Little town, I love you

As a girl growing up in Plains states, I thought all I could ever want was Brooklyn. I never dreamed of living in New York City in general, just Brooklyn. I loved movies set in Brooklyn and people from Brooklyn. It just seemed so obviously better than all other places on Earth that nothing else could compare. In Brooklyn, people are all different kinds, rich and poor, stylish and not, religious and atheist, workaholics and lazybones, from every country and culture, and somehow they seem to get along pretty well. That was my fantasy of Brooklyn, and it’s mostly true. Any kind of person can be in Brooklyn, and people do generally watch out for each other. I wouldn’t say they’re full-on nice, but they can be thoughtful. For eight years, I did feel like Brooklyn was on my side in life.

This weekend I brought a friend from the little town where I live to visit New York and stay with my very dear friend in Brooklyn, and we had a nice time enjoying the fruits of the city. We ate foods we can’t get in our town, went to a great old movie, walked around Prospect Park, and drank good margaritas. It was nice! We kept noticing how, unlike in our town, New Yorkers do tend to look pretty great as adults. Our town does not have an overwhelming number of great-looking grown-ups in it.

But something odd happened to us as our train got closer and closer to home. My friend and I grasped one another’s hands as we sailed past the farms and hills outside our town. Horses! Donkeys! Mules! Cows! Look at that old old train car in that field! Look at the way the sunlight falls on that farmhouse! We’ll be home so soon!

Both of us had spent the previous decade in the big cities of our childhood dreams, on opposite coasts, living out the fantasy of life in public, dating artists and writers and musicians, coming home—if at all—at dawn after deciding on a whim to be out all night. We met people and threw them away, or were thrown away ourselves, for no reason at all. We bitched about everything because in an environment of maximum density, we could always find some pleasure more refined than the last.

Over a lunch of omelets in a diner near the train station, we tried to come up with ways to describe our love of small-town life. Would it be possible to communicate why it’s so great to someone who can’t imagine leaving the city, someone much like ourselves less than a year ago? That is, you wouldn’t want to convince them to leave, but just to respect your enjoyment of something else. Certainly most small-town people can imagine New York being right for someone else. Can city folk imagine what we love?

It most closely reminded me of a time when a woman who lived in my building in Brooklyn told me, over our ritual weekly glass of bourbon, that she was in love with a man. Oh please, I said. A month before she’d picked up some cokehead lawyer to screw her in the ass after a gallery opening. Tell me about this “love.” Well, they’d met at a wedding, and he asked to see her again after sharing a dance. He got reservations at a nice restaurant, where they talked and ate and had good wine. He took her home and didn’t kiss her yet, but invited her to breakfast the next day before he flew back across the country, and they did kiss, and now she’s in love and going to move to marry him. I couldn’t see it. She might as well have been speaking random syllables for all I understood. That is really weird, I said.

Our small town, my friend and I decided, is like having some new boyfriend who’s really dependable and likes your company and is fun to be around but gives you space without being creepy or passive-aggressive about it. And when you try to explain your love to people who’ve known you and the kinds of guys you go for, it just sounds way too healthy and sane to hold any interest.

8 responses to “Little town, I love you”

  1. A White Bear says:

    One of the responses I hear from literally every New Yorker when I talk about my little town, and the exact response that I myself used to give when asked if I could live outside New York, was “I can’t sleep if it’s too quiet.” I say, well, I live on a major street; there are cars passing and stuff. It’s not the middle of the woods. “Oh no, if there aren’t sirens and drunk people screaming outside my window it’s just impossible for me to drift off.” I call bullshit on this. Having left the city now, I can verify that one gets used to sleeping through the night pretty damn fast. It’s sooooo delicious.

  2. LP says:

    I can see the appeal of a small town, especially if that town is not one you have necessarily chosen, but where you are compelled to live for work. Meaning, if I simply chose to move from my big city to a town of, say 40,000 people, the chances are greater that I would spend time thinking, “what am I missing?” than if I knew I had to be there and should just enjoy the situation I’m in.

    On a similar note, after living for nearly 17 years in Washington, DC, then living in LA for the last 5, I can say that, city-wise, I really prefer a smaller one. Not in terms of population, but in terms of getting around. In DC, I had the incredibly enviable situation of having nearly all my very close friends living within a 3-mile radius. In LA, people are spread out to kingdom come and back. It’s really frustrating, resulting in seeing people I love a lot less than I would like to. Even in New York, where it can take forever to get from one neighborhood to another across Manhattan, it feels less spread out and scattered. There’s a lot of things to recommend LA, but that ain’t one of them.

  3. AWB says:

    Yeah, probably the best thing about our little town is that, although I only have three close friends, we can all walk to each other’s houses in 5-10 minutes. We often finish an evening having a drink and listening to music in someone’s living room. In Brooklyn, it was really hard to get people to come over to our house, though in my last apartment we had a huge living room and kitchen. I’d invite 150 friends to a party and 5 would come. Even people who lived in the neighborhood wouldn’t come over. These are people who would happily travel an hour and a half to meet up at a restaurant or bar, but going inside someone’s apartment? Gross. Living spaces were just too intimate.

  4. swells says:

    First of all, I LOVE your analogy here, AWB, and am also glad to hear that your small town is winning your heart. Reminds me also of Rachel’s post about the midwest: (sorry about my lack of linking skills in comments–all the buttons went away). It’s posts like these that could achieve your dream of “city people imagin[ing] what we love.”

    And now that I live in Kingdom Come, LA, I totally agree with LP about it–it’s a fine town but my friends are all so far away (except for the others here in KC). It’s one of the things I miss most about San Francisco, and the balance between urban city and small town (7 miles square, total) is one of the many things that makes SF perfect . . . but I won’t start down that well-worn rut in the road here, and instead will say how seductive you make that small town seem to one who’s never been tempted thus.

  5. FPS says:

    “Where to live one’s life” is an endless topic for me, of course, having made a steady and sometimes deliberate progression over thirty years from a town of 15,000 to a city of 8,000,000*. I can imagine enjoying life somewhere smaller again without much difficulty, but it would absolutely depend on having close friends there, and I’m pretty sure I’d still miss New York in a lot of ways.

    I found I was a little sad reading the metaphor of the small town as the healthy, sane, dependable boyfriend because it seems to suggest that any love you had for life here was misguided, maybe Stockholm Syndrome-ish. For a long time Brooklyn really was on your side, wasn’t it?

    *Ok, right, the first few moves were not about seeing the bright lights of the city, like when I was six and stuff, but it’s one of my little narratives about my life.

  6. J-Man says:

    I’ve always loved L.A., but I’m a little envious of all the people I know who’ve lived in other cities. I’ve lived here my entire life, except for a couple years in upstate NY and a year in Northern Cal, both for college. I feel so oddly provincial and small-townish, in a way, not having lived elsewhere. I’d love to do that at some point in my life, and I agree with LP that it would probably easier to have to move to a small town because of work, rather than picking one and just going. I’m always torn between loving the big city and my fantasy of small town life.

  7. A White Bear says:

    I love that post by Rachel. Life here in the little town is much more town-like, in that no one in the city has any land to speak of. It’s all narrow roads and row-houses, laid out as a city in the early eighteenth century. It feels a lot like the small town in rural Germany where I stayed a few summers ago; nothing is more than a half hour walk away, and there’s pretty much just one of every type of store. There’s something relaxing about making plans and thinking, well, if I want Mexican food, I will go to the Mexican restaurant. If I want groceries, I will go to the grocery store.

    It’s true that I never would have chosen this as a place to live. Whenever I meet townies, they ask me why I chose to move here, and I just say I applied to 40 jobs and got 39 rejections. I’m just lucky the one job that wanted me was here.

    Last night, after some beers out with my best friend here and saying goodnight, she called to say she can’t stand me leaving. I can’t stand it either!

  8. A White Bear says:

    Smearcase, it’s not that my love for Brooklyn was misguided. It was just really dramatic all the time, and not very dependable. One spends a lot of time convincing oneself that one just loves rats and the smell of human excrement and sitting in gum or spit on a regular basis. One starts to enjoy going into bars and sneering at what everyone is wearing nowadays. I kind of don’t like the person my love for Brooklyn made me become, I guess?