WHAT PLACE LOOKS LIKE
one of those villages
doesn’t much change
what life looks like
some kind of living
or trying to.
Food each week
potatoes in ten pound bags
onions too all in the basement
if there is a basement
Weekenders New Yorkers
they carry bread in the car.
Some even take baking classes
They say there’s no
bread in upstate New York.
Locals drink plenty of coffee.
NPR and FOX.
I know I’m right
What is education?
Firewood? Hannah Arendt?
Can we have both?
they each know
don’t tell one another
difference breeds anger
instead of curiosity
white sugar versus
agave as though
one is closer to truth.
Plumbers and architects.
Taste stands in for taste.
All just preference. Of course
There are facts. But facts
Aren’t Truth.Nearly everyone
thinks their preferences
significant. Me too.
I like old doors
better than Home Depot.
But I know
doors don’t matter much.
Even a little.
We all try.
Some of us grow old.
We go to supermarkets.
We buy milk and eggs.
Organic or not.
Some tell us each choice
a moral decision.
All our houses continue
Zucchini and tomatoes
If we are lucky.
use them depends
on the books
we read. On the books
we don’t read.
On grandmothers. And
what we remember.
We try for pleasantries.
Hot. Cold. Rain is expected.
I heard a storm
Not enough rain.
will be nicer. Years
of survivals. People
live here. People
who give this place
what life is. People
whatever they are
are real stories
When we heard that people from Brooklyn good
looking thin young people one was even a composer
and she wrote music that sounded, she said, like
bananas peeling what did she mean? when we heard
they bought the small funky church hall down the
road from us, really from Brooklyn, Williamsburg or
Sunset Park or Bedford Stuyvesant or some other
neighborhood with newcomers wearing wonderful
shoes, we all moaned and sighed. Hipsters moving
into the neighborhood, to our part of the country.
We have been, for the 12 years we are here, pretty
much exempt from hipsters. Artists yes, but no
hipsters. Not much in this countyside. No artisanal
anything much. We don’t run into hipsters much,
with well-dressed children and chic baby carriages,
wearing clever hats.
Ours is a poor county, where many people are
overweight and struggling to get by. Daily problems
mostly trump aesthetic pursuits. Though not always.
Artist hipsters who were turning an old
church hall into a loft, and using words like elegant.
The church has always been beautiful.
Hasn’t been a church for years.
It’s deserted. An old sign in front saying Free Will
Offering. When we first moved here
hairdressered ladies, mostly Methodists, their hair
that funny beauty parlor blue, would walk
into the church space with honeyed hams, with
macaroni salad, a few kinds of potato salad, with big
bags of cheetohs and chips and white paper plates
every Saturday afternoon and by 5, the parking lot was
full, hams consumed, and every member of our entire
community proclivities aside had eaten
a good slice of pie from blueberries or cherries or
peaches. And ice cream, Stewarts ice cream. As
much as you could pile onto your pie.
Supermarket coffee brewed in one of those
gigantic metal coffee makers. Coffee for
Hipsters have always seemed like another species of
being. Especially all knowing hipsters who home
schooled their kids and used the words grass fed and
local and organic organic organic in
relationship to food, who were certain and self
righteous about food wrongs and rights, who didn’t
allow white sugar anywhere in the vicinity of their
significant loved ones, especially children.
White sugar was kryptonite. They’d rather die than
eat a piece of pie.
We were sort of hipsters once. Twenty years ago when
we were in our twenties when we bought our house in
this small village of Middlefield we were the smug
outsiders, young and certain, well positioned to
remake reality, to
turn someone else’s old
house, the place we bought, into our version of
imagined paradise.. More hippyish than hipster,
we were more of the Anything Goes school than
believing that Everything Absolutely Everything Was
Under control. . Live and
Let Live was our philosophy. We’ve
always eaten plenty of pies.
Still we had our sanctimonious moments, our heritage
tomatos, our perfectly friend zucchini blossoms, even
stuffed with white anchovies, our scrape the walls to
what they should be instances of quasi perfection.
The hipsters seemed worse than we were. We watched
them get out of their car (the thin handsome man was
holding a copy of a book by Paul Auster. His wife held
paperback novel by Auster’s ex wife. Did
they only read Brooklyn authors? Was even their
reading de rigeur?
It’s not that I didn’t have my Good and Bad books. I
did. But the summer we moved
here, years ago, I read an essay in my dentist’s office.
I hate dentists, and have some degree of
Dentalphobia. Just sitting in the chair and having a
stranger check around has always
made me sweat. Still I love my dentist. George. He’s
just about the most good
natured human alive, and never even raises the
subject of flossing. He mostly discusses
white water rafting, and his wife Naomi’s ex husband
Jack. I forget about my teeth when I
visit George, which is a good thing. My teeth are
He had an odd magazine in his office, years ago.
Patients give him subscriptions for
Christmas gifts. I picked it up because of its title:
MOON. An essay inside was written
by a high powered man, a CEO Type A kind of guy who
decided to DROP OUT, just to
be. Whatever that even means. So he left his job and
moved upstate, to a small town 60
miles south west of Buffalo. He lived in an open and unfinished barn. His first
summer he went to an auction and bought boxes of
books for a dollar. He said the
books were unpredictable: books about canning and
caning, about astronomy and
Mormons. He read six novels he’d never heard of and
liked them all, liked the chance to
keep reading books he’d never heard of, by authors he
didn’t know. He called it pure
reading , and doing this formed the heart of his life.
Pure reading changed him, he said.
For months and months until he was
able, he said, to remove himself from all the big
influences, to feel like he was back in
touch with who he was and wanted to be.
I stole the magazine from Dentist George, although I
wrote him a note, too, telling him that
I had his MOON. I knew he didn’t care. I copied the
article in a XEROX place, and gave
it to everyone I knew. It seemed like one of those
pieces that are important forever. That piece started
my Forever file.
I walked down the road to invite the hipsters to dinner.
If they were bikers or hikers I’d have invited them too.
Inviting people to dinner is one of the few tasks I
know how to do. There’s so much I’m not good at,
not good at all, but I’ve always been able, even
as a little child, to go next door and ask the
neighbors to come join us. They almost always do.
The hipsters said yes. What’s funny is they came to
their door, beautiful old church door, earnest, sincere,
and I thought to myself what’s so bad about them?
They were wearing black clothes. Black is OK. No color
The church looked less like a ham cafeteria and more
like a space where the word installation would apply.
Stripped down to what it once was. White walls.
Alex and Alex were their names. Two Alexes. Male and
female. They wanted names that weren’t gender
specific. So what if they
chose them themselves. Their parents
probably didn’t have all that much imagination. I
didn’t want to ask what they did,
but they told me anyway: 3D and Imaging Installation.
I’m not sure what either of those is, as a job. After
they left, I googled Image Installation but couldn’t
find much. What was there was written in some new
obscure these words mean nothing
language, and I went back to feeling that there’s
nothing too good about being a hipster.
Even so I was committed absolutely to inviting them
for dinner. Nick asked me if I would
have invited them over if they’d moved in from
Gloversville and put plastic pots with plants on their
front lawn. I’d like to believe the answer is Yes. That
anyone who moves in should
come by and have a meal. But I’m not sure that’s
entirely true. Would I invite
someone liked Sarah Palin?
The outside was a different white than i
Methodist church. I had to think for a while about how
I felt about whiter. Was there
anything intrinsically wrong with whiter? Half the
peopleI know had their teeth made whiter in the last
few years. Now their mouths have that fake Clark
Gabley glow in the dark look that everyone claims
Takes ten years off your life. Even Keith Richards
has fake white Would I be equally critical of a color I
about, a color in the negative column Wellfleet
Was I somehow secretly competing with the youngish
Making rules that only I could win? Or was the over
earnestness, the humorless
self focus that I imagined was their lives even real?
They appeared at our door, and introduced
Themselves again. Could anyone forget Alex and Alex?
Female Alex had two different earrings:
non silver metals that didn’t dangle. They just hung
down in some purposeful
way, as though she could control their swinging.
Hello she said, more Tilda Swinton than Rosemary
On the other hand, our Methodist neighbor Beulah of
multiple light blue pillbox hats, maker of peanut
butter pies with old fashioned
CRISCO, the same stuff that probably coats your
arteries for a lifetime, is
just as odd. Beulah had three husbands. All dead she
says. But she claims she’s looking. Four’s the charm
Welcome to Middlefield, I said to them both. And then
felt stuck. My follow up was equally feeble:
It’s beautiful here. Both Alexes stared thoughtfully,
seriously. Giving me the benefit
of the doubt, maybe. And maybe not. Looking in that
expectant way that makes you
feel you should say something important or at least
interesting. And you just can’t.
You can’t help but continue with platitudes. What a
summer I continued. I never
talk about the weather.
It’s been so hot. It’s a little cooler today.
I’m happy you’ve come to dinner I said, and wanted to
Be happy. Or at least a little happy.
Male Alex, handsome and silent, looked to his female
partner for help. He didn’t seem to know what to say
any more than I did.
Female Alex smiled at me. Beautiful. Generous even.
“I forgot to mention,” she said. “That we don’t eat
gluten or sugar. Or pie. Don’t worry,” she said. “I’m
sure we’ll all be fine.”