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« Fleshy Old Lucian re-re-redux | Main | Jack and Diane redux »

August 14, 2002

Jack and Diane

Friedrich --

By the way, how was your vacation? Mine was great: Good cancer-test results out in St. Louis (PSA's "undetectable," praisethelordandknockonwood), then a very sweet 30th public-high-school in western New York.

I wonder what your reflections are on growing up in the midwest -- for all intents and purposes, western New York is part of the midwest. Are you as amazed as I often am by how contemptuous big-city types are of flyover country? (You'd think at least a few of them would look at midAmerica and think: Peaceful, prosperous, pleasant -- hmm, maybe they're onto something.) But maybe that just demonstrates what an earnest and easily-shockable mid-American I remain, even after all these years in the big bad city.

Early in my stay in New York, I was comparing notes with a young woman, who asked where I was from. I told her, and mentioned that I was fond of it. She looked me dead in the eye and said, "No you aren't."

New Yorkers for you. At least midtownish, careerish New Yorkers. They either grew up here and think it's the center of the universe and every other place is a joke, or they came here from some other place they spend the rest of their lives hating.

I'm such a small-town midwesterner at heart. Are you? I remember once telling the wife, a big-city girl, how pleasant life in a small town in western New York was for a kid. She was skeptical, so I made her sit through the movie "Breaking Away," which, aside from the whole bicycle-racing thing, might be a documentary about how I grew up. She enjoyed the film but couldn't stop rolling her eyes. She watched it like she was watching something from Timbuktu, it seemed that bizarre to her.

Seedbed of oppression, racism and homophobia?

The weekend of the reunion, full of "Breaking Away"-style kids (although "kids" may not be the best word for people in their late 40s), I had the usual, intense "Why did I ever leave?" stirrings. Short answer: ambitious mother. Longer answer: some interests I wanted to pursue. But neither answer seemed adequate as I made conversation with old friends who've never left town, and who seem at least as happy as I am. So: why did I ever leave? Gulp.

Art question: which movies/books/paintings/etc have done a good job of presenting smalltown mid-American life?

Some offhand answers: "Babbit." "Winesburg, Ohio." "Breaking Away." A few of the early Jonathan Demme movies. "Spoon River Anthology." "Picnic." And my personal favorite, "The Music Man," a towering masterpiece (I would argue this seriously) which also nails the "American salesman" type far better than the awful "Death of a Salesman" did, at least for this son of a salesman.

Poet of the heartland: Sherwood Anderson

I should be coming up with paintings too. Any ideas here? But I think artists have generally done a lousy job of dealing with mid-America, which they see all too often as a nothing but a target to project what they hate onto: racism, homophobia, oppression, warmongering, whatever.

Besides, what's so wrong about saying "please," "thank you," and "sorry" a lot?

Your thoughts? Your vacation?



posted by Michael at August 14, 2002


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