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Thursday, 15 December
Turn Around, Stand In Place

In these holiday times, it's always nice to take a moment and think of home. And why you left. And why it was so great to leave.

I mostly grew up in a small town in Idaho, with a population just over 3000. It sits on the prairie just sort of where the panhandle starts, so it's kind of like where it would be pretty hot to hold on to if, say, you were frying an egg on Boise, which really, I wish would happen, because there isn't much other use for Boise.

(People in other states I'm sure would agree with me, but they probably wouldn't care or even notice if the entirety of Idaho were to be used as a giant omelette project. Once, visiting my grandparents in Los Angeles as a kid, I was asked by another kid where I was from. "Idaho," I said. "Oh yeah!" she replied. "That's over by Torrance.")

My hometown is not really remarkable in any way, least of all for anyone who has done some time in small towns. Everybody knows everybody, which can be good sometimes ("I heard you like apricots, so I brought you some from our tree!") and of course sometimes really horrible. ("That hooker you fucked and then stiffed for fifty bucks was my cousin. She called me from the car wash.") It is, in fact, so unremarkable and so blandly iconic in its small-town ways that one wonders how on earth my parents--who met in L.A.--ever decided upon it out of the thousands of identical little towns dotting our country. My best guess is that it's where they ran out of gas.

As I mentioned before, it's a place where everyone knows everyone. Or, at least, everyone who wasn't me. Being the callous little asshole I was--and remain--I never really bothered to imprint but a few people permanently onto my mind. The people I did remember were: 1. my close friends (sparse) and 2. the people who wanted to beat me up (many). And I still remember them clearly! Hey, Bill! You still a metalhead? Hey, Clay! Why did you punch me at that dance?

This horrible mass-deletion of all of these people kind of bit me on the ass when I idiotically went to my ten-year reuinion a few years ago. I failed to recognize an old crush of mine after she had gained some weight and stared at her blankly, and I actually did say, "Who are you now?" Classy! To make it all up to everyone, I drank too much at the horrible dinner and kissed the former homecoming queen passionately (quite surprising her) before I stumbled out into the night, cackling on my way home. I made a tremendous effort for the rest of the visit not to see anyone, and I'm thinking I'll give the twentieth a miss.

My hometown is, in many ways, completely unchanged. It does seem to be going through this dreary sort of urban-migration woe, which afflicts so many rural areas as people gradually fall into the gravity wells of larger and larger cities, but the folks there endure. There are, I understand, just as many racial groups as when I left so long ago: One. Just white people. And in terms of spiritual diversity, as spicy as we got were the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses. I spent a good portion of my youth really, really confused about these mythical "Jews" I would hear about every now and then. In rural Idaho, I think you had to go to a ski resort to see one of these cryptozoological specimens. "Daddy! Is that a Jew?" "Yes, son. He's practicing one of his people's rituals called 'telemarking.' " "You mean he's calling you at dinner to sell you something?" "I think so.")

Off-color jokes are still bandied about freely in these places, as they always have been. A company that I used to work for had (and maybe still does) an employee that was half-Arab. His inevitable nickname was "Sand Nigger." Understand that he was definitely not ostracized or beaten with sacks full of oranges: that was just his nickname. The jokes and epithets you learn as a kid are the ones that, at least for me, stick. I have an inexhaustible store of hideous jokes that I can never, ever tell. I clearly remember in fifth grade calling a female kickball competitor a "fag." She responded, "Oh, yeah? Well, you're a fag-get!" Really hitting that second syllable. I of course had no idea what she was talking about (or what I was talking about), but it really bummed me out at the time, as I was sure there was some important distinction I was missing about these terms.

For my senior year in high school, in 1987, the school play was, inexplicably, M*A*S*H. I played Duke, the little-remembered character from the movie played by Tom Skerritt. Anyway, remember the Spearchucker Jones character? He was the black guy of the movie, basically. We didn't have any black kids in my town. So how did we handle it? We sent out the quarterback of the football team done up in blackface.

1987. (The only uproar about the show--which was abominable, of course, as all high school plays surely are--was when the Radar character upstaged everyone by picking up a Playboy magazine.)

It's coming time again to go back. My folks are due for a visit, and I'm guessing it'll be perhaps next Christmas, or possibly the following 4th of July, when the town literally explodes in a cowboy orgy known as Border Days, one of the oldest rodeo events in the west. "You can get together with your old friends!" my mother importunes, probably not knowing that I don't really care about most of those people. I barely remember their names. I still burn with shame when I think of not recognizing the old crush who got fat. "You can go to the rodeo!" she also says. Which isn't as weird as those of you who've never been sounds: Rodeos are kind of unreal. Maybe you don't really want to see a guy stomped into paste by an angry, nut-twisted bull, but it's pretty good theater, really. And I once watched one of those crazy fuckers leap a ten-foot-tall fence and run amok in the surrounding neighborhood. One year, a horse broke its leg in a bronco-riding competition, and had to be shot in the head just outside the arena. Everyone heard the shot. The announcer stoically said, "You hate to hear that." It beats the shit out of the WWF.

"Home" is a funny thing. You can't wait to leave it, and you sort of dread it when you go back. And then, when you're all done with your return visit, you feel strange and lonely about going back--back to whatever you've replaced the original with as "home."

Neither are bad places, in the end. For me, it's just hard to leave them, and to come back again.

Confess | Skot | 15 Dec, 2005 |

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Comments

You grew up in G'ville I'd assume?

I lived for a time in Arco (Lost River Valley/south ID) I compare it to living on Mars, in many respects.

Comment number: 005783   Posted by: the g. on December 15, 2005 09:54 AM from IP: 208.201.131.194

Hey! I'm from Boise! We didn't have jews there, either. And I would be happy to see it replaced with a delicious omelette. With avocados. Mmmmm.

Comment number: 005784   Posted by: Lala on December 15, 2005 11:19 PM from IP: 69.237.209.164

Neither are bad places, in the end. For me, it's just hard to leave them, and to come back again.

There's always something conflicted about leaving home even if it's not really home anymore. I like to hear someone else say it too.

Comment number: 005785   Posted by: galetea on December 16, 2005 02:35 AM from IP: 195.149.26.6

The tragedy of my childhood: Any time I am exposed to a filbert, I _must_ think "niggertoe." That's all they were ever called in my white hick town. I didn't know the real name until I was ... I dunno, 20? And now there is no way for me to erase that association.

Comment number: 005799   Posted by: argotnaut on December 23, 2005 11:38 PM from IP: 70.98.243.12

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