And equally glad I got out of there when I did
It's a firmly held belief of mine that everyone should do two things in their lives (especially women). Leave their hometowns and manage on their own in another place. And shave their heads completely bald. Once.
You can always go home again no matter what Thomas Wolfe might say and your hair will grow back. I promise.
I was nine years old when we moved to Lodi, Ohio from western New York State. The town we moved from, Randolph, was even smaller than Lodi. In 1967, Lodi boasted a population of some 3,000 nice, white people who spent an inordinate amount of their time finding fault with each other. And talking about it. But it was also the kind of place that was considered safe enough for us kids to jump on our bikes and take off for the day as long as we were home in time to set the table for dinner.
We were small-town people and proud of it.
The town my Mom grew up in, Rixford Pennsylvania, had a population of under 500 when we’d go there for Christmas every year. Because it was situated among several nearly played-out oilfields, I’m guessing there used to be more people there, but not many more. It didn’t have that hollowed-out look like Bradford did on the other side of the Looker Mountain.
My Dad didn’t even grow up in town. His father worked for the Allegheny National Park Service and they lived on park land.
Small-town life is often held up to as some kind of ideal way to live. I blame American television and advertising of the ’40s and ’50s. Ok, and today. And Norman Rockwell. What a bill of goods that guy sold this country.
Then again, look at the photo above and contrast that with this one:
You have to admit, that top photo is pretty idyllic. I mean, look at all the parking! Nothing but peace and quiet in every direction.
But here we have graffiti and empty storefronts with brown paper slapped up and falling off.
Recently, a friend was walking her bulldog over near Broadway and West 110th Street — which is usually considered to be a very civilized part of the city — when a man approached her and told her to give him her purse (what moron walks up to someone walking a bulldog and asks for her purse? Is he new on the job?). She yelled to a nearby doorman that this clearly amateur guy was trying to rob her. He split.
Everything that I was warned about before moving here is true. This city is filthy, noisy, chaotic, dangerous, and stupid expensive.
You’ll get no argument from me.
It is all that and probably even a few worse things that I haven’t yet experienced but very well could at some point.
And yet I have felt more at home here every day of the nearly twenty-four years I’ve lived here than I ever felt in any other place (what that says about me might be something to ponder). Cleveland was definitely a step up from anyplace in Medina County and I say that with all due affection and respect and no desire to ever live there again. However, on the afternoon I was at the receiving end of a lecture by some old man in the grocery store in Cleveland about how my bald head was just another example of attention-seeking (like that’s a bad thing?), I knew it was time to go.
All that said, I’m grateful to have grown up in the storied Heartland of this country. I’m glad I had the opportunity to skip school and drive around Akron, Ohio with Rush blasting on the 8-track while smoking cheap green pot. I cherish the memories of pig roasts and county fairs and long walks by myself out by the interstate and hitchhiking and racing trains in souped-up muscle cars and sitting out on the front porch on long summer evenings with Grama Remington.
I brought all that along when I made the big move across the Hudson and it’s a major part of my me. And that’s a good thing.
This city is a world unto itself. One can so easily simply vanish into the black hole of New York City and never feel the need to go anywhere else. Everything is here. Every type of food, music, theater, belief system, architecture, language, art, fashion, attitude, and utterly bizarre experience is here. It’s so all-engulfing that it’s easy to forget that there’s another world — many other worlds — out there beyond the Hudson and the Atlantic.
But there is. And important as it is to cross the bridge and remind myself of this truth, it’s also important to me that I carry vital parts of that world in my head and heart.
Especially since nearly three years of pandimicking and the loss of a good-paying job mean that - for the time being - travel is limited to where a Metrocard can take me.
So, yes, I am even a little proud of having survived Small-town America. That I escaped before I turned 19 but not before snagging the coveted Slut of the County title for sleeping with three guys the summer after high school. Proud of that, too. And that I knew early on that small towns can be loving, nurturing places but only for those who fit in.
That has never been me.
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