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New Jersey State of Mind

Posted: 06/ 1/11 09:47 PM ET

We're moving, and everything is thrown into the kind of relief it had when I first moved to New York, except the bright outlines have darkened. Every car alarm, garbage truck, line-cutting nosey-body suddenly feel like a rebuke. Who would choose this? Why did we?

Then I remember coming across the Triborough, in the days when I traveled a lot for work, and thought that the hazy light around the Chrysler building was not only a beacon of home, but home of the highest possible, nearly unreachable, realm: deep urbanity, exceeded daily. In the morning I ate the dirty coffee-shop corn muffin -- small inflated discs, toasted and drenched in butter, wrapped up in foil and stacked on the flat plastic lid of lousy coffee -- in my cubby, and then had my first cigarette, which is how I knew the meal was over. At lunch, turkey and Swiss on a roll, lettuce and tomato, $3.25; if a group of us went out to lunch we ordered wine, and expensed it. The marquis in Times Square had titles whose words were completely interchangeable (Hot Cheerleader Pussy Camp). I wandered through the Met on quiet Saturday mornings, pleased to have my favorite seats and purviews.

Having children changes things, but traitorous thoughts stole across my mind well before our 8-year-old was born. I still admired how the yellow cabs nosed like dolphin up Sixth Avenue, but there was no electric charge in trying to hail one at rush hour -- then as now, when the 'off duty' light is inexplicably illumed -- or feeling the concrete begin to anchor my feet, Daphne-like; I was becoming a stony tree, no roots. Watching our daughter stretch her limbs, on our trips out of the city, let me stretch mine, and start to remember childhood unbound. It felt like she had to fold those limbs when we got back to town, because that's how I might have felt. And now the little one, her younger sister, unfurling and folding too. Shouldn't they be running around with a dog before dinner? We don't have a dog, or an outdoors where one could be called from the stove, but I feel suddenly, violently, that we should. I pretend that's what the girls are thinking too.

I fetched bagels the other morning, out early on West 84th Street, noticing for the first time that the brownstone with the dog sculptures in the window across the way has a real dog that looks just like the life-sized carved ones, black-and-white, and it was lovely watching the live one race up the interior stairs between them. A tourist bus coming down W. 86th had the top deck crowded with visitors in plastic cover-ups, looking like large birds, all staring the same direction, which made me laugh. The nova, a treat, was fresh like the cream cheese under its wax paper, and I left a neighbor arguing with the man at the counter over the precise definition of a half-sour pickle.

I'll miss some of these things. And then I'll listen to the silence in our piece of New Jersey, when it offers itself, and drive to the town deli, the college art gallery, the dump. The girls and I will do lots of running with our arms in bird-span position on the grass outside the kitchen door, trying not to trip over the dog. And we'll be home.