I met a woman from Connecticut who had just moved from a colonial-style house on a tree-lined street to a waterfront cottage on car-free peninsula with spectacular views of Long Island Sound. Now she has to use a wagon to haul items home from the town parking lot several blocks away. When I asked if she missed being able to drive right up to her house, she let out a sigh. “I feel like I’m on vacation every day.”
I realize being anything less than satisfied with my current living arrangement borders on gluttony. My Lower Manhattan co-op is more than safe and comfortable and conveniently close to friends, family and food. Still, I was envious – not because I wanted to live at the beach, worrying about storm damage and sand in my food, and not because I longed to come home dragging a wagon or leave paddling a kayak. I just wanted that little extra bit of magic.
And so, I discovered, do others. A friend in New Jersey explained that her remodeled master bathroom has no door because, “after a trip to London, we gave up space in the wall the pocket door was supposed to slide into so we could put in wiring for a heated towel rack.” And then came the sigh. “I feel like I’m in a hotel every day.”
Another friend recently moved from a ground-floor apartment in a no-service building in Lower Manhattan to a condo in downtown Brooklyn. Now she has a doorman and a gym and a garbage chute that allows her to put out the trash even on non-pickup days. But the best part, she tells me, is sitting on her balcony, looking out at a parcel of tall trees. Whenever I ask how she is, the answer is always the same. “I’m in paradise,” she sighs.
I began paying closer attention to the décor of my fellow shareholders in our amenity-free building, looking for signs of personal bliss. Instead of crown moldings, one neighbor has antique wooden fishing poles hung high across his walls. Another camouflages the cityscape by covering her windows with shelves of lush green plants. But my neighbors’ most popular link to paradise seems to be displaying photos from memorable vacations.
I was not optimistic that a framed picture of dawn at Cadillac Mountain or sunset at Big Sur would make me sigh. But flipping through photo albums, I stopped at a shot my daughter took of me in Cozumel, Mexico. I’m facing away from the camera, lying in a hammock tied to two palm trees, a stack of novels on a nearby wicker table. This had been my happy place that week, where I could find a measure of calm while I waited for her to return from her daily scuba trips. In the evenings, over lovely, leisurely suppers, she would tell me about her underwater adventures, and I would share plot twists in the books I read swinging in the hammock.
The hammock. I thumbed back through the albums. Me in a hammock in someone’s backyard. Me in a hammock on a tropical island, on Governors Island, in a state park, in a national park. That’s it! A hammock could be my year-round, sun, rain, or snow bit of apartment magic. And since bliss was unlikely to occur while I was worrying about bolts wriggling loose if I hung it from the ceiling, I purchased an aptly named travel hammock – a lightweight, streamlined stand that would fit in the space between my desk and the television.
Paradise was taking shape.
My sister, who was visiting from Cleveland to celebrate our mother’s birthday, assembled the interlocking poles and screws in the dining room, where the finished product turned that night’s birthday party into a hammock-warming, with each guest taking a turn. The following morning, I emptied out the cake crumbs and pushed the stand into the den, next to a small, book-covered table, then left for the day. That evening when I came home, I kicked off my shoes and poured myself into the hammock. I dangled one leg off to the side so that my toes touched the floor and generated a gentle rocking motion. Then I picked up my book. And sighed.