, figure on an hour.  For a cup of juice. A cup.

The one thing a juicer does is give you an enormous appreciation for those stores that will sell you a big glass of freshly squeezed juice for like six bucks.  After you’ve owned a juicer, you’ll never begrudge paying that money for juice again. Six Dollars!  Think about it — it’s the same price as a large cup of coffee, but I can make all the coffee I want pretty easily at home.  I don’t even know how those juice places can stay in business, or keep their employees for more than one shift.  I’d rather dig ditches than make juice for other people.

So my advice to new suburbanites is this: never ever under any circumstances ever ever EVER get a juicer.  Otherwise, when it comes to appliances filling up your kitchen counters and cabinets, go crazy, if only so that you can make your visiting toast-eating city friends jealous.

Suburban Rite of Passage: Shopping at Marchalle’s

I have never been a big clothes horse.  At least, compared to what you see in the rarified air of Manhattan, where even straight men do things like get bespoke suits (a term I only even learned a few years ago), and read GQ, and actually, you know, have a sense of fashion.  I don’t keep track of whether my lapels are supposed to be wide or narrow, or what kind of vents I’m supposed to have in my suits, or, frankly, what vents actually are.

Essentially, the extent of my fashion knowledge boils down to some basic points that I’ve gathered over the years:

  • Three button suits, which were really in a few years ago, are not so in.
  • Double-breasted suits, which haven’t been in for a while, are still not in.
  • Pleats go with cuffed pants, flat fronts with no cuffs (I think).
  • In casual wear, don’t tuck your shirt on (it took me a long time to grasp this).

My only real fashion principle is that I throw out my ties every few years, sometimes if only because of the tomato sauce stains that end up on the ones I have.  But I also know that the fashion police have realized that ties are the one relatively affordable item that even fashionphobics like me will bother to replace periodically, and so they reinforce that impulse by making ties the one “fashion statement” that even schlubs like me can grasp and follow.  So ties get fat, then they get skinny, then paisley is in, then paisley is out, etc.  That’s why when you watch a late-90s sitcom like Frasier, where all the characters were ostensibly fashion plates, you see Frasier and Niles wearing dark shirts or those goofy ties, and realize just how old the show is.  Essentially, replacing your ties is a lot cheaper than replacing your suits, so the fashionistas change tie styles often enough to at least force the schlubby to go shopping every few years.

So the general point?  I’m not a big fashion guy.  That said, I’ve always had at least some degree of “Manhattan fashion sense,” which basically boils down to having a lot of black clothes.  Now that I’m in the suburbs, though, I’ve started to notice a change.  Less black, more jeans, more super-casual wear.

It’s a slow change, but it’s starting to happen. I can feel my impulse to put on dressy clothes when we go out ebbing, as I realize that I’m very overdressed for the crowd at the local restaurant or even at a bar or something.  What passes for normal on the upper west side, or even the lower east side, seems like pretension in the local Nyack eateries.

Thus, it was with some degree of fascination mixed with revulsion mixed with anticipation that I stepped into Marshalls for the first time.  Marshalls, the epitome of the suburban “place to buy clothes where you don’t really care what you look like anymore” mall store.  Or, as we call it in the suburbs, “Marchalles,” with a frenchified accent.

And, you know what?  Not so bad!  Lots of ridiculously cheap stuff that is clearly not “trendy,” but reasonable looking and ridiculously cheap and, have mentioned, ridiculously cheap.  I’m not going to buy a suit there, I haven’t fallen over that cliff (at least not yet), but got a couple of pairs of jeans (one fashion principle I refuse to accept is the idea that, one pair of jeans is different from another pair of jeans), a bunch of very discounted “Life is Good” t-shirts that I wear around the house or theoretically if I ever go to the gym, and some socks. Socks are socks.  These ones were socks like other socks, but cheaper.

From a SUMA perspective, here’s the way to think about Marshalls. If someone opened a “remaindered” shop somewhere in Dumbo, or in some burned out storefront on the lower east side, and didn’t put a sign out, and spread the word through Twitter or whatever about the amazing deals you could get on cheap jeans and tshirts and stuff like that, all the trendies would flock to it in that “semi-ironic so we don’t admit that we’re doing something uncool but really in our hearts we know that we’re being ridiculous” way.  They’d all be telling their friends about this super-great discount store that popped up, and they’d be staggering out laden with all sorts of cheap booty that they’d wear ironically.  Take out the burnt-out storefront, and the underground viral whispering campaign, and replace it with a big airconditioned supermarket clothing store filled with suburban housewives, and that’s Marshalls.  Same stuff, just a different attitude.

So Marshalls is okay in my book.  I just have to squint a little to blur out what it is I am actually doing, and keep repeating a mantra to myself that an $8 tshirt that I’ll wear about 100 times in the next few years is a great buy.  Fingers crossed, though, that I never get to the point that I’m buying my suits there……


The Unanticipated Politics of Getting a Dog

I wasn’t prepared for the politics of getting a dog.  Wow.

Since I got my new suburban accessory, a cute little half-Pomeranian, half-Shitsu ball of fur called Kozy the Dog, I’ve been asked by a lot of people where I got him.  I guess that because of my general liberal sensibilities, people assumed that OF COURSE I would go to a shelter rather than a pet store.  And when they found out that I actually did the horrible, awful, convenient thing of buying a dog at a store, I got this look like I’d just wrenched a baby seal from the protective comfort of her mother and clubbed her to death.

Listen, I get it.  I tried very hard to get a shelter dog, did all my research online looking for the kind of dog I wanted, put out feelers in all the local shelters, but it just didn’t happen in time.  I wanted a dog for my wife for a Christmas gift, and I guess that’s when demand is high and supply is low, because the shelters just didn’t have the types of dogs I wanted available in the time I needed. Yes, my deadline was arbitrary, but, well, I wanted a stupid dog to give to my wife for Christmas.  So sue me.

So I went to pet store, run by some very nice people in the area. Took my wife there, we looked at the dogs, fell in love with the Kozy dog.  He was maybe, probably the result of a puppy mill, which I think is terrible.  But nothing I could do about that.  He was already alive, already there, nothing I could do about that.  Again, go ahead and sue me.  I found a dog I liked, and I got him.

The backlash literally started the same day.  All excited to have our new puppy, and committed as usual to supporting small local businesses, we went into a local store to buy some doggy stuff — food, some bedding, etc.  So the guy behind the counter, old guy, not the friendliest of local proprietors, asked me where I got the dog.  And when I tell him, he sneers at me, “Oh, I just don’t get it — people who sell dogs,” in the kind of tone that someone might say “Oh, people who sell human body parts.”  And he points to some dogs that I guess his store shelters part-time, two dogs that God-Bless-Their-Poor-Hearts-I-Hope-Someone-Adopts-Them look like the kind of beasts that should be applying to guard Hades, and tells me that i could have gotten those dogs instead of buying one at a store.  Given that I just wanted a small dog, and that I don’t own a junk yard that I’m trying to guard, it wasn’t really an option.  Strike one.

So then he asks me what breed it is. I tell him what the sign said when I got him, that it was a “Pomshu,” which is this cute little name that people have come up with for half-Poms, half-Shitsus, sort of that whole “designer dog” idea.  Another sneer: “Oh, so he’s a mutt.”  Okay, fine, I probably did sound a little like a jackass, but that is, in my defense, what the stupid sign said.  Fine, he’s a mutt, I have no problem with that, but it bothered me that he thought I did.  Strike two.

And then to add to my cavalcade of consumer happiness, he asks how old he is.  My wife tells him that the dog is about three months old, and he shoots back, “well, I guess he was there for a while, that no one wanted him.”  That would be strike three.

So, basically, we didn’t buy anything.  One local business that I don’t need to support.

Again, I get it.  I love dogs. I love animals. I don’t like people to exploit them.  I’m not about to throw blood at people, or forswear eating meat or wearing leather, but I’m in that squishy middle ground that most people are in.  So if I could have gotten a shelter dog, I would have.  But I couldn’t, at least not the type of dog in the time I wanted.

You want to revoke my “good liberal” card, then go ahead.  But I just wanted a dog for my wife, I wasn’t trying to save the world.  I gave a chunk of money to my local shelter in Kozy’s name, I’ll give another chunk next year, and that’s my contribution.

In the meantime, excuse me, I’m going to go clean up some poop.

Suburban Rite of Passage: Getting a Dog — The End of My Poop-Free Life

My wife always wanted us to get a dog.  She’s allergic to like every kind of hair except dog hair, oddly enough, so I think that part of her just wants a dog so she can curl up next to something hairy without getting all itchy.

But she bugged me for years about getting one, to the point that one year she asked if I wanted a hint for what to get her for Christmas.  I said, “sure,” and she responded by going like this: “Ruff Ruff.”  Which I think is unfair, insofar as barking like a dog is not really so much of a hint as it is a command.  So no dog for her that year.

It’s not that I don’t like dogs. I love dogs.  But I didn’t want to have a dog in the city.  It’s just too tough.  You can’t take the dog anywhere you go, you can’t even take a dog off leash in Central Park, and walking the dog seems like it would horrible to both human and dog.  Walking city streets is great, walking a dog is great, walking a dog on city streets is horrible: hard pavement, constant fear of passing cars, etc.  And if you don’t have outdoor space, you either train the dog really, really well to hold it in while you’re at work, or your apartment slowly becomes a poop zone.

On top of all that, it was the stairs. I’ve mentioned the stairs before. Four flights.  The idea of schlepping that stupid dog up and down all those stairs every time he had to take a poop was just unfathomable.

So no dog while we were in the city.  It was one of the few arguments I ever won with my wife.  My life was a complete poop-free zone.  No kids. No dog.  The only poop I had to deal with was my own, which was frankly all I could handle.

But then, of course, we moved to the suburbs — otherwise known as “Doggie Heaven”.  Big back yards, lots of dog-friendly parks, dog runs, people with dogs, kids with dogs, dog stores, everything a dog could want. And although we didn’t have a yard, we had an elevator, so walking the dog would be a lot easier.

I held out for as long as I could.  I really enjoyed that poop-free life of mine.  We’re going to have a kid at some point (the next great Suburban Rite of Passage), at which time my life will become heavily invested with OPP (“other people’s poop”), so my hope was to hold off on getting a dog until I had no other choice.

That said, I didn’t really hold out for long. I made it until Christmas, the first gift-giving holiday following our move to the suburbs.  So really, I didn’t hold out at all.  First holiday, new dog. A cute little half-Pomeranian, half-Shitsu puppy that we named “Kozy,” after a little stuffed animal called “Kozy Bear” that I’d gotten my wife a few years ago.  He’s a really great dog, and my wife is committed to teaching him how to poop in specially designated poop areas.  So I have some guarded optimism.

Move to the suburbs, then get a dog.  One of the great Suburban Rites of Passage.

Three Suburban Rites of Passage in One Day: Costco Membership, Getting an SUV, and Our First Suburban Party

The Suburan Rites of Passage.  Those changes, both big and small, where you start losing your urban identity and start adopting the customs of your new home. When you start evolving from urban hipster to suburban fuddy-duddy.

I’ve been noticing those Rites of Passage over the past few months, most of them little changes in perspective that sneak up on you where you realize that you’re becoming a true suburban.  You become exasperated when there isn’t a close parking spot in the mall, forgetting the 25 minute drive-arounds you used to do to find a spot anywhere in the city.  You go to the movies for a first-weekend blockbuster and get there only 20 minutes in advance, secure that you’ll still be able to get a seat.  You eat at Cheesecake Factory.

But it’s the big Suburban Rites of Passage that slap you in the head and make you confront your reality.  We had three of them today.

1.  Joining Costco

We got our Costco card today.  Now, I’m not going to belabor the experience, because the whole “marvel at all the giant boxes of things you buy at Costco” is a pretty tired cliche at this point.  But it really is amazing — huge warehouse full of all these oversized bottles and boxes, where you end up getting way more stuff than you really need.  And joining Costco is almost a suburban requirement, particularly if you’re new to the suburbs and you’re not used to needing, say, toilet paper in more than just one bathroom.  So instead you get the 800 roll pack, or whatever, so you’re well-stocked for the next 100 years.

2.  Getting an SUV

You know how in the city, if you look at traffic stopped at a light, about half the cars are taxicabs?  In the suburbs, half the cars are SUVs.  Every family has one.  So we had to have one, even though it’s going to be my wife’s car and we don’t even have a kid yet.  But we are desperate, you know, to fit in.  Seriously, it just wouldn’t look right if my thirtysomething suburban wife was driving around in some sort of convertible or sports car.  More importantly, she’s a terrible, terrible, driver, so I wanted her to be able to ride high in the saddle and, moreover, have a lot of car between her and whatever it is that she’s going to hit.  So an SUV it is!

3.  Our First Suburban Party

We’ve been in the suburbs for almost five months, but we hadn’t yet been to a proper suburban party.  Part of that is we don’t have a lot of friends in the area, and haven’t been particularly good about meeting new people. And part of it is, frankly, that I’m a crotchety person that people don’t like having around.  Despite all that, we were invited to her friend Noelle’s house for a Christmas party.  She lives in Northern New Jersey, and we actually know her through a group of friends we made in the Apollo Circle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of my wife’s recent desperate attempts to inject some cultural significance our lives.

So Noelle threw our first suburban party, which is different from city parties in one big way: I couldn’t drink, because I had to drive home, and I don’t like dying or getting arrested.  I can’t begin to tell you how much of a difference not drinking made. I’d like to say that it was like one of those movies where a guy who’s a borderline alcoholic learns that he doesn’t need to drink to have a good time.  But it wasn’t.  It was like one of those movies where a guy who isn’t a borderline alcoholic learns that not drinking all night at a party is a real fucking bummer.

So that was our day: joining Costco, getting an SUV, and going to a selectively-dry suburban party.  Three Suburban Rites of Passage in one day.  Awesome!