1/09/2008

Pine Valley


There was a brief period of my life, starting in college and lasting through short stay-at-home stints with babies in my early 30's, when I was addicted to a soap opera called "All My Children".
It all started when a gf in college used to rush home from class each day to catch the latest episode, and she eventually got me hooked. Soon I had a network of friends, all around the country, who watched the same soap opera, and we would excitedly call and write each other (these were before the days of myspace and email) and actually discuss the characters on this show. The culmination of this period in my life came when a friend of a friend of this group, referring to our gang's habit of discussing tv characters with such fervor, remarked (imagine this with a thick French accent, for he was not a native American, hence his confusion with this strange cultural habit) , "Zeese pipple. You tok lahk you know zhem ," accompanied with a dismissive little wave of the hand.

Hooked though I was at the time, I never for the life of me could figure out how or why all those people in the fictional town of Pine Valley kept running into each other. They were always having affairs and divorces , meeting up at the same 3 restaurants in that town, gossiping about each other, and the over-bearing matriarch was snooping in her daughter-in-law's purse and found......

I had grown up in an impersonal sunbelt suburb. No one seemed to know anyone. The houses all looked the same, people dressed and looked the same, the lawns were mowed, the curtains drawn. The only excitement we knew was when a family in our neighborhood once purchased a hideous yellow-orange station wagon, the color of a New York taxi, only more iridescent. You could see Mrs A's car coming through a dense fog, from 2 miles away. People would speculate as to why they had bought it : "Well, I heard they got it for really cheap because of that hideous color." "Well, I heard that Mr A got tired of Mrs A losing her car in the parking lot at the mall. 'This car you'll never lose ! It stands out like a sore thumb !', he yelled at her when they bought it." That was the only unusual , interesting thing that ever happened. Somehow, growing up in that suburb, we never ran into anyone we knew at the grocery store. Maybe the moms did, while the kids were at school, and I was never aware of it. Maybe my mom was too introverted to ever talk to anyone. I don't know, it just never happened. I lived there 18 years, and never once in all those years - going to orthodontist visits, working at the local mall - did I ever just unexpectedly "run into" someone . (Now , in high school we would plan to meet at the Taco Bueno, every day after school - but that was different.)

As a young adult , I moved to a large city. Lived downtown, did exciting things . Also never ran into people I new - it was a city of several million people. I guess the several hundred folks I did know, all did the exact same things I did, but at different times of the day. Curious to think of - maybe I missed them all by only a few minutes.

This pattern continued for all of my life. I lived in several really large cities, or nameless faceless suburbs. Until now.

I live now in a small town, not a suburb. It only has about 100,000 people. (40,000 of them college kids - not real residents.) It is not a homogeneous grouping of homes and residents, who all earn the same amount of money, brought together because they all could afford the same priced homes. It is a vertically mixed town , with rich people and poor people, white black and brown people, and everything in-between. There are some folk who have lived here for 100 years, or 50 , or 20. I have lived here for only 10.

Got to know a lot of people, real quick , however - from my kids' schools, their soccer teams, got myself involved for a bit in local politics, neighborhood organizations, worked here and there , churches, joined book clubs, etc. Once my husband had someone bang up his car up late at night , while it was parked near campus- and being true to the small personal town that it is, this honest college kid left a note, with a phone number. Hubby called the number, talked to the kid's dad, and started a lifelong friendship with that person, a native, a businessman, and local political figure.

Now hubby dear and I are extremely "connected " , in multiple layers and directions, to many people in our new home town. We have a saying here , "2 degrees ", which means (referencing the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon " phenomenon) you can connect to any person in this town in 2 jumps.

So it comes as no surprise to us when we go anywhere, and run into someone we know. This was originally quite a shock to us former big-city denizens. I was used to running to the grocery store in no makeup, greasy hair, wearing day-old sweats - when I had a bad cold - to buy tissues, NyQuil, and chicken soup. Now we expect it. Almost. The thing is, it rarely comes in the form you expect.

Living in a small town forces you to pay attention : to how you look, how you behave. How your home looks, how your kids behave . You need to be a little more honest and polite. Now I know where civilizations initially got all those rules ; they came from back when everyone lived in villages, elbow to elbow. Thinking about running that red light ? That person on the opposite side of the street just may recognize your car. Walking your dog ? Better not let it poop in someone's lawn, b/c you never know who is up and drinking coffee on their porch that might spot you walking by. Put only a single dollar bill in the collection plate ? The usher who is holding it is your kids' soccer coach. He saw how much you put in. Accidentally bounce a check ? The owner of the store is part of your local citizen's action group. That girl scout selling cookies at Wal-Mart is a classmate of your daughter's. That person at the door trying to tell you about Jesus is a co-worker. Toss some trash out the window ? The car behind you is your neighbor.

People in this town are still charmingly courteous to one another . At a 4 way intersection, it is not uncommon to find all four cars politely wave at the other cars to go first. "No, you go first." "No, I insist, you go first." It's like Pepe le Pew and Foghorn Leghorn.You can tell the outsiders, b/c they are the ones who don't. (Any kind of surly behavior, or one-uppitiness we call , "Plano-i-zation".)
:o)

So for the first time ever, I now know why all those people from "All My Children", who lived in Pine Valley, ran into each other, and why they had so many affairs. There are affairs all around me - I know of two in just the past year, in my little neighborhood. People run into each other all the time. Elbows rubbing together......I saw my boss last Friday night when I was out at a bar, drinking (she was too, b-t-w). I ran into my son's gf, after they had broken up ( no tension there ! ) and her mother, at the dr's office today. I saw both a co-worker and a neighborhood friend at the groc store the other day - we were all buying booze.* It's amazing there aren't more affairs, with everyone in such close proximity. You see the same people over and over again, after awhile, they all start looking pretty good. I have a randy neighbor who flirts with me no end - and I am a middle aged mom, not in the prime of anything these days. He is clearly lookin'. So in this little corner of the earth, no one runs to the store without make-up, in their day -old sweats - b/c they all KNOW they will run into someone they know. They just can never predict who it will be. Better comb your hair .
********
* Baptist joke from my friend Dago ( a Baptist minister) :
Protestants don't recognize the power and authority of the Pope. Jews don't recognize Jesus Christ as the Son of God. And two Baptists in a liquor store don't recognize each other.

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