Monday, March 14, 2005


My husband is a William Dean Howells scholar and so, by osmosis, I know as much about Howells as one can know without ever having read a word. Now, as we embark on what our second experience of house-hunting together, it seems it may be time to read A Hazard of New Fortunes at last:
The time had been when the Marches would have taken a purely aesthetic view of the facts as they glimpsed them in this street of tenement houses, when they would have contented themselves with saying that it was as picturesque as a street in Naples or Florence and with wondering why nobody came to paint it…It was to their nose that the street made one of its strongest appeals, and Mrs. March pulled up her window of the coupĂ©. “Why does he take us through such a disgusting street?”

Mrs. March, c’est moi!

We went on a family househunting walk on Saturday: four hours exploring outer Jersey City by foot (and stroller for the lucky and beloved toddler). Up Montgomery Street and through the projects on Saturday morning, I was content and optimistic. Through the first house, still decorated with an unnerving combination of gay man and grandma kitsch, I kept my hopes up (there is, after all, a convent across the street). Kennedy Boulevard, which had intimidated in August, seemed grand, peaceful, and enviable. The second house, with a fantastic Tiffany-era mantelpiece bolted to the chimney with picture wire mostly charmed, only depressed a little. Then, we set off for the third house, just past Communipaw.

No sooner does my husband say “Communipaw is kind of a line” than it hits me and I want to swoon: a muffler shop, several gas stations with tattered flags flying in the wind; cars, struggling to make the light end up stuck in the crosswalk; trying to cross, five teens pass through the narrow spot between cars, only the sixth, with a gracious look of apology, thinks that perhaps a child in a stroller might have precedence; enormous fat people; music blaring. That’s the line. I don’t hope to cross it soon but I fear that the house we can afford is just over it.

UPDATE: Alas, this sad news story of a murder (a botched bodega robbery leaves a widow with four children) on Communipaw from a mile or so down the same road confirms my sense of "the line."

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