Monday, January 16, 2017

East Coast People (Good Eggs)

Last month, my book club read one of those books where everyone looks at me and says, Are people really like that on the East Coast?

Books we have read in that genre include: The Nest (Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney), Happiness Project (Gretchen Rubin), I Feel Bad About My Neck (Nora Ephron), and Just Kids, by Patti Smith.

Since I am the only one in the club from the East Coast, I can say anything I want about East Coast people--my opinion goes unchecked--a thing that would never happen on the East Coast!

I do what I can to counter the impression that we are all crazy, self-absorbed, entitled, smug, dramatic, pretentious, and weird.

But for some reason, they're not buying it.

My first and last defense is always self-deprecating humor, without which East Coast People would be insufferable to people in the Midwest.

It's not always enough.

I've written about how tough it is to raise a family near Boston or New York. Back East, we spent much more money and time; our commute was three times longer... Such burdens are ubiquitous back east...Except among the very wealthy.

But even the wealthy don't feel wealthy. Only the very very wealthy are light on their feet.

Everyone else is running on credit, running on fumes, living check to check, buying lottery tickets, imagining what life would be like if they didn't have to worry about money.

Cities like New York and Boston (and Paris and London) prey on consumers like drug dealers prey on junkies.

Imagine living in a constant state of want (not need, but want), your mouth perpetually watering...Yes, your mouth, but not just your mouth....

Ingeniously eye-catching commercialism surrounds you; it evokes hunger, lust, and envy--even though it feels innocent enough to enjoy the thrill and beauty of it--the iconic spectacle of Times Square, the nostalgia of Macy's, the glamour of Saks Fifth Avenue, the naked allure of the Apple store, restaurants and taxis, buffets on every corner that display more exotic delights than you could have ever imagined assembled in one place.

It warps the mind. Even if you made $250,000 in New York, you couldn't begin to quench that thirst.

There's more of the human condition, of art, of the divine and inspired in New York than the indictment above might suggest.

I've lived long enough to see the pendulum swing (in New York) from high rates of poverty and crime when artists could afford  Soho (less so Greenwich Village) and Chelsea was still the meat-packing district; to a richer more antiseptic city full of chain stores--Starbucks, Finagle a Bagel and Pret a Porter on every corner where there used to be delis, bookstores and ma & pa shops.

(Remember bookstores?)

Soho became Boho became Chelsea became Park Slope (in Brooklyn, no less!).

I digress. It has been a few years since I've been to New York, and the skyline has already changed radically.

Chicago is a great city, also expensive--yet somehow, not pretentious.

It's true. I don't know how that works. Maybe it's the efficient train system supporting the surrounding communities that keeps it real.

Maybe it's the scale of a Chicago block--modeled, you would think, on a country mile.

Whereas New York scrapes the sky with monolithic architecture like a city of crystals grown tall and pointy, Chicago's more massive, with a low center of gravity--like its people.

Beneath Chicago, high-rises rest on pylons in muck, an engineering marvel of building on a swamp...through funds sourced from processing plants--pork bellies, cattle, the rendering of livestock for dog food and glue.

So perhaps that's why the people of Chicago are less thin and stylish, less pretentious as it goes; literally or figuratively, their gleaming city is anchored in the soft matter of life and death.

Practical people built this city--the sons and daughters of farmers. Even the favorite fallen adopted son Frank Lloyd Wright sprang from a farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin.

Nothing in Chicago is too precious for rendering--even that glamourous star, the Sears Tower, has taken the name of her most recent husband (Willis!).

Everything they say about East Coast People is true. No matter how long I live in the Midwest, I will always be East Coast.

What I dislike about East Coast People (don't get me started, I'm trying to end) I really dislike in myself.

Midwesterners don't always try to be so clever. They seem to have nothing to prove, and all of the time in the world. I have to pace myself in conversation. I have to learn to say less and remain alert.

And they're not neurotic here, at least not in the same way, as we are back East.

But, sometimes, I will admit, I do miss the eggs*.

*In reference to the joke by Woody Allen from Annie Hall:

Doctor, my grandfather thinks he's a chicken!
That's terrible! Why don't you bring him into my office?
I would, but we need the eggs!

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