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Gristmill: In the Land of Plenty

Thu, 06/06/2024 - 10:42
Charles Dickens in 1867.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

One of the old criticisms of Charles Dickens had to do with his tendency to work incredible coincidences into his plots. But who among us hasn't lived this?     

Two years after leaving Alaska, and five years after having last laid eyes on my Fairbanks log cabin neighbor, I stopped off in Minneapolis on a cross-country drive and, on a downtown sidewalk, passed right by her. Mutually agreeing not to get coffee, we went on our way.     

It happened again a few weeks ago, when my better half and I were dining at the bar at Cappelletti in Noyac when out of the blue a woman from deep in my past pulled up a chair right next to mine. No, not that kind of woman, more like a stepmother figure from my extended, quintessentially 1970s family, that is, one blown apart and reconfigured any which way, usually a way not involving remarriage.     

To put a finer point on it, in sixth grade I left the tiny public school in Bridgehampton to live with my father and attend a school an order of magnitude larger in suburban Massachusetts. Everyone has a year that sticks out, and for me that was it — better academically, better athletically, more friends, not perfect but structured, and not meant to last.     

This stepmother-for-a-year was someone I looked up to, someone whose opinion I would seek out, if only I'd sought out advice more during a youthful campaign of bad or non-decisions.     

"So what do you guys do here?" was her question at the bar. I took it literally, answering, "It's all about the kids — we go to their meets, visit them at college."     

Rather, coming from Philadelphia, she'd meant to suggest that it's awfully dull here, insufficiently stimulating, so how do you deal with it?     

Funnily enough, this has been on my mind, what with trips to the Irish Repertory or some other theater in the city, or to the pressed-tin ceilings and worn dark wood of Pete's Tavern in Gramercy, a new determination to visit the Morgan Library, what have you. And we're not even empty nesters. Yet. More like something finally gave way.     

But the psychic beating to be had out this way goes beyond the stir-crazy, doesn't it. Anyone should be grateful to live on the East End at all, in theory. Yet within the context under discussion, the life of an ordinary Joe in the society as it's been made here, where the cost of everything has arbitrarily doubled, or worse (see the $13.49 jar of mayonnaise), that's a hard positivity to maintain.   

The words of the perceptive new pastor at the Presbyterian church in town, Jon D. Rodriquez, resound: "To choose to be on the East End for the normal, average person is to choose a very difficult path knowingly."     

Tell it like it is, Texan. 

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