Travel

Don't Get Mad at People Quarantined With Yards—Get Even

I don't have a second home to misguidedly flee to, but I do have a fire escape and a strong sense of this summer's possibilities.
Hannah Smothers
Brooklyn, United States
May 29, 2020, 11:00am
Build a Quarantine Yard
Hannah Smothers

The country is barreling uncontrollably into summer and the division between those quarantined in houses with yards and those stuck in apartments with neither yard nor lawn is growing wider and nastier. “Do You Hate Me for My Yard?” asked a rhetorical headline published by the Cut in late April, and the answer is yes, of course I do. And why wouldn’t I?

Lockdown sucks for everyone, but somehow I feel that it must suck a lot less if your home is a tiny estate, surrounded by even a quarter acre of sweet St. Augustine that you call your own. Proper yards in Manhattan (meaning: grass, and not a slab of concrete, which is not a yard but a parking lot) are for the extraordinarily wealthy, a class of which I’m not a member. And so I’ve been Stockholm-syndromed into looking wistfully out at a fire escape that likely hasn’t been inspected in years, and thinking, Wow, I love my porch.

“The dream is not of happiness, but of happiness conceived in perfect isolation,” wrote Zadie Smith, in a 2014 New York Review of Books essay. “Find your beach in the middle of the city. Find your beach no matter what else is happening. Do not be distracted from finding your beach.” Smith was writing about the near-sociopathic drive for happiness in Manhattan, and also about Corona (!) beer’s ad slogan, visible from her downtown window: Find your beach.

Still, “my porch” is not a yard. To be a yard means to be covered in grass. Within a month of being self-quarantined in my downtown apartment, the blueprint for finding my beach in the middle of the city materialized in my brain. I would need to construct my own personal yard, on my fire escape, with my own two hands.

N.B. According to multiple local blogs, a firefighter, and also my lease, it is a violation to keep anything on the fire escape, due to its purpose (for potentially escaping a burning building). It’s also worth noting that it’s extremely common for New Yorkers to treat their fire escapes as balconies, outfitted with plants and hammocks and all sorts of things. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but I still plan to deconstruct my yard when I’m not using it, so I don’t cause any trouble.

Step One: Grass

All the yards I enjoyed through my childhood were already there, ready to be played upon and sat around in, preinstalled and sod by my suburban forefathers. But as I know well, real grass requires maintenance, in the form of regular mowing, watering, and constantly puttering around and worrying about it. I don’t have the luxury of these resources, and so I turned to a suitable alternative in the form of fake grass.

Through inquiry (asking a clerk), I learned that the local Ace Hardware store sells plastic grass by the foot. I measured my fire escape and bought three square feet of turf for $29. I carried my roll of plastic grass home and rubbed my fingers on the weird little nubs underneath it, thinking, This will look like ass, not grass!!! But turns out I was so wrong; covering my black, metal fire escape with even artificial green stuff was a huge boost to the overall ambiance of the space, as well as my mood. It doesn’t quite cover the whole space, on account of I measured wrong, but that’s OK; I’ll think of the exposed patch of fire escape as my curb. Also, now that there’s something over the gaps between the metals slats, I’m less likely to drop my phone or something down on the sidewalk, 20 feet below.

Turf on the fire escape

The author's fire escape, covered in turf.

Step Two: Yard Furniture

The most luxurious yards are basically outside versions of inside, with couches and kitchens and even TVs. This would be sick to have, but being realistic, I settled instead on a Crazy Creek camp chair that takes up little space and can be easily moved inside. This was nice—it’s good to have a place to sit—but not quite “yard” enough for me. I added a string of Lights4fun, Inc. 10 Flamingo & Palm Tree Battery Operated Indoor & Outdoor LED Party String Lights, because something my mom used to do to zhuhj up our yards was put string lights underneath the storm gutters. Now the space was starting to look like an honest-to-god yard, even if all of these accessories are potentially a fire hazard and a probable violation of my lease (see above note).

In lieu of a TV and full kitchen, I added a small, weatherproof Bluetooth speaker and a cooler, for doing the best yard activity known to man: Sitting outside and watching (listening to) sports (but music instead, since no sports), and drinking a cold beer. At home, we’d normally have some sort of tin cutout of Texas or other Texas accessory, so, as a final touch, I tied a Lonestar Beer bandana to some probably structurally integral part of the fire escape, and declared my yard ready for hanging out.

The finished yard

The author's finished yard.

Step Three: Vibe

What is a yard, other than a little place of your own to sit around and kick back in? If this is true, and I think that it is, I’ve got a freaking yard. Do I have to climb through a window to access it? Yes. Is it “illegal?” Maybe so, but no yard is without its share of community board violations. Will I hang out in this yard, blasting Jimmy Buffett at a respectable-to-my-quarantined-neighbors volume, sipping frosty beers and melting frozen bucket margaritas, getting a little sunburned, all summer long? Hell yeah!!!!

Public parks are a blessing that often feel undeserved and I’ll always be thankful that I can walk to a handful of them from my apartment. And I will continue to do so, from a safe distance and with a mask on. As summer rages on, I’ll rage along right with it, mask-free and alone in this, a yard of my own making.

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