I’ve been going on long runs lately, starting from my house and jogging to points I previously thought impossible. This feels much more productive than running at a park closer to home, where I know I can stop at any time and slunk back to my couch in 5 minutes. But if I run very far away, I have no choice but to run back.
So I’m jogging at one of the extremities of Juniper Valley Park. Across the street, a trio of Tudor houses squished together, a copy of an idea of genteel English towne life. But something looks off, so off that I have to stop running for a moment and figure out exactly what it is.
All three of the houses have chimneys that jut out into their tiny lawns. The faces of these chimneys are mostly concrete, with brick embedded to form cute little shapes. Two of the houses have chimney faces with brick arranged as diamonds, florid pineapples, majestic eagles.
The third house has none of this. Instead, at the very top, bricks spell out what appears to be a year, 1931. The last digit is a bit unclear, as the artist didn’t plan well and ran out of usable room when he reached the fourth number. Beneath that, four letters, staggered in zig-zag shape: S P C R. I get the impression these are initials.
Back in the day, the first two houses must have been furious at this third one. At that time, Queens was a leafy suburb, with little but the Long Island Railroad connecting it to Manhattan and elsewhere. There were still farms nearby, if you can believe that. These folks had made their little escape from the dirt and noise of The City and settled in this quiet spot, in a neighborhood whose very name implied moderation and peace—Middle Village—hoping to recreate some notion of what they assumed to be respectable suburban life.
And then house number three says “eff that” and marked up their chimney like a kid poking his finger through wet sidewalk cement. Monocles were dropped. Fainting couches summoned.
I continue my run and turn a corner. 100 feet down the road, I spot a yellow Mustang with a vanity license plate: LGR 50, flanked by a Rangers logo. It’s that house again, reborn in a different form. Whatever the year and whatever the shell, we just want the world to know there’s someone real inside.