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Growing Out : Jake Nussbaum

Growing Out: Adolescent Masculinities in a New Jersey Suburb is a multidisciplinary project about masculinity and privilege in Montclair, NJ. Original photographs, academic inquiry, and creative nonfiction are woven together into a limited edition artist book.

Please click here to download the complete digital version of Growing Out. I recommend viewing this file in a "two-page" layout as it was originally intended.

Sometimes the fireworks that they set off on the 4th of July are so massive that you can see the ashy remnants of their cardboard casings floating back down to the trees. They float slowly and move from side to side, maybe looking more like a blind spot in your own vision than a physical piece of matter in the sky. This is appropriate, for ash is as much a lack of something as it is its own tangible thing.

Then there are fireworks that have no visual effect, which exist solely to create a sonic boom. They blink out in the air, pause, and then emit a deep shellshock pulse, so physical you think you feel your eardrums cracking.

In 10th grade we used to drive down to Pennsylvania to buy consumer fireworks, light-them-yourself types. They weren’t legal in Jersey, but we’d drive back with them anyway, setting them off on people’s lawns in the middle of the night. Smoke bombs, roman candles, bottle rockets, starball contributions, missile batteries. Moon travelers with report. The idea was to pull up in front of a house late at night, like 11 o’clock, run out of the car (leave the car door open), light the fuse (it’s lit when it
sparkles), run back to the car, and peel out as the fireworks explode in the rearview mirror. Watch them as you drive away.

Because Montclair is a grassy suburb. People are out there now, mowing their lawns, sitting in lawn chairs, playing fetch with their dogs. These people use several varieties of lawn mowers, and several varieties of sprinklers: spinning disks that spray in short bursts; large fan-shaped sprinklers; slow leaking hoses. Pushmowers and gas-powered mowers. Yard services that do everything from A to Z, we will even water your flowers.

There is a town ordinance: you live in Montclair, you keep your lawn groomed. It’s an ethical obligation.
As time went on the fireworks got bigger. We started sticking around to watch them go off, sometimes
returning to the scene of the crime to collect the empty cardboard shells off the grass, sometimes hitting the same house multiple times in one night. It came to be understood that this was a movement. Not a contest, but a collective intensification. We wanted to get our names in the paper.

I imagined a bleary-eyed man standing in his bathrobe in the brick vestibule of his house in the smoke
and sulfur-smell left lingering from the explosion, and he’s dialing the cops right now honey. This man was a target. The baseball man, with two gas-powered lawnmowers. We were trying to subvert all this, reveling in the booming echoes of Moon Travelers as we peeled out, hollering in our parents’ cars and stashing the extra rockets under the seat.

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