January 12, 2004

Life in a Small Town.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 11:51 pm

A while back, Craig at mtpolitics posted a piece called “Life in a Small Town.” It got me to thinking about the cultural differences among us, which, in no small measure, are traceable to the places and circumstances of our upbringing. How each of us ended up being raised in a particular place (or places) is often the result of some sort of cosmic crapshoot that planted our ancestors in a particular place or places during our youth.

It is often said that things like television and the internet have smoothed over many of the cultural differences in the U.S. and have made us a homogenized swill. However, Craig’s questions serve as a stark reminder that there are still big differences in people’s youthful experiences, which, in turn, produce the great cultural mosaic that is the USA, the 7 o’clock news notwithstanding.

I was raised in a town in Northeastern New Jersey (across the “Meadowlands” from New York City). To me, it was a “small town” – at least it was when one compared it to its neighbors, Newark and New York.

So, for the hell of it, I thought I’d respond to the questions in Craig’s post from my perspective of having been raised in a “small town” in Northern Jersey.

Let’s get on with it, shall we.

Here’s how to tell if you grew up in a small town:

1. You can name everyone you graduated with.
No way. I graduated with approximately 356 other people, many of whom I didn’t even know where in the senior class until I got my copy of the yearbook.

2. You know what 4-H is
4H? I think I first learned what 4H was from a television program that aired about 4 in the morning called the “Farm Hour” or something like that. I recall being home from school sick as hell and seeing people my age (i.e. high school kids) washing and brushing their prize cows and pigs. Cows? Pigs? It freaked me out.

3. You went to parties at a pasture, barn, gravel pit, or in the middle of a dirt road. On Monday you could always tell who was at the party because of the scratches on their legs from running through the woods when the party was busted, see #6.
My only exposure to a “pasture” was on Sunday drives to the “country” with my parents. I know that for shit sure I never attended a party on one, and I don’t believe that I have ever set foot on one. I think I was in a barn once, when I visited my cousins in South Jersey, and all I remember is that it smelled pretty bad. I cannot imagine having a party in a place that smells like various kinds of shit. I don’t think I know what a gravel pit is, even now. As for dirt roads, where I grew up, the only dirt roads I recall were in the “dumps,” definitely not a place for a shindig. Too many rats, and it smelled bad.

4. You used to “drag” main.
Now you’re cookin’. We used to do that, although there was a better place nearby – a straight, multi lane, not much traveled stretch of highway on Route 21. How I didn’t blow the pistons through the hood of the family car, I’ll never know.

5. You said the “F” word and your parents knew within the hour.
No f*****g way. Parents usually didn’t learn of problems until they got a call from the desk sergeant or the principal.

6. You scheduled parties around the schedule of different police officers, since you know which ones would bust you and which ones wouldn’t.

Nope. Our parties were usually in someone’s basement, and the cops would need a warrant to come in.

7. You could never buy cigarettes because all the store clerks knew how old you were (and if you were old enough they’d tell your parents anyhow).
No again. If you had money and you could reach the counter, you could buy smokes in any number of places (“Luckies” were the brand of choice).

8. When you did find somebody old enough and brave enough to buy cigarettes, you still had to go out into the country and drive on back roads to smoke them.
Nope. The playground was where most of the smoking took place. The closest thing to the “country” for smoking purposes would have been a vacant lot.

9. You knew which section of the ditch to find the beer your buyer dropped off.
Ditch? No such thing.

10. It was cool to date somebody from the neighboring town.
Not cool. We always thought people in the neighboring towns were assholes.

11. The whole school went to the same party after graduation
Never would happen. You’d need a house the size of Madison Square Garden. Besides, we thought that many people who graduated with us were assholes.

12. You don’t give directions by street name: “Turn by Nelson’s house, go 2 blocks east to Anderson’s, and it’s four houses left of the track field.”
Close, but not exactly the same. We gave directions by saloons. “Turn right at McNabb’s. Go two blocks past Kenworthy’s and make a left. The place you are looking for is just across from the “Blue Bar.”

13. The golf course had only 9 holes.
Golf course? No way.

14. You can’t help but date a friend’s ex-boyfriend/girlfriend.
That happened sometimes, but it often resulted in a fistfight.

15. Your car stays filthy because of the dirt roads and you will never own a dark vehicle for this reason.
There were no dirt roads, and cars were always washed and “Simonized.”

16. The town next to you is considered “trashy” or “snooty”, but is actually just like your town.
No, we considered them to be assholes, and they were.

17. You refer anyone with a house newer then 1980 as the “rich people.”
We considered anyone whose father wore a suit to work to be one of the “rich people.”

18. The people in the “big city” dress funny then you pick up the trend 2 years later.
We used to call them “Nicky Newarks,” and yes, we often ended up dressing like them. It was similar to the “West Side Story” Jets and Sharks thing.

19. Anyone you want can be found at the local gas station or the town pub.
Nope. There were about a dozen gas stations and more than a couple dozen pubs (although they were not called “pubs”), all of which did a brisk and noisy business.

20. You see at least one friend a week driving a tractor through town or one of your friends drives a grain truck to school occasionally.
Tractor?? No way. If someone were to drive a tractor through town, they definitely would have been arrested. I’ve never driven one. And, to this day I don’t believe I have ever seen a “grain truck.”

21. The gym teacher suggested you haul hay for the summer to get stronger.
“Haul hay?” Does one need a tractor to do that?

22. Directions are given using THE stop light as a reference.
I can’t even begin to relate.

23. You decide to walk somewhere for exercise and 5 people pull over and ask you if you want a ride somewhere.
You could walk until your feet bled and no one (except a friend) would offer you a ride. Girls, however, were asked all the time if they needed a ride, and most of the time, they indicated their preference to continue walking by suggesting that the passing driver and his cronies “fuck off!”

24. Your teachers call you by your older sibling’s names.

I have no siblings, but when this happened to friends of mine, the teachers always seemed to ask rhetorically, “How could your sister/brother be so nice and smart and you be such a unruly moron?”

25. Your teachers remember when they taught your parents.
I suppose this could have happened, but not to me, as my parents went to school (through the 10th grade) in Newark. I suspect that, when this did happen, the teachers probably wondered how your parents could have given birth to such a moron.

26. You can charge at the local stores or write checks without any ID.
Nope. Cash on the nail. No credit.

27. The closest McDonalds is 45 miles away (or more).
Hell no. Just about everything worth a damn was within a 15-minute drive, including New York City (with no traffic, of course). The only trip worth a 45-mile drive was a trip “down the shore.”

28. The closest mall is over an hour away.
See number 27. Hell, the state is only a bit more than 200 miles long.

29. It is normal to see an old man riding through town on a riding lawn mower.
That guy definitely would have been arrested. I can hear the cop now: “And just who the hell do you think you are? Mr. Greenjeans?”

30. You’ve peed in a cornfield.
Cornfield? Did you say “cornfield?”

31. Most people go by a nickname.
Yeah, but they sounded like names from the Sopranos.

So, it would appear that there are small towns, and there are small towns.

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