(dedicated to all parents)
When I was a teenage paper delivery boy, I only made a buck an hour because our suburb was so sprawled out. Built on top of once-productive farmland, the driveways and lawns were massive, though the homes were modest and poorly constructed. Overall, it was bleak and boring. The miniputt got burned down by stoned teens. The McDonalds had a four-fatality robbery.
Suburbia is a failed trend – and a bit of a scam – that children pay for even more than their commuter-parents who got sucked into it by fast-talking TV. In a full hour of walking across gigantic lawns guarded by bored, growling dogs, I make what an urban paperboy makes in 10 minutes with no dog terror.
But even with this tiny amount of money to play with, I manage to save $12 to buy a red maple tree from Botrop’s Tree Farm. At twelve hours of labor, it’s like buying a $280 tree with the salary I make today.
After asking permission, I carefully plant the little sapling next to the walkway of our house, taking care to water it just enough the first few weeks to give it a chance at a healthy life. The old man even came out of the house the first time I watered it to quickly nod his approval. He only appeared for a half minute, and he was actually on his way to the car to go golfing – but he still nodded, which is like gold to me. “My daddy nodded at me!” (note to future parents: remember to nod at your children. – it might be their only fond memory of you)
Fast-forward five years: While in my freshman year at the local college, my mother explains over dinner that crows are attacking her new vegetable garden, and that the red maple tree is blocking the view. For me, the lack of sound insulation in our house seems far more critical than crow surveillance. We’re all light sleepers, and it’s like living in a tent. When I mention this, it infuriates her.
Another life-quality diminishing feature of my suburban existence is getting to school. My mother and her sisters used to walk a few miles in snow to school, and now, I have to commute many times that distance – alone. She had it so good. No one in my environment wants to give me – a college type – a lift to college. A wise war-veteran neighbor even sees my sub-zero hitchhiking as a kind of life lesson: the value of a snotty education versus the value of owning a nice, comfy car. No one questions why the college is on a highway in the middle of nowhere. Maybe if they went to college, they would. (It infuriates everyone when I say this out loud instead of just thinking it)
A few days after Mom’s anti-tree hate speech, when I get home from hitchhiking from an exam, all the leaves have dried up and fallen off. I ask my mother what happened, and she slowly and guiltily explains: “Your father killed it with soapy, hot water.” When I ask her why, she shrugs and says she doesn’t know. Like he was an Apache and she was a cowboy: “It is his way.”
Funny thing is that the maple tree was still small enough to move and replant when he poisoned it. But I guess the temptation to kill things is too strong to resist in the burbs. Maybe it’s because all those proud, honor-driven suburban hunters have nothing legitimate left to kill and eat: all the wild game and wild land has already been pre-killed to make room for suburbia and the predators who mow its lawns.
My little contribution to the crass commercial warscape – the tiny red tree I bought with my paperboy money – is sacrificed to the mighty surveillance state, to a private panopticon with an above-ground pool and earwigs. A year from now, my mother will give up gardening when she realizes she doesn’t really care for it. And soon after that, I’ll move away from home.
Last I heard – that double-wide bungalow still has no sound insulation and I’m still the Steel City Fruit.
(Note. Any resemblance to real human beings is unintentional. This story – like other Steel City Fruit stories – is purely fictional.)