Native to Nowhere

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E.O. Schaub

You know, I’m starting to get the odd feeling that I’m not really from anywhere. I know that I’ve mentioned before the fact that, according to local lore here in the green mountains, you don’t get to be a “local” unless you were born here- period. Too bad kid- as the Hindus say- better luck next life.

On the other hand, it’s only a scant four-hour drive between here and the New York City suburb where I grew up, but I fit in there about as well as a… a …. a gooseberry in a half-caff iced latte moccacino.

So you can see my dilemma. My mother, lives in New York and calls herself a New Yorker- and she is. (Of course, you can have moved to New York from the Outer Flamblastic Nebula yesterday, have polka dotted skin, and speak only in homonyms, and still be considered a perfectly legitimate New Yorker.) But I’m pretty clearly not. How do I know? Well, I have this weird propensity to smile at people. And I have a bizarre aversion to having TVs shoved in my face everywhere I go. And I don’t swear nearly enough. So you can see I’m kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. Or a farmstand and a Starbucks if you prefer.

I was reminded of this odd incompatibility I have with my hometown when I went home to visit for a few days last week.

Sure, I can get around okay, I know where most things are— or at least where they used to be, before Donald Trump bought them and turned them into deluxe condominiums for hamsters, or something. Sure, I can drive aggressively, once I get tired of waiting for someone to actually let me in (silly me!), and I can be assertive, once I figure out that I am never, ever, EVER going to get that stupid hot pretzel until I look like I’m about to reach across that counter and strangle the snack bar guy myself with my two bare hands. (He’ll never know how lucky he was.)

My children, meanwhile, who technically are “Vermonters” (thank you) behave a little like Crocodile Dundee in the city: my four year old is wide-eyed and nervous about revolving doors and escalators; my nine year old is busy arranging play dates with children she met in the ladies room line at The Lion King (they were from Virginia). Everywhere we go she asks if they have a compost for her to throw her banana peel in- (in case you were wondering, The Museum of Natural History does not have a compost. Tsk.) I swear, the first time I took my older daughter into the city a few years ago we were standing on a corner in Times Square waiting for the light to change, surrounded by literally thousands of bustling people heading in every direction, and she turned to a small girl next to her and said “Hi, my name is —, what’s yours?” Paul Hogan- meet my daughter.

My mother- the dyed in the wool, (and let’s make that cashmere, black please) adoptive New Yorker- is a bit horrified. “Eew!” she said at one point, when my older daughter was admittedly playing up her country bumpkin act and marveling at the tall buildings- golly gee whiz shucks!

Okay, I wasn’t so keen on the Pollyanna bit either. Then again I’d take it over the eternally pissed-off, push and shove attitude that seems to dominate virtually every interaction in the city. Got a problem? Get mad! That should solve it! Driving in to Manhattan one afternoon, on our way to the Museum of Natural History, I stopped at the red light a bit too far up, on account of some construction I was attempting to peer around. Unfortunately this also meant I was blocking the crosswalk, and that any pedestrians would have to walk a good two to three steps out of their way to get around me.

Suddenly a blistering face appeared in the driver’s side window of my mini-van. “Hey *&^%$hole!!” she shrieked at me, “What the F$^@# do you think you’re doin?!?”

Well, okay then! Never mind the dinosaurs, kids, instead we’re going to have a New York lesson in vocabulary! Won’t the elementary school teachers at home be impressed!

Another shock-value item was the omnipresence of televisions, BLARING AT YOU LIKE THIS EVERYWHERE YOU GO: Amazing Diet Pills! Tragic Car Wreck! Spongebob! Do You Need Botox? School Bus of Children Die Horribly in Freak Juice Box Explosion! Eat Cookies for Breakfast! Maybe Your Dog Needs Botox! Buy This Useless Piece of Crap! God Forbid Your Toddler Not Be Milan-Runway Stylish! Which Cell Phone to Buy Your Infant! Lose Weight Eating Dirt! Spongebob! Lose Weight Through Blinking! Crap! Spongebob! Crap!

Did I really grow up here, I wonder? Yeah, I know so much has changed since I departed the scene- cell-phones, moccacinos, and Spongebob are all new innovations. My old elementary and high schools have gotten make-overs in recent years (sigh), but I suppose I should be glad they’re still standing. Even the dinosaur room at the Museum of Natural History has been overhauled and updated…(so how did they get rid of the dusty, old-museum smell? Eau d’ Endowment?) But you know what didn’t change? How cool it still was. How you can look up and still have that little kid sense of wonder about a real dinosaur. Right there. In front of you.

W o w.

And- for that split second anyway- not a television, moccacino or Spongebob in sight.

So the upshot is I’m pretty much homeless, figuratively speaking. A native-nothing. The way I see it though, as long as I know where to find both the best museums and the best farmstands, I can definitely, definitely live with it.

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