Vanishing Point A Bookand Websiteby Ander Monson
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City

By city, I don't mean Mounds View, Minnesota. I don't mean suburb. I mean something with a three-story building and a couple escalators. All respect to Mounds View, the place in which I write this page, but there are no mounds. There is no view. Like most suburbs, the name disconnects entirely from the reality of the city, which is, as far as I can tell, more or less a stretch of road along County Highway 10, bordering I-35W which winds down into Minneapolis, and which does not even contain a mall, the sort of structure that can define a suburb.

What is this place, and is it a place at all? Since my wife is from here, whenever we come here, we don't explore the place. We stay indoors. We wander through the streets at night, bundled and shivering and happy to be temporarily free. It is a place to leave and occasionally to return to around the holidays. My father-in-law does not work in Mounds View. My mother-in-law does not work in Mounds View. Before this they lived in another suburb. What makes this different from the other aside from proximity to another suburb and then eventually to another city? The tax codes? The variety of stores? The sort of cul-de-sacs? Even the post office doesn't know if it's a place or not. I address a package to my father-in-law online and the system corrects the address to "Saint Paul, MN" leaving everything else (including the zip, and all of this was correct before) the same. The post office delivers the package regardless.

Perhaps the idea is that from the height of some mounds at some point in time one might be able to see Saint Paul.

I don't mean to be bitchy, but I don't fully get it. Where I am from there are no suburbs. Let's be honest, there's no real city up there either. There are towns, but nothing with the density to approach city. Mounds View is quiet. Mounds View is safe. Mounds View does not seem to change very much. Then again, 20 years ago, when they bought (they built) the house, it was surely a different place, with a different view of different mounds, but I just don't know about it because my experience of it is one of isolation, maybe even alienation. It is a place where things X, Y, and Z happen. It is pleasing. It is almost nothing.

That is, of course, the point, and I know I'm at least twenty years late jumping on this wagon train:

Oak Park. Vadnais Heights. Thousand Oaks. Downer's Grove. Willow Grove. Spring Valley. Schaumburg. Royal Oak. Sterling Heights. Bloomfield Hills. Flower Mound. North Richland Hills. New Brighton. Cherry Hill. Cedar Hill. Kingwood. Lakewood. Rocky River. Bay Village. Roseville. Pine Lawn. Plymouth. Cedar Lake. Ham Lake. Fairview Park. Grosse Pointe. Castle Point. Sugar Land. Spring. Humble. Channelview. Apple Valley. Sun City. Highland Hills. Pine Hill. Penn Hills. Inver Grove. Kentwood. Rockford. Middleburg. Libertyville. Thornwood. Beltsville. Eldersburg. Surprise. Arlington Park. The Woodlands. Wonder Lake. Webster Groves. Braidwood. Babylon. West Babylon. Eden Prairie. Grand Prairie. Woodbury. Blaine. New Hope. Spanish Lake. Avon Lake. Swissvale. Eagle Cliff. Brook Park. Turtle Creek. Golden Lake. Lakeside Green. Valley Stream. Garden City. East Meadow. Oakdale. McKees Rocks. South Park. Aspen Hill. Middle River. Silver Spring. Brookline. Meadow Woods. Maple Heights. Broadview Heights. Garfield Heights. Oak Ridge. Pembroke Pines. Splendora. Mountain View. Cherryland. Pearland. Champ. Falcon Heights. Hillsdale. Westwood. New Brighton. Richfield. Shrewsbury. Robbinsdale. Mirrormont. Ferndale. Red Oak. Oakland Park. Oakdale. Double Oak. Progress Village. Plant City. Riverview. Cottage Grove. Scotch Plains. Fair Lawn. Grapevine. Flower Mound. Maplewood. Leisure City. Homestead. Kendale Lakes. Auburn Hills. Waterford. Irondale. Fairfield. Forestdale. Pine Hills. Winter Park. Farmington Hills. Fountain Hills. Landfall. Spring Lake Park. Pine Springs. Garden City. Westland. Maple Grove. Woodson Terrace. Highland Park. Country Club. Rock Hill. High Point. Oak Ridge. Ridgewood. Hallandale. Sunrise. Shoreline. Redwood City. Fruitdale. Riverdale. Forest Park. Saddle Brook. Glen Rock. Sandy Springs. Powder Springs. Carrollwood. Palmetto Estates. Willow Glen. Vestavia Hills. Gardendale. Southfield. Lakewood. Bellflower. Lynwood. Forest Hill. Canyon.

and on! insert your own! create your own! That is what the suburb is.

A suburb is just a name. At best we can hope that Downer's Grove once had a grove that had something to do with a guy or gal named Downer. Maybe so. I assume more often than not the names are a sort of madlib/grab-bag production where you throw a name along with a couple ostensible geographical features that may or may not derive from reality, and voila, you have your suburb, the name of which now refers to peace or calm or isolation, something in nature, definitely, which we all know is the opposite of the city, and is in fact the opposite of the suburb named after nature, which could easily be the name of a cemetery, and nearly as quiet because nearly as dead and vacant.

At least cemeteries have an apparent history. Until they don't, due to weather or exposure or vandalism or development or eminent domain and everybody has to be disinterred and then reinterred somewhere else in another peaceful nook.

My neighborhood in Tucson isn't a whole lot different in many respects. It too looks suburban (most of Tucson looks suburban, like most Western cities). I find it pleasing because it has cacti, different flora, different fauna, more sun, and is more alien. But if you're from the West, and especially from the Southwest, it's pretty standard. And it's my neighborhood, so it's automatically better than these other, faceless cities, isn't it?

We define ourselves as being from a place. We either gravitate to places like it or places entirely unlike it. We settle. We don't want to feel like we're settled, but we settle. Like you, I line my walls with my shit. I decorate my space. I optimize it. I outfit it. It's hard to see outside of it.

The suburb has a different anonymity from the city. You are up against a different infinity.