July 19, 2011

Any Porch In A Storm

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The desire to leisurely inhabit an elevated space is a fundamental aspect of human nature, and in this regard, the front porch was our house’s most distinguished asset. Perhaps a reaction against the cramped and messy living quarters of a college house, or stemming from the need to have a place that combined being home and being somewhere (our house culture always favoring the porch party; a keg, an iPod, and 20 people crammed to the margins out in the open air), the porch was the center of gravity, the host of all the drinking, smoking, talking, and straight chilling that could exist in our world, and the one undeniable status symbol New Brunswick had begrudgingly allowed us. Regardless of the way the night went down, there was always that final set of stairs and then nothing between you and a well-deserved peace.

I loved my porch with an affection rarely granted to domestic architecture. My first step into that house was up the four stairs to the porch, and that’s where the boxes sat ready to be loaded into the car for my last trip north. There were times I’d wake up there in a plastic chair, feeling around for my keys, my phone, surprised to see my own breath in the early morning and wondering what the hell had happened. New York may have its rooftops, deep suburbia its grand backyards and patios, but for those certain blocks in town, where the houses form uninterrupted rows of identical facades, a certain piece of inexplicable happiness extends halfway to the sidewalk like an open hand, reaching.

It meant checking Facebook on the first decent day of spring and seeing that it was  “porch-weather,” or finding people “porching it,” or joining everyone, skipping classes, hauling back cold cases of Yuengling, basking in the radiance of an afternoon marked with nothing but conversation and the lazy strumming of guitars. Bottles were emptied, passersby saluted, welcomed, or heckled. The simple action of occupying a chair on a shady, elevated platform was suddenly the secret to all worldly happiness.

‘Porch’ brings to mind a perch, a place of advantageous refuge, whether lined with columns, smooth and white, sturdy under the stress of a hundred years’ weight, or screened in, safe from the elements, a place to regard wordlessly, alone or among those closest to you, the passing of another day’s sun. In winter, it is a view of the frozen streets, somewhere to stand fighting the cold, conceding a midnight cigarette, nothing but the idling exhaust of a lonely car and its headlights beating away the dark. And then it is spring, when you gather yourself for a seat at the head of it all, the flagpole over the park, the sounds of those making their way to the goals with wild cheers, alive again.

It seems that the porch itself exists on the periphery of two conflicting impulses, the inside and the out, its architectural dualism a reflection of the ambivalence of its designers. It is the perfect blending of man’s desires to create and shape his own world, and to still admire the chaotic nature that he was born into, and has been striving simultaneously to both understand and escape ever since.

My lease expired months ago and some other kids are hanging around my porch now. But still, the porch abides. I drove past the other day and felt a deep longing to sit there – just one last time, I thought. To sit nice and easy while the cars rolled by. I shook the idea away and kept going. I noticed that they had replaced our tables and chairs with what looked like a stolen park bench. Well played, gentlemen. The porch has clearly been passed to a new generation.

To be able to porch, you must accept the transient nature of your time there, much of it lost in uncollected thought, ambient reflection, and small pleasures that, like a laugh winding down or a last furtive drag, linger on with a light feeling in the chest that you’ll remember one day and never be able to place.

All of us, much like Stoop Kid, who, for “whatever the reason, lo and behold… was left to raise himself on the stoop which he was fated to call his home,” must take that first, triumphant step out into the world, the step which resonates in the collective subconscious of generations, like a perpetual call to arms, like the old creation myth, our attempted mastery of something enormous yet precise. Stoop Kid was afraid to leave his stoop. Now I think we are all afraid to leave our stoops, afraid not at what’s out there, but rather at what we’d have to leave behind, a hallowed space welcoming us in from the storm that is forever gently suggesting that one day we will have to go. TC mark

image – Elizabeth Skene
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