Friday, May 16, 2008

Reflections on Living Elsewhere

My dad used to tell me I had Gypsy blood. A stupid racist thing to say, I know. He said he had it too. "We're not meant to stick around places for long." He told me when I was nineteen. I liked that image of myself. I envisioned a future where I moved from city to city because I certainly had plans to brush the dust of Maine from my heels as soon as I could. (Already this is becoming a different story then the one I intended to write...) And yet I ended up pretty much living in Maine until I was 28.

Like many kids in rural areas, I dreamed of the city. I hated living in the country, and I hated Maine. When I was nineteen we moved from a small city to a the middle of fucking nowhere. It was so remote, I got creeped out walking around at night. There was a huge expanse of woods behind us, and nothing but cow fields to our side. In order to go anywhere resembling civilization I had to ride my bike about 20 miles which I did on a regular basis. I didn't drive so I was stuck...I remember walking through snow drifts to go visit my boyfriend who lived about ten miles a way. I fucking hated it. And was from here that I started to visit Boston.

I loved Boston but couldn't figure out a way to live there. I wasn't willing to go homeless, and didn't know anybody who was taking in underaged, stupid kids. My friend W enjoyed having me over for the weekend but we both knew I wasn't going to be moving in there. He was older as were his friends so for the most we're talking college educations (W was educated at Notre Dame and MIT), decent jobs, and owned condos. I had yet to meet the alternative poor who holed up together in shitty houses scarping out money more for alcohol than food.

But Boston...oh I loved her. When W worked, I wandered around Cambridge, and once I got braver, I started to take the bus or T into Boston. I would wander in and out of shops, not having the money to buy anything but enjoying the feel of being in a city store. I loved Newbury Comics, and spent hours in there browsing through comics. I also just loved being out on the street walking around being anonymous in ways that I never was in Maine. When W came home, we would go to Oh Casablanca, an amazing Indian restaurant where the owners would always make me coconut soup. We would go to his friends house and drink all night. And I felt like I was part of something that seemed very city to me.

Later I made a rash move to Rochester NY. My aunt invited me to come stay with her, and I was dating J at the time who was in Niagara Falls. Living with my aunt was disastrous, for that matter Rochester was disastrous. It was not Boston and it was NYC where I also longed to live. Rochester was one of those dying sprawling cities where not much happened. There was one cool street, Monroe Ave. Monroe Ave was were all the freaks hung out. I moved closer, rooming with a friend of J. I got to know Lance, the owner of Astor's Coffee. His dad had bought him the shop in an attempt to keep Lance from travelling with the Dead. It was a smallish cafe with okayish coffee, and a cool, turquoise interior filled with local (often bad) art. I meet other freakish people there. The kids from Rochester University befriended me but in their own snobbish way. Maybe I seemed like the real deal to them. I was working part time for the park services picking up a tiny rec center/park. I made just enough money to pay rent, buy food, and have some left over to buy coffee.

Later after J's wife found out about us, I moved in with a friend while J tried to figure out what to do about us. I discovered through this friend, an alternative sex Internet board. Then I started hanging out with the drag queens and the queers. I became a fag hag, and loved it. I worked days at Toys R. Us, and spent the nights out clubbing various drag queen bars. This was more about the city for me. I felt at home with these people who didn't seem to fit in elsewhere. I stopped buying food, saving my money to buy drinks. We were all misfits in some way. And in many ways they were more like me than the friends I knew on Monroe Ave. They were for the most part working shitty jobs, living with their parents, dreaming of getting the hell out of upper-state New York. For various reasons, we were all discontent with our lives but had little resources to do much about our places in the world.

But while there was a part of me that loved these people, there was also a surfaceness to our relationship. We were all fragile, brittle, hurt and rejected too much to really know how to open ourselves to love. My friend, L, wanted desperately to have a sex change but it was harder then to have this operation, and she was drained trying to convince her therapist to recommend this for her. She dreamed of just going to Sweden to have the work done but had no money to make this happen. She dressed as a man during the day so that she could work towards saving for the operation that may not ever come. A, a beautiful gay man on whom I had a small crush bounced from boy to boy but never opened up with anyone. He told me that it was only fucking that made him feel human. And sometimes with me. We would sit in his car after clubbing just holding each other, trying to keep the sun from rising on another day that would just hurt us more. There was H, a sweet metal head guy who drove an old Camero. He would come pick me up and we'd do lunch sometimes. I don't think he was interested in me, just lonely after his girlfriend left him. He had a two year old son he took care of with his mom. There was a sense among us that life was not supposed to be this way. And this was not a sense you got from the middle class kids slumming on Monroe. They were all playing while they earned their degrees from a prestigious university.

I was also falling apart. The old idiom that the city is a killer came to bite me on the ass. I lost a lot of weight, and the drinking every night was not doing much for my sanity. I slept a lot toward the end, and stopped caring about anything. I was trying to survive on a shitty job, and was not really capable of making any plans for the future. College was starting to seem impossible. And eventually I knew I was wearing out my welcome with the friend whose place I crashed. J was doing nothing to end his marriage, and I was starting to hate him. And really I hated Rochester. This was not the city I wanted to live in...I wanted that mystical city that I dreamt of at nineteen.

So I returned to Maine, and to college. My goal was just to get out. To find something that would let me escape to that city I dreamed of...but I knew that the city would always change. I would never find that place that existed when I was younger. I knew now that the city would always eat you if you let it. Cities worked well for those who had money but had a tendency to destroy those without.

8 comments:

Horacio said...

beautiful post... i know some of these stories but i never get tired of hearing them over again.

i guess coming from the city i always wanted to live in the country: in the middle of nowhere, some place that would be the complete opposite of a city. that's one of the reasons why i ended up in maine, and another reason why we met.

Jess said...

What a great post (and as a side note I really miss Newbury Comics).

I've lived in the city, in the country and in-between, and the only thing I'm sure about where I *want* to live is that it's not the in-between. There are days that I'm thrilled to be in a big city and even just walking around feels energizing, and other days when I really miss the familiarity of a small town.

John B-R said...

Never having lived anywhere other than Chicago, SoCal, and the SF Bay area, I am way more at home in cities than anywhere else. But just having returned from Alaska (last night), where there are only 1M people, I also, finally, beginning to see how inhuman a city - the most human of all places - can be. Doesn't mean I'll be moving to Alaska, or anything, but just that maybe ... maybe I dunno, but I hear you, Ginger ...

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

Yes H these characters are coming into being around there aren't they? Perhaps someday...

Jess, I used to quite hateful of those inbetween places but now I live in one. It's not as bad as I thought...I like having so much green around me with the ability to drive to the city in a matter of minutes...now I"d like it better if I had public transportation to that city.

John, perhaps the problem is that the cities are too human not so much inhuman.

John B-R said...

Ginger, at some point, I fear, the too human and the inhuman become indistinguishable ...

ernesto priego said...

Having returned from Bristol myself, I can't but find London too, er, inhuman. Yes, too human, too: it's all about everything that makes us human to its excess.

Rush hour in the tube is a radical experiment about the limits of humanity. And then again: all you have to do is remember Mexico City, and everything is put into perspective...

Love to all.


(word verification: cittuz)

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

You know I'm not sure I like the term inhuman for "bad" behavior. I think that unfortunely the nasty side of us is all too human, as is our ability to forget/not care about others, to kill, etc. It is too easy, lets off the hook, I think to label that as inhuman rather than see that this horrible monster lives in us. It is what makes becoming compassionate such a big deal. If there was nothing to overcome, it would not be the feat it is.

Ginger As in Green Tea... said...

Oh and welcome back E. How as the talk?