Wednesday, November 14, 2018

November Homestead

I like summer in toto better than autumn in toto, but November nonetheless is my favorite individual month. There is Thanksgiving, of course, and a good excuse to overeat is always welcome in my house. Additionally, I have a birthday late in the month, and who among us has so little of Narcissus in him or her not to enjoy a celebration of one’s own existence? Several other anniversaries and circumstances also contribute to making November just a little extra special in my book.

No month is perfect, however, and one serious drawback that November shares with February, May, and August is that quarterly property taxes are due on the 1st. New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation bar none, a personal income tax second only to California, and a ludicrously hard to calculate sales tax of 6.625%. Living costs are high (22% over the national average) and incomes stagnant. Moneywise magazine placed NJ as the second worst state in which to retire. (Kiplinger more kindly ranked it 4th worst, after New York, Massachusetts, and Maryland.) So, it is no surprise that NJ has the highest net interstate out-migration of any state, with 63% more residents leaving than moving in each year. Consequently, even amid the general pleasantness of November, while writing oversize checks for the powers-that-be to squander I’m apt to consider whether to join the exodus and enjoy future Novembers elsewhere. So far I’ve resisted the call of the wallet, mostly out of nostalgia though this is a costly indulgence.

In a mobile world in which people move from one abode to another thousands of miles distant with scarcely a thought, I’m an oddly atavistic duck who lives 11 miles (18km) from the hospital where I was born. Except for my 4 college years in Washington DC, this is as far away from that point as my residence ever has been. I’ve traveled, of course, but home base always has been in close vicinity to where I presently reside. There is something… well… homey about it. It is hard to turn onto any local street without evoking memories: some good and some not so good, but all of them formative. I’m only 3 miles (5km) from my old prep school, 4 (6.5km) from my old brokerage office, and 10 miles (16km) from Morristown High School where my parents met. I live on a street I helped construct (my dad was a real estate developer); I built by hand several of the granite crossdrain headwalls. I live in a house built by my parents. There are traces of personal history everywhere, most of them invisible except to me. The tax collectors may chase me out yet, but for now I’ll pay the premium to stay.

Raked, reseeded, and hayed
Change is as much a constant locally, of course, as it is in the world at large, and that is fine; I still can see the old layers beneath the new. For example, I noticed a few days ago that one personal trace has transitioned from detectable to undetectable to an objective observer. As long ago as 1978 I gave a driving lesson to my girlfriend of the time. (For a more detailed account, see The Driving Lesson.) It did not end well. Though 25, as a resident of NYC she had never gotten a license. The lesson took place on the street where I now live, which was newly built in ’78 with no houses yet constructed. Things went wrong at the cul-de-sac when she failed to distinguish between the brake and the accelerator. With the accelerator pushed to the floor, we leapt the curb in reverse and climbed halfway up a grassy slope. Up until this very year, the faint traces of those car tracks on the slope remained barely visible if one looked closely enough. No longer. The slope recently has been raked, reseeded, and hayed, so the tracks are gone. I still can see them, though, even if no one else can.

Garbage - Driving Lesson

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