2007-10-18 - 1:47 p.m.
Part of the whole process for N of applying to colleges has been thinking about where she wants to go, and what part of the country she wants to be in.
I'm known in my family for being anti-California and anti-hippy. Which is not completely false, but not the whole truth, either. N says that she thought the people in New England were perhaps not as nice as the people in California. This stung me to the quick.
"Well, what do you mean?" I sputtered. There is the notion that New Englanders may be slow to warm up, but once they've decided you're their friend, you really are their friend. Unlike in California, where people may be friendly but can be a bit flakey. I tried to explain this bit of received wisdom to her, but ended up saying, "I'm having trouble answering this. Am I a New Englander who happens to live in California, or a Californian who happens to be from New England?"
She thought for a minute and then said, "I think you're a New Englander who's adapted to California."
It's a known fact that B8rk8l8y kids can have a hard time adapting to New England when they go off to college. A cashier at the new age pharmacy down the street dropped out of Wesleyan after one year. She couldn't stand the New Yorkers, or it was all too intense, or something. So maybe what I have is the reverse. I'm a New Englander who just can't quite get used to life in California, although I've been here over 20 years. I've been thinking about just how adapted I am. There are many great things about California. It's a pretty liberal state. It's quite beautiful in parts (and hideous in parts). The mountains and the ocean are gorgeous. It's incredibly diverse. But there are things I don't like, too, which probably come from its history as a very far away place full of drunken gold miners, as well as its lack of any meaningful weather. It seems to me that it's less thoughtful than other parts of the country. There's lots to eat here, but not so much to read. People are a little bit self-involved and selfish, and they assume that their crazy idea is the right idea, and that you are wrong, and that they should tell you all about it. The fact that N and M have read pretty much nothing in their entire high school careers has everything to do with the fact that they've gone to school in California. I'm pretty sure that people are reading Dickens and John Donne in other parts of the country, but not here. Even John Muir would be fine. Just something would be fine.
Anyway, on Sunday there was a street fair not far from my house. My mother and I wandered down to the bakery and ended up at the fair, and as we walked around it, surrounded by the typical people of my town, who may themselves have come from somewhere else but seemed quite happy to be here, I thought about just how adapted I am. I don't think I really do like it here as much as they do. I don't think I am all that adapted, and if I'm not now, I don't think I ever will be. Maybe it's just a fact. I really just cannot think of bongo drums as anything other than an annoyance.
But then Monday my mother left, and I stayed home all day to take care of all the things I had not been able to do with her here. My three day headache lifted. Around noon I went out, walking down to the drugstore for some envelopes and to the post office for some stamps. Everything looked much fresher. People smiled at me. The homeless man by the drug store was pleasant: "maybe on your way back." The homeless man outside the bookstore, a middle aged African American, was completely engaged in conversation with a white B8rk8l8y woman, similarly middle-aged. He was sitting on his box reading a book, a mass market paperback, and she came up to tell him how much she loved the author. She'd read everything he'd written. "I'm liking this one quite a bit," said the homeless man. I left them discussing books. Maybe that's what he was begging for -- books!
It all seemed so charming that I could not help feeling a sudden burst of fondness for this town, even though it is full of the flakey and the insane. I guess I am at least a little adapted, and that's probably not a bad thing.
I would still like her to go to New England, though. Or at least the midwest.
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