There was a strange sound in my house.
I didn’t know where it came from. It wasn’t the usual white noise of the refrigerator, the radiator, or the other creaky house sounds that I was used to. I walked through the house, approached the porch, and there was the source — the culprit — on the other side of the window. Perched on the blue pillow, on top of my porch chair, was a squirrel who was chewing on a chicken bone snatched from the nearby garbage can. This little guy looked so comfortable, as if he were an invited lunch guest.
Watching him chow down, I laughed and called up to my husband to come and see the adorable and funny sight.
At that point, it dawned on me that I had almost fully acclimated to suburbia.
Flash back 13 years. We had just moved into our house from Riverdale. I came downstairs to drink my first cup of coffee of the day. Still in my pajamas, groggy eyed, getting my first caffeine fix of the morning, I nearly dropped my cup as a squirrel sat staring at me from my deck. He was right outside, his face pressed up against my sliding glass door. Standing there, looking inside as if he owned the place! I was horrified by this breach of privacy.
In Riverdale, life was very different. I had lived in a high-rise apartment building for many years. The only wildlife I encountered were birds, a few random squirrels in the parks, and an occasional raccoon.
Not only that, I didn’t own a shovel. Salt was just another condiment.
Stuffed drains? Call the super. Need help with packages? Call the doorman. Problem with the car? Call the custodian in the garage.
It took some time for me to get used to suburbia, and to the mini zoo surrounding my house; squirrels galore, cute bunnies hopping to and fro, and chipmunks zooming over the deck. Oh, and the deer who popped up in the evenings while we were barbecuing, standing at attention, staring, almost daring us to share our burgers. No dice. They’d had the good manners to gracefully and graciously move away after a few minutes, but I’d wonder if they had left us some ticks in their wake.
But, those gray squirrel rascals were totally my nemeses, and they were downright obnoxious. Nosy little creatures who stared into my windows, even snuck into our car, somehow got under the hood (did they find the latch?), and messed with our motor. Seriously, how did they do that?
Beside my local zoo, salt (not the condiment) and shovels were now the top items to purchase for the approaching winter. I so missed “the guys” who shoveled without having to be asked and paid. So nice. Gradually, I found my own plumber, handyman, and an array of service providers. Finally, having accrued my homeowner’s holy grail, I held onto my cherished list of their names and numbers for dear life.
And now here I was, 13 years later, and this unlikely scenario, chuckling about a hungry squirrel munching on his chicken meal, snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug, on our front porch.
Almost acclimated, I’d say.
Except for one thing, although I don’t talk about it much anymore. People tend to get huffy, and say, “that’s the way it is here.” It’s those blue laws, which mandate that retail stores and malls must be closed on Sundays in Bergen County. I’ve learned it’s a touchy subject, somewhat controversial, and it seems that people mostly have adapted and made peace with the law. They rarely talk about it.
But retail shopping always was an enjoyable Sunday afternoon activity in New York, as I was busy and worked during the week. And if I couldn’t get to a shopping errand during the week, there always was Sunday. Because I am a Sabbath observer, Saturday shopping is not an option for me.
I’m also a huge proponent of retail therapy; browsing through stores is just plain fun, and yes, dare I say, even therapeutic. Who hasn’t tried on ridiculously expensive clothes or shoes that you really can’t afford, just for the sheer pleasure? Or combing through sales racks, and finding a “metziah” (a great bargain)? Buying on sale can be thrilling, an adrenaline booster, releasing some good and happy endorphins into our bloodstream.
At first, I asked several of my new suburban friends about these laws. “Why in the world can’t I buy a simple skirt or a shirt at the mall on Sunday?” I’d ask. “Why are there still those laws here?”
“Traffic,” they all replied. “Terrible, awful traffic.”
That didn’t resonate. In Riverdale, I lived literally right on the Henry Hudson Parkway, where traffic was my constant companion. Day and night, cars and trucks beeped and honked their way past my building. Admittedly, all that noise was a nuisance at the beginning, but I got used to it over time. Then, when it was too quiet, I’d wonder if something was amiss.
For the first several months of the new suburban me, I’d hop in the car, cross the George Washington Bridge, and head back to my favorite stores near my old neighborhood. The quiet Sundays made me antsy, until it became expensive with all the tolls. So I stopped and did what other people do on Sundays around here — I ate. Pre-pandemic, it was nearly impossible to find a parking spot near local restaurants.
If people would be allowed to shop on Sundays in Bergen County, like they are allowed to do in many areas of our state and country, wouldn’t they get used to a little pesky traffic too? Perhaps the novelty of open Sunday retail shopping would dissipate, as would that terrible, awful traffic.
Novelty does usually become routine. Eventually, it wears off.
Over the last several years, I’ve come to love how the seasons play out right in my backyard; when the trees start budding after a long winter, how the leaves change colors and drift to the ground, how the grass turns a deep green, and when the birds return from their winter journey.
But while driving on the Sunday-lonely highways, past the empty malls, I still get that twinge and think — why can’t you all be open? Couldn’t we just compromise on half a day?
I decided to open the discussion among my own circle of friends, and there were many strong and differing opinions on this subject.
Lydia, who had moved to Teaneck from Monsey right before the pandemic hit, had a lot of say about these laws. “I’m not enjoying these laws at all,” she said. “If we need to shop for something on Sunday, we have to go to Rockland County, where everything is open, or we go to an area south of here. My husband feels exactly the way I do, even more so, and he’s a Home Depot and Lowe’s kind of guy. Being a religious family, it makes it hard not having Sunday to do our shopping.”
Sallie has an entirely different point of view. Interestingly, she was my real estate agent when we bought this house. Sallie said, “I think we had a better quality of life while we were raising our kids, and it was due, in some measure, to the blue laws. That said, to the extent that the pandemic has put so many people out of business, it’s ludicrous that stores don’t have the opportunity to operate on Sundays.”
“I would like to open up Route 4,” Wendy said. “I’m from Massachusetts, the Pilgrim State, and those laws have been overturned. Now it’s time for it to happen in The Garden State.” On the other hand, her husband, Paul, said, “The blue laws are a minor inconvenience to me, and I’m really indifferent about it. “
Among all the opinions, there is a consensus — that there’s so much to appreciate in suburbia, and in Bergen County.
Esther Kook of Teaneck is a learning specialist and freelance writer.