Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Upwardly Mobile Garden

I have a neighbor from around the corner who not long ago, in a discussion about the neighborhood, called me a yuppie. This bothered me some and here's why: I rent a small apartment in a dump of a building in a safe but crumbling quadrant of Brooklyn. I live cheaply, am an artist by profession but have a job. I don't buy new clothes much, generally wear jeans and t-shirts, don't have extravagant meals, eating out means pizza or take-out Chinese. I don't have a car. I don't really travel for vacations, nor do I have stocks, bonds or health insurance. My income is under 25,000 a year in NYC and I am 38 years old.

But I am a yuppie to this neighbor who is generally friendly and often mentions that she picks the flowers. The irony is that she owns her house, has a yard, and is enjoying retirement. So the question for me is how did she make this determination? Her terminology I consider somewhat dated. I first heard the term yuppie in the Reagan 80's when I was just a teenager. That's probably when she first heard it too and real yuppies were probably no where to be seen in this neighborhood.

I think I know why she cast this label. Its because I went to college and because I have a small, but abundant garden in the 2 foot by 30 feet strip of dirt in front of my dumpy building. Its because I spend some time there in warmer weather cleaning out the garbage blown in, tying up the leggy plants, pruning or clipping or transplanting the plants. I may be the only one in the neighborhood who does this (in the front yard). Its not because I have leisure time to spare, I work in the afternoon into the night. Or sometimes its just Sunday. And this is something I do rather automatically. I garden and am thankful to have some dirt to work with near my apartment.

My grandparents were good gardeners into their nineties. I think, like balding, it may skip a generation. My father made vegetable garden attempts for a number of years, but never really loved it. I took it up for the family basil and tomatoes after he dropped it. I was a teenage gardener and I didn't know anything. But 25 years later, you know the garden grows pretty well. Better than most in the neighborhood, with a few notable exceptions.

Is there something upwardly mobile about gardening? Does it reveal agency? Sure it appears to be work to those who don't enjoy it. I am hard pressed to see the work as the issue, but the appearance of leisure that gives one time to do the work? Or is it simply the aesthetic value, the beautifying effect it has on the neighborhood? Beauty equals wealth or the aspiration towards it?

I don't want to belabor this any more than I have. But this skirts around the edges of another post to come.

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