I have heard friends of mine who grew up in small towns (but which are only an hour drive or so away from small cities) complain about their places of origin and how unexciting they were to live in. I usually counter their Adolescent Boredom adventure stories of stealing shopping carts and riding them down steep hills, by replying that, growing up in Manhattan, there were always interesting things to do, but most of them were expensive and some were incredibly expensive. My cheap friends and I did our best to find fun things to do for little money, but most of them involved the management politely asking for us to leave. Still, I loved living in a large city, even one that charges $9.50 to see a movie, regardless of who is in it (no ticket agent has ever been moved by my suggestion for a “Keanu Reeves Discount Policy”, no matter how I pitch it).
However, recent terrorist attacks and even recent mail scares around the country have led me to believe that this is the time for everyone who adds, “I’m sure you’ve never heard of it,” in a vaguely hopeful way when saying where they’re from, to dance up and down their little-known streets. A couple of blocks away from the Metropolitan Museum, a few subway stops from Carnegie Hall, and a hop skip and a jump away from Grand Central Station, I used to revel in my apartment’s close proximity to so many points of interest in New York City. Lately, though, I’ve been wishing my family could relocate somewhere peaceful and quiet for a while. Somewhere where only one or two places are Open 24 Hours, and neither of them have neon signs that flash ‘Girls! Girls! Girls!’
The past few anthrax incidents have also been a call for us to put things in perspective. Suddenly, living and dying in obscurity is no longer a fear which haunts my days and nights and drives me into a frenzied orgy of self-destructive behavior in pursuit of artistic recognition. At the moment, I enjoy living in obscurity. People only send me bills here. Although perhaps being really famous is not the problem; it’s the middle-ground of fame, the rising but not yet well-known celebrity rank that one really has to worry about, because at that point one still opens one’s own mail. What I find surprising is the number of people who are convinced that they are in danger of terrorist mail even though they aren’t on the staff of The New York Times and don’t bring us the Nightly News. Our country’s love of, and subsequently, frequent usage of white, powdery condiments has, surprisingly, backfired. But we must not live in fear, especially if we live in Idaho. Anthrax doesn’t come cheap, after all.
I was listening to National Public Radio last week, and a news brief came on that mentioned Vermont. I have friends there and listened with a mixture of concern and incredulity. As it turned out, the news story itself was about how the governor of Vermont was making announcements assuring Vermont residents that every possible precaution was being taken to protect them from terrorism, including extra security at the nuclear power plant. Now, I’m not saying that Vermont isn’t a viable target for terrorism. However, I can’t imagine this exchange:
“Never mind the Empire State building. We have to show them we mean business.”
“But, you can’t mean. . .?”
“I do. It’s time we went after the nuclear power plant in. . .Vermont.”
Perhaps Vermont’s fear is justified. Maybe enemies overseas are angry that they haven’t yet been commemorated by a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor. But I’ll say right now that I would consider purchasing “Taliban Nut Crunch” or “Osama bin Lemon” only if they were the last flavors left in my grocer’s freezer.
I was born and raised in the city—note the oblivious ease with which I refer to it as “the city”—and the overwhelming fear and sadness I have been experiencing since that infamous Tuesday are difficult for me to express in words, through poetry, or with magazine and newspaper-photo collages. I have been deeply affected in ways I never could have imagined, one of which involves the fact that I am living in a single this year.
The idea of having a single used to make me giddy to the point of public embarrassment. My little sister and I have always shared a room, and I found the concept of living in a room, and not on a ‘side’ both strange and wonderful. I refused to believe that my friends who lived in singles at school really and truly had them all to themselves. Surely there was a sibling or a roommate stashed in the closet or under the desk.
All summer I feverishly anticipated the move into a room of my own. I plotted and re-plotted ways in which I would organize the furniture (the bed by the window? The bed not by the window?) and spent hours at K-Mart pricing throw pillows. In late August I drove to my single on gossamer wings.
Sure, it was wonderful at first. My room was my castle, my playground, an homage to half-assed interior decoration. But I began to realize that I hadn’t properly valued the hidden advantages of having a roommate. A roommate gives you someone to say “goodnight” to who won’t borrow your toothbrush, take up the bed, or be huffy if you don’t want to eat breakfast with them in the morning. A roommate is someone you get to sleep later than because they scheduled two nine a.m. classes and you never have to get up before noon. In addition, a roommate is a barometer of normalcy, a reminder that there is a world outside your little room, a world filled with other people, some of whom probably don’t like to hear Rubber Soul played back to back five or six times every afternoon. (This is unless you are unfortunate enough to have been matched with someone who is weirder than you in every significant way, which, in my school, is not that unlikely.)
When the two of you get along, talking to your roommate when you should be doing work is one of the most enjoyable methods of procrastination out there. When the two of you don’t get along, complaining to your friends about your stupid roommate is one of the most enjoyable methods of procrastination out there. But no matter how you feel about them, your roommate is a fairly consistent presence in your life at school. I didn’t realize how much I missed that constant human contact until September 11th when all I wanted to do was sit in my room and cry over The New York Times.
It’s a lot harder to leave your room when you live alone and you’re unhappy. No one drags you from your bed because they think you need to get out more; no drives you from the room with their boyfriend who throws his jacket on your bed and informs you that your little sister is hot after seeing family photos on your wall. Unless your friends are checking in on you constantly, no one observes you alphabetizing your cds, picking the price stickers off of your used books or watching the paint dry on your walls (for those of you who live in the newer dorms on campus).
I’m not sure when I began to realize that my habit of spending extended periods of time alone in my single was not doing me any good. I think it was when a friend stopped by to visit and found me sitting in my room with the door closed, talking back to the people who were giggling in my hallway. “What are you doing? They can’t hear you,” she said, to which I muttered darkly “Oh, they can hear me all right.”
Eventually I began emerging more and more frequently from my room and forcing myself to seek out the company of others. Unsurprisingly, it made me feel better. And while I was disappointed to discover that living alone wasn’t as great as I had imagined, especially during difficult times such as these, my concept of a dream-single was probably too fantastic for the reality to have ever come close anyway. With the possible exception of a single in one of the Village Dorms, which have temperature control to the degree. Can you even imagine?