Home Page

What's On Deck

By Tina Traster

September 14, 2006 -- After a day of swimming and barbequing, my daughter fell asleep and my husband sat on the rocking chair, reading a woodworking magazine. I stepped outside onto the porch to draw in the moist evening air and the quiet. The last streak of sunlight hung on the horizon, and the woods were lighted with sparking fireflies.

I sunk into my Adirondack chair and drank in the magic of my family’s new life in an old house on a mountain ridge overlooking acres of forest in Rockland County, NY. It’s been wonderful, feeling blades of dewy grass between my bare toes, gazing at a star-speckled sky, hearing mourning doves coo.

It’s all a delicious reminder that our hard work over the past two years – the search for an affordable house close to Manhattan and the extremely unpleasant experience of selling an Upper West Side one-bedroom co-op without a broker – ended happily.

Deciding to leave after two decades on the Upper West Side was not exactly an “Aha!” moment. Slow-boiling irritations and gnawing desires crept up over several years, and I began to believe that I, a hard-boiled urbanite, could become a contented suburbanite.

When my husband moved in with me in 2000, sirens and street din kept him up at night. In 2003, a teen gang staked out a local backyard for recreation and partying. Music and the resounding thump of a basketball tossed against the backboard echoed skyward through the courtyard and into our windows. No effort to alleviate the noise worked: not a desperate plea (we have a young baby), not profane shouting matches with the so-called adult in charge of these teens, not the community police. I prayed for rain – the only noise deterrent.

Then there was Seth’s washer/dryer. Seth lived one floor below and when he did laundry, a plume of smoke billowed up past our window. My husband and I would look at each other and simply say “Seth.” You know, the way Jerry Seinfeld used to say “Newman.” We were envious. We were tired of schlepping scads of laundry to and from the basement, continuously feeding the machine all our quarters.

Speaking of quarters, ours were shrinking rapidly. There’s no breathing room when you live and work in a 700-square-foot space you share with a man who can’t pass a dumpster without wanting to rescue some wooden refuse to rehab or with a baby who owns every fandango a modern mother is suckered into buying.

The breaking point is the elusive parking spot. Like smoking – circling endlessly to find a parking spot has to lop off five years of life. Even if it doesn’t prematurely kill you, it robs you of precious time.

Craving peace, space and an easier life, we sailed across the Hudson River to a hamlet near Nyack. While we have plenty of room, land, a washer/dryer, a driveway and more, I’m not Zen enough to feel total contentment. New desires have taken up residence where old ones have been sated – though these new cravings are about hope rather than despair.

Our rustic front porch is small enough to fit a wrought iron bistro table that seats the three of us. We feel blessed when we dine al fresco on salmon, sweet corn and just-picked salad greens. But the eyes wander over to Meredith and Marino’s. “Look at the size of that deck,” I say to my husband, shaking my head with disbelief. “Yeah, must be at least 15ftX25ft,” he says. “Maybe we could turn this porch into a real deck,” I suggest. “Yup, maybe next summer,” he says, “maybe next summer.”

Every time we round the corner, we pass a neighbor’s well-tended vegetable garden. He has lovingly created a cornucopia of summer goodness -- blood red tomatoes, voluptuous eggplants and supple asparagus. We’ve staked out a spot for our own Eden but we’ve only just got around to planting perennials and figuring out how to assemble the lawn mower. Our vegetable garden will have to wait.

On a hot August weekend, we rented a canoe at Paradise Rentals in Piermont, 10 minutes from our house. You can paddle 40 minutes in the shallow Piermont Marsh before you hit the Hudson River. We glided slowly along the channel, listening to tall reeds rustle in the wind. A white duck on the bank tended her brood of ducklings. “I can’t believe this access to the Hudson River,” my husband said. “Yeah, wouldn’t it be great to buy a canoe?” I offered. He pointed out that we’d have the build a garage to house it.

I can’t beat myself up for dreaming. Our new life sparks new desires. It also reminds me of what we left behind.

The sale of our co-op has unfinished business. The co-op board wanted our buyer to escrow a year’s rent because her six-figure lawyer’s salary did not give the fiefdom enough peace of mind that she would pay her maintenance. Annoyed, the buyer was ready to walk. We saved the deal by putting up 40 percent of the money as a loan.

Thirteen months later, after the new owner has paid her rent on time every month, she petitioned the board to return the money. The board is asking her for tax returns and other financial documents to prove she’s solvent. 

We’re still waiting for the money but I breathe a sigh of relief that I will never have to answer to a small group of power-hungry people who make unjust demands. My home might be improved with a deck or a garage but at least it’s mine.

Columns | Essays | HuffPo Blog | Newspapers | Magazines | Business/Finance | Travel | About Me | Contact