Out of the concrete island, three lanes on either side, grows a weeping willow. Drooped branches, hanging just above traffic, brushed by the none-too-rare SUV. In the winter’s lack of sunlight, the foliage atrophies to banana yellow. Such is the contrast between milky sky and cartoonish leaves, that one could almost expect the Lorax to appear. To speak for the tree. To decry the Hummers and their bastard barber jobs.
Until five years ago, a locally owned hardware store operated on Piccolo Street. It was replaced by a juice bar. Replaced by a pizza joint. Need a claw hammer, now you’ll have to drive a mile down the highway. Home Depot. Admittedly, their selection is every bit as extensive. Better even. Up till last month, day laborers lined the fence at the property’s edge. But with the economy crushed the work dried up and most of those men—plaid shirted and mustachioed—traveled back to Mexico. More opportunity to be had.
The bartender laughs and jokes. In the restaurant behind, families eat quesadillas and cheeseburgers. The bar and grill. A kid, flat brimmed baseball cap, hooded sweatshirt, goatee on chin only, he says, “My man, get me a glass of water. But make it seem to be a real drink, would ya? I don’t wanna look like a pussy.” So the bartender hands him a short tumbler. Ice, a wedge of lime, two thin black straws. And back with his crowd, the bro impresses all by how quickly he drains the vodka tonic.
Night falls and neon lights up. No more highchair crowd dining but the barroom is shoulder to shoulder. Most early-twenties and lost. Some early-thirties and sad. They bullshit and argue and piss on the bathroom floor. They tell the bartender he doesn’t deserve a tip, all he did was pop a beer. Outside, cigarettes are bummed and smoked and bummed again and the men and man-children stare into darkness at the town which is, by turns, their kingdom and their purgatory. Exchanging stories of girls whose asses they were this close to pulling. Guys whose asses they were this close to kicking. This close, always.
Christmas lights twist around the willow’s limbs. Ensuring its unearthly appearance is not missed in the late hours. One thing so bright and obscene even a drunk driver could not hit it. Unless, of course, on purpose. This is suburbia. An artificial small town. Ornate and comfortable. Where the paper is delivered every morning, the mail every afternoon. Safe and stable. This is suburbia.