Thursday, October 01, 2009

Small Towns

I am sitting at home today, taking care of some things before heading to Manhattan this afternoon. As a follow-up to last weekend's post, Andromeda the cat is now, as my undergrad metaphysics professor once referred to it, "a former cat". All of that pissing was due to diabetes--and very complicated diabetes. Faced with the prospect of a $12,000 hospital bill to flush her system, plus having to come home at the same time every day to give shots to a cat that would rip my arm off before she would let me give her shots, I opted for putting her down. It's weird not to have her here, but the stress level in the house has gone down considerably now that I don't have to worry about stepping in cat piss every morning.

I was perusing my usual RSS feeds and, when I came across this article:

Ongoing Highway 11/64 Mattress Controversy

The Fark tagline for this was: "How do you know you live in a small town? When the "growing controversy" in the news that is driving talk radio debate is about a mattress left on the side of the road." Yes, people are protesting the fact that public works has not yet picked up this mattress discarded at the side of the road. It's been a hot topic on the radio for several days now.

Those of you who live in large, interesting cities will doubtlessly be in disbelief that someone would waste air time on something so utterly, banally inane. But I've lived in a small town for 6 years now, and I can tell you that this is no surprise. About three years ago, we had a heated political debate in our town about--get ready for this--the fact that speed bumps were placed along Main Street. People angrily strode into town meetings, complaining about not being consulted, treating it like a corrupt political decision. During the mayoral election that followed, the new mayor was elected (like Dave Barry, I swear I am not making any of this up) on the platform of being "the guy who will get rid of the speed bumps."

I rarely go into the local general store--only if it's snowing, and I can't get out of the neighborhood to go anywhere else and I'm desperate to pick up milk or something like that. The few times I've gone in there, it's like a scene from the movie "Deliverance". I would swear that I even hear people speaking with Southern accents. And we're in New Jersey--halfway between New York City and Philadelphia. They always look at you suspiciously, as though they suspect you are one of those hippie renters in town that they hate.

The other sign that you live in a pathetically small town is the prominence of the fire department. I realize the fire department is very important, and I'm not criticizing them. But the firemen are not out every day putting out fires, they're usually at some local legion hall drinking shitty beer. One's social status in town is connected with whether or not you are a member of the fire department or the ladies' auxiliary. I have had men in this town try to pick me up based on the fact that "they hang out with the fire department." And you people wonder why I don't date.

The main social event is a small town is the fire department's sponsored dinner or breakfast. I have never been to one of these, though I imagine they're every bit as exciting as they sound. I am grateful for my neighbor, who knows the gossip about everyone and everything going on in town, and likes to share the news with me while I'm out raking leaves or mowing the lawn. Her inclination to share local information saves me from ever having to attend some public event to find out just what's going on. Though honestly, I don't really care much about what's going on in the rest of the neighborhood. I only want to know about things that affect me, like changes to my water bill or garbage collection.

Recently, a friend of mine who lives in London posted info about a party he was giving at his flat for someone's birthday. Another friend of his posted video from this party. After seeing it, I had 2 questions: 1. Just how big IS your flat?, and 2. Do your neighbors hate you? If that were to happen in my neighborhood, not only would the neighbors hate you, it would probably spawn urban legends in a matter of days. On the plus side, the only thing the neighbors would actually do about it is make snide comments about you, probably at the local fireman's dinner, which you wouldn't attend anyway. No one has the gumption to actually talk to anyone about anything controversial here, especially if they're your neighbors. To be fair, some of the neighbors are rather strange, so it's hard to blame anyone for not wanting to talk to them, especially if they seem to have a violent streak. Murders and suicides do occasionally occur in this little town, and they're probably the only excitement.

Another characteristic of a small town is the lack of emphasis on education. Sure, most of our tax dollars go into schools, but most kids here do not go on to college, or at least not past community college. Most just want to go into a trade, which is fine. That's one of the perks, actually--if you want something done on your house, just call up your neighbor who does plumbing, or roofing, or whatever. And be sure to tell your other neighbors. This sets up a peer pressure situation; if the said contractor doesn't show up, he will be vilified by the community as doing bad business and lose money as a result. So, they always show up and the price is always half of what a big company would charge.

But getting back to education--there are only a smattering of intellectuals in my town, usually college professors who can't afford to live anywhere else. My neighbor once told me that when we talk, she can't understand half of what I'm saying because I "use all them big words". This is a failing of my own, actually. When I was 6 years old and in the first grade, I was in a fourth grade reading class. I took Latin for seven years, and French. You know those quizzes where you can donate 10 grains of rice to a poor village for every vocabulary word you define correctly? I think I fed an entire starving African nation with my score on that one. I nearly swooned with lust when John Foxx used the word "palimpsest" in a sentence at the London Apple Store event this summer. I love words. I'm something of a dork in that way. I apologize.

So--I'm dealing with a group of basically nice but rather isolated folks. The social scene doesn't do it for me here, but it's nice when I want to relax and be alone. There are lots of places to go hiking and such, and lots of places that make their own beer--really good beer. So, it's not all bad. But right now, I'm off to New York. Look for me in the audience on the Colbert Report tonight.

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