The Cocktail Party Contrarian: Coyotes Versus Criminals

There is some consolation for the envious among us: The transition to the suburbs wasn’t always smooth, and there are some fun stories of the tortured adjustment periods.

David McBee via pexels.com
The choice to exit New York has never been more understandable. David McBee via pexels.com

Here’s the sad truth for those of us who didn’t take the opportunity presented by Covid, crime, and bad city governance to move with two feet to the suburbs: Our friends who did so are pretty happy. “They’ll be back,” we used to say as we hoped secretly they would hate the eerily quiet evenings, the assorted wildlife in their backyards, and the lack of “cultural stimulation.” Two years later, though, peace, order, safety, cleanliness, and kids playing outside have won the day and they aren’t even looking back for the most part. 

There is some consolation for the envious among us, however. The transition wasn’t always smooth and there are some fun stories of the tortured adjustment periods that marred happy escapees’ journeys toward their happy endings in the country. It may not be vindication, but it makes those breathtaking pictures of fall foliage in our friends’ yards easier to take.

Kate went kicking and screaming to the suburbs when her husband’s office went remote. She vowed to drive into Manhattan at least three times a week and resisted every stereotype about suburban life. There would be no wearing workout clothes to lunch, and she booked dinners at restaurants no earlier than 8 p.m.

She describes white-knuckling her way through the first couple of months, putting on a happy face for her children. Strolling with them down the main shopping street in town one autumn afternoon she met her breaking point in the form of an elderly man wearing pink pants with blue whales on them. His straight-outta-the-suburbs look triggered every cultural sensitivity she had brewing beneath the surface. 

“I burst into tears,” she now recalls while laughing at her past self, then in full city withdrawal. Everything about those whale pants pointed to a future for her and her family that screamed “anti-urban.” No one wore whale pants to Nobu. That outfit was like a neon flashing sign that read, “Caution: Your youth has ended, welcome to the retirement village.” 

There were lots of tears on the early trail to country life amongst other city friends as well. Erica wouldn’t let her young children play in their own backyard for weeks after she spotted a mangy coyote crossing the lawn. After sending a picture to the town wildlife department to confirm it was in fact a coyote, she learned that no, they wouldn’t come and shoot it. Their best advice was to have the children carry a can with loose change in it to scare the coyote away if it returned. 

Erica regretted leaving the city every time she opened her back door. I teased her about being suburban prey. For Halloween I sent rubber wolf masks for her whole family because I couldn’t find ones that looked like coyotes. 

I laughed for a while at my own humor, but Erica is the one laughing now. She has never seen the coyote again. I see mangy-looking people up and down my street in Manhattan, and loud noises won’t scare them away. Now I am the prey.

Kate is now a full-fledged suburban mom, and proudly so. She doesn’t own whale pants, but she quickly came to see the logic of athleticwear as daywear, and she hardly ever makes the trip back into Manhattan. Kate loves her car and her lawn and her life free of homeless men chasing her daughter down the sidewalk. She realized the only thing she retired was her idea about life in the big city. All it took was letting go.

My women friends who avoid the subway and won’t walk on dimly lit side streets after dark may scoff at life in places where there are no Basquiat shows, but perhaps they do protest too much. The choice to exit New York has never been more understandable, even as the city seems “back to normal” on sunny October afternoons on the Upper East Side. We all know it really isn’t.

Maybe, though, the divide between those who stayed and those who left is ultimately fake news. Living in a co-op or on a farm doesn’t make you more, or less, interesting, engaged in the world, youthful, or focused on the things that matter. Maybe we should all stop imagining we are victims of our environments — coyotes and criminals on the streets notwithstanding — and stop trying to validate our choices by pointing at others. Maybe there is no perfect place to live.


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