Friday, February 15, 2013

Looking for a Home, Literally and Figuratively

My spouse and I recently made the decision to move out of our apartment, which is getting much too small for two adults, two children, a cat and a dog.  We've also pretty much decided to buy a house or condo, and it's more than likely that we won't be buying here in Newark.  However, we haven't really been moving too fast towards this goal.

We've both managed to get this far in our lives without buying a home, and that's certainly no mistake.  During my years as a wandering scholar, I either didn't have the money or the long-term job prospects to be buying a home.  I'm also deeply suspicious of the American cult of home ownership.  There's also the fact that homes in this area are insanely expensive, and I when I see substandard houses being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, I think I'm a sucker to pay these kinds of prices.  Having grown up in the rural Midwest, where you can buy amazing houses for 150K, this is especially hard to swallow.  It's just that I feel I'm an even bigger sucker to not have my monthly rent payments building up equity.

Beyond all of these practical roadblocks, I have been stymied by the choice of where to live.  Since we reside in northeastern New Jersey, there are innumerable communities to choose from, as they are all relatively small and shmushed up against each other.  If I had my druthers, we'd move to Brooklyn, but the commute would be so difficult for my spouse (who works in suburban New Jersey) that there's no way we can do that.  I like living in the Ironbound a lot, but the property taxes here are nuts, and the quality of public schools are low.

At the bottom of all of this, I don't know where it is that I could feel comfortable living for what will likely be the rest of my life.  I've rarely ever lived in places where I fit in.  Growing up in my isolated hometown, I was a bullied misfit, and was extremely happy to break away from it.  I found some community in college, but it was a school dominated by frat culture and Catholicism, those of us who weren't praying or doing kegstands on a constant basis had some camaraderie, but we were vastly outnumbered.  Once I got into academia I was much more likely to feel comfortable, surrounded as I was by fellow nerds.  However, once I was expelled from the warm cocoon of grad school, I spent three years on the tenure track in East Texas, at a school and in a town where my outsider status was practically branded on my forehead.  If I had stay there for the rest of my life (shudder) I would never have fit in or been accepted.

One great thing about the Ironbound is that I stand out so much here that I have no pressure to fit in, since there's no way that could ever happen.  If we move to a different community, things get more complicated.  There are towns I like, both because of their proximity to the commuter train line and quality books stores, as well as their atmosphere and diversity, but these places tend to be quite expensive for all those reasons.  The more affordable places so resemble the lower-middle class enclaves my wife and I grew up in that they make me feel like running for the hills, screaming in fear.  I have zero desire to go back to such places, which is why I live in the Ironbound in the first place.

Complicating matters is that I like being in the Ironbound so much.  Even thought we've decided to leave, this place has got more life for a lower price than just about anywhere.  Perhaps this neighborhood's centrifugal force will pull us in for good.  I may not fit in here, but I do find it awfully comfortable.


Nicholas Koerner said...

W.H.Bear I wish you luck in your search. I have a similar problem in that my fiance wants to stay here and buy a house now and I like it here too, but I am going to head off to grad school (African history) for the academia hussle so buying a house now doesn't make sense. We are torn between our love for our home town and the reality that if I am ever going to be gainfully employed we must leave the nest.

Tim Lacy said...

Home is where you hang your hat! But seriously, I find some of the most profound thoughts on the meaning of 'home' are in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's all there: creature comforts, familiarity, routine, affections, the idea of place, etc. I suspect, however, that Ironbound/Newark will work. As you noted, the dull repetition of the suburbs ain't in it for either of you. You want personality. - TL

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

@Nicholas: All the best on the academic road, it is one that makes it hard to live where you want to.

@Tim: I like it here just fine, but even though Newark is on the rebound, I feel that I would be putting my children behind the 8 ball in their lives by staying here. Places like this have been left for dead in American society. Just today I was at the Newark Public Library, and found out that they can't acquire new books due to cutbacks. They've already drastically reduced their hours.

The worst thing about my lower-middle class upbringing was the mentality that you have to settle for second-rate things. As the class system in this country gets even more brutal, we owe it to our kids to put them in a position to get a leg up in life. There are plenty of communities around here with stellar public schools, libraries, and fresher air to breathe. We will likely end up buying the cheapest, smallest place we can buy in one of these towns, rather than staying here in Newark or living in a lower-priced suburb.