Go running with some sunglasses
Now that school is back in session.
Every single face the old man passes
Offers up its own confession.
This place is not my own. I’ve never called it home.
The treeless sun-scorched pavement
Provides a naked, honest method of reflection.
You are to remain a sojourner, ever passing through.
You are in debt to someone for just skating by
On another mission in which you save your own hide
While other souls stare up and down and sideways
At your old man face.
What is it about this place, anyway?
You have your hipster peter-pan types who adore it.
It’s a world that never changes, yet anyone who’s been here
Longer than a year, will lament the appearance of a new condo,
The disappearance of an old bar,
“It’s just not the same anymore,” everyone loves to say.
I miss the greenness, the hilliness, the trees, the calmness and politeness
Of the Midwestern soul.
If I must endure snow again to see it, experience it, so be it.
Underneath all of the sunny, shiny “it’s all good” attitude
I sense this ever-present rage.
People can’t go fast enough for you on the roads.
People can’t get out of your way fast enough on the trails and sidewalks.
People from the Midwest and California, rootless, shiftless,
Looking for and talking about authenticity, but finding it nowhere.
People bitching incessantly, and then telling you that you can leave if you bother to complain about anything yourself.
The image of the sneering, slack-jawed fratboy-turned-hipster, holding back a switchblade soul–this comes back to me constantly.
The bar we were sneaking beers into, stoned and full of “it’s all good.”
The grizzled old bouncer who couldn’t change my 20, who pushed me to the back of the line.
My offhand comment about the oddness of this, when I heard the hipster say something about the bouncer.
Then, that sneer, “Quit your bitching, if you don’t like it, you can just go on in.”
My girlfriend at the time and all of my so-called friends telling me that I had no right to complain about the way I was treated, that things had happened as they should happen.
Everyone down here was in love with being treated like shit at hipster diners and dive bars.
Bartenders who plopped all of your change directly into your tip jar without bothering to hand it back to you first.
So-called friends and girlfriends who defended such things.
Trips back to the Midwest–yes, people really are more polite there.
Even the most impolitic of fraternity brothers are polite and nice.
People really are different here, and yes, I do want to leave because I don’t like it.
But, I’m stuck here, with family and obligations and this weird thing that God is making me do. Or so I think.
Will I ever get out of here?
The bar scene has long since not been my scene, thank God.
Maybe things have changed when Millennials arrived and complained to their helicopter parents about the way they were treated.
Maybe the Millennials love a place where they are treated like shit as well, because they think they are keeping it real, or something.
Nowadays, I just pick up hints of the attitude–perhaps I even pass that hipster douche from fifteen years ago while running on the trail, and he is fat and balding and slouchy and a real nothing of an old man himself. I pass old guys like that–still full of the “I could give a fuck about you” attitude. A sneery, self-absorbed, not-quite-pompous (because they are too damn lazy to be pompous) kind of soul.
Back in the Midwest for a few days, and the bartenders are nice. They genuinely seem to care about what I’d like to drink, and aren’t circling around my money to snag their tips. Tip jars aren’t everywhere up there, though I do see more of them than I remembered. Down here, everyone wants a damn tip for everything–actual service be damned.
I never quite took to the joy other people got from being treated like shit. People who claim to practice a lot of kindness even get caught up in it.
So, what does it feel like, now, to be running around this college town that I never called my own? It feels like I am a stranger, a sojourner, someone here today and gone tomorrow. Every inclination is to get my degree and get out–go somewhere where people are nice. People are happier up north (not the Northeast, but up north in the Midwest) because they have nothing to prove, and the heat hasn’t gotten to them. They have seasons, and so they recognize that things are coming and going, and they too, shall pass.
Down here, you have a million people frantically trying to be a part of the next big thing in tech, be a part of some shit like Burning Man, or some other hipster trash called art/music. People getting excited about some slop being dished out of a food truck, or a new dive bar where they treat you like ass. And what’s more, you have people in their forties and fifties still pretending they, too, are undergrads in college, able to party and be free and single like everyone else. And, there is this anger. Not so much palpable anger as there was up in Waco, but it’s there. It seems to be this kind of “someone out there is having more fun than I am” kind of anger, which causes people to be constantly looking over their shoulder from whatever craft brew they are drinking to see the more authentic genuine craft brew and barbecue the other guy is drinking. It’s kind of like those skits in Portlandia, but the heat seems to make us all mean–so, it’s not funny and fun times, but pure anger.
For the past ten thousand years or so, most of our ancestors (us WASPs and children of WASPs) lived in cold climates–the Nordics and the UK, then places like New England and the Midwest. We don’t know how to handle the heat, how to relax when it gets to our brains, when to come in out of the sun and take some time to siesta and not work at all. We continue to try to work and run and play until we are delirious and full-on mad that the sun is aging our skin more rapidly then our brethren and cousins who decided to stay up north. Instead of move back up north, we continue to live here because it’s like a cult–everyone keeps insisting that we live in the greatest city on earth, and so we must just not be trying hard enough to have the kind of fun in this greatest city that others are. We become certain that we couldn’t handle another Midwestern snow, and we are sure that this latest hipster pizza pie microbrew place with the cracker-thin crust pizzas and the extra hoppy IPAs will be our salvation. We become assured that we are the most virtuous and enlightened liberal people in America, having carved out this tiny blue dot in the middle of a red state. We are sure that we are better than Californians because we don’t pay state taxes or have homes that cost nearly as much.
I suppose I should pause to emphasize that this town is not a bad town at all, and it does indeed have many good things going for it. After Waco, it is a blessed relief. Except, it just never quite felt like home, and it still doesn’t. I am not sure where home really is for me, but when I went up to Columbia last July, I felt as if there were muscles inside of me relaxing for the first time in decades–like I didn’t need to be all tensed up to prove to anyone how authentic, genuine, hip, kewl, etc. I was. Nobody around me seemed to be caught up in that shit, either. And there was something about all of the green and the trees that just made me sigh…like when we drove through Tennessee a couple of summers ago. Those trees are old souls that have magic in them like you wouldn’t believe. You wouldn’t understand this, I suppose, unless you’ve dropped acid and sat in a tree, unless you’ve grown up surrounded by trees and then moved some place where there just aren’t that many trees anywhere.
It’s not just the heat that makes us all mad and crazy down here, but the lack of trees. If you cooled down this town’s annual average by about ten degrees and dropped in a million trees, you’d see people start to sigh, relax and breathe easier. I’m talking about real relaxation, not that fake, laid-back attitude where some switchblade soul is saying “it’s all good” one minute and then looks at you like he could kill you the next.