Saturday, April 26, 2014

Suburban Wildlife: A Very Short Primer

My wife saw a deer amble down the middle of the road on the evening of the day we moved into our townhouse. She told me all about it after I returned from the apartment with one last carload of our stuff. We both thought that was neat, being close to nature ‘n all. I even made an uninspired crack about how we had traded one form of wildlife for another. (Audience groans, comedian apologizes.)

Our former apartment building is in the west end of our city’s inner core. While tame compared to its equivalent in larger cities, our neighborhood was a little scuffed and worn for this government town. It wasn’t unusual to see derelicts of all sorts whenever we stepped out the door. And every now and then, one of them would get loose inside our building. It was that, as well as our shrinking living space, that made us decide to move out to the suburbs, to a neighborhood just one subdivision over from the one where I grew up, to raise The Most Beautiful Baby Boy You’ve Ever Seen.

Out here on the greenbelt’s outer rim you’d be hard pressed to find the homeless. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

But then I think back to my teen years, hanging out at a coffee shop that used to be not too far from here, where one day a rather down-in-the-heels man, a real live hobo, walked in and asked he could use the restroom. The store manager answered this query not with yes or no but with a firm request for him to leave the premises.

“C’mon,” he said, “I really gotta use the bathroom.”

With that the manager picked up the phone and called the police, and the hobo stomped outside and plunked himself down on the sidewalk just outside the coffee shop window. Soon enough, not one but two squad cars were on the scene, and a heated discussion ensued. The hobo waved his hands about, and the cops were holding theirs up in a gesture that seemed to say “Alright, buddy. Just settle down.”

This went on for some time as the hobo’s emotions escalated. From my somewhat close proximity from within the shop, I could see tears in his eyes – of rage? of sadness? of some cumulative weight bearing down, years in the making? We’ll never know, as he was cuffed and put into the back of one of the squad cars. 

Don’t mess with suburbia.

Just up the main thoroughfare from our new house, a large swath of greenbelt has been razed, and a large sign heralds the impending arrival of yet another neighborhood, Coming Soon! 

I hate to see this constant encroaching on nature, but here I am endorsing it by choosing to live here. Whenever I drive down the road, I feel like I’ve clicked on an unseen I ACCEPT button just underneath Coming Soon! 

At a time like this I should be thinking about (and relishing) my family’s new home, and anyway isn’t it swell to be seeing a real live deer walking past our door? Instead, my thoughts are on homelessness and the vagrants of the world, human or otherwise.

Journal entry, July 2012


  1. "Derelicts", "one of them would get loose...". I am homeless, due to my husband becoming very seriously ill and my not being able to work as I am caring for him. We both come from a tech background- he in marketing mgt, myself in the legal side. I have never been called a derelict, nor have I ever called another person a derelict, now or at any time in my life. No matter what it is that you say you are doing, just your use of that word alone shows your true colors. My advice to you is don't go whistling past any graveyards. You have no idea how fast or easy this can happen to anyone.

  2. Thank you for reading and for having the courage to call me out on this. This post is a critique of the smug and elitist attitude that can often arise among suburbanites, and being a product of suburbia myself, it is also an exercise in self-critique. The use of the word “derelict” was intended to convey the nascent callousness towards homeless people that had begun creeping into my own attitudes. I’m not proud of it, and in fact when I first wrote this piece in a private journal I was keeping at the time, it was something that bothered me enough that I felt compelled to confront it on paper.

    The two dominant themes in this piece are that those who have it all (homeowners and aspiring homeowners) are prone to viewing those who have nothing (the homeless) as something less than human, as mere animals, hence my choice of wording “…one of them would get loose inside our building,” as well as the idea that human expansion (either by boom/bust cycles or sprawling suburbs) creates homelessness, either in human or animal populations.

    Although I am glad this piece compelled you to share your story (even if by way of a rebuke), I am sorry for the attitudes I have held in the past. If only I can offend those who hold those attitudes now, I will have done my job.