Stranger in a Strange Land

When I was young, my siblings and I used to visit a farm outside of town every weekend. My parents referred to this as “Forced Family Fun Day” because there was literally nothing else for us to do but play together.

Once, another family (from THE BIG CITY) was there, visiting the owner of the farm. They had two boys and a girl, and the six of us looked at each other warily. I was never as conscious of my tangled hair and dirty knees as when I was looking at kids like this—freshly pressed, coordinating outfits, and not a spot of dirt on their shoe laces.

It didn’t take long before my brother dared one of the other kids to touch the electric fence—just wait, don’t stop reading, or you might miss the utter genius that is my brother. He knew that the kid would refuse—DUH—it’s an electric fence! My brother started talking him through the process—so tell me why you won’t touch it? He asked. “Because I’ll get shocked.” The kid replied, staring at Vinnie like he was short a few points in the ole IQ department.

So Vinnie kept goading him, and threw up his hands and said (with a twinkle in his eye)—“Fine, then I dare you to PEE on it. You won’t even be TOUCHING it then. I touch it ALL THE TIME—but I guess that YOU can just PEE on it.” To prove he wasn’t a chicken, the kid immediately dropped his trousers and took aim. My sister’s and my jaws dropped—this kid’s nether regions were about to be introduced to 6000 volts of current, carried straight to his jollies by the salt in his own piss.

My brother was shocked (no pun intended), too, and stopped him by knocking into him with his shoulder and directing his steady stream into the grass. While he explained what was about to happen, I remember looking at this kid with total pity and thinking, “Man, but you are a city kid.

Fast forward to last week, as I was standing in line at the grocery store, seriously aggravated. The clerk and the bagger kept asking me questions—“paper or plastic? Do you want your milk in a bag? Would you like your meat separate from your vegetables? Shall we put your cleaning products in a different bag?”

I stared at them with clenched teeth, and could almost hear myself snarl: Just. Put. My stuff. In a bag.

AND THEN the clerk leaned over and touched Maren. She touched her head and said, “Oh she is so precious—can she have a sucker?”

Um, hello? NO she cannot have a sucker! You, lady, are a stranger! They may not send babies with instruction manuals, but even I know that one! Just because you’re wearing a nametag does NOT mean that I KNOW YOU.

And then I realized—Holy shit. Ho. Ly. Shit.

I’m a city kid.

My backyard is a lake. Every day when Maren and I go for our walk, she has to stop by to wave at THE COWS that are across the street from us. Cows. Real ones. Today for lunch, I had DEER SAUSAGE—made out of deer that someone I know shot.  WITH A GUN. UNTIL IT WAS DEAD AND NOW I AM EATING IT.

The nearest big town is about 20 minutes away, and I find myself tapping the steering wheel impatiently at stop lights. WHY is no one running through the yellow lights? WHY has no one created a third turning lane out of sheer frustration when they just want to turn right and everyone else is stopped nice and neat behind the cross walk? I implore this to the Gods of Traffic, but I have found that they are entirely different here than the Gods of Traffic back in Omaha, who usually just laughed at my complaints and threw more freezing rain down to keep things interesting. In small towns, the Gods of Traffic speak only in soft, soothing voices and keep spritzing the air with lavender and eucalyptus. It’s very disorienting.

At the grocery store, people want to stop and talk to me CONSTANTLY. Well– that’s not really fair. What they really want to do is stare at Maren—because—really– have you ever seen a kid this cute? However, in all honesty, I have been stopped by at least three men wearing coveralls, clutching crinkled up lists in their hands, asking me to please help them find some elusive ingredient that they’ve never heard of before (most justifiable: cream of tartar. Least justifiable: brussel sprouts).

Today I made a hair appointment and when the gal asked me for my address, I gave her the zip code. Then I shook my head and apologized—“Obviously you know the zip code.” I said. “I just moved from a big city, and I think there were at least a dozen different zip codes there.”

“Oh heavens no,” She replied, “I really appreciate it. People sometimes assume that we know, and you know, sometimes it’s nice to be reminded.”

Oh yeah, also, in small towns? EVERYONE IS SUPER DUPER NICE. I have a feeling that the next time I get stuck in a ditch, the people in this town aren’t even going to let me feel good and sorry for myself. Before I can even stomp my foot or ANYTHING, I bet that someone is going to all ready be towing me out. And probably while I’m still wishing that I could at least shake my fist at the skies at least ONE TIME, their wife or mom will have baked me an apple pie and placed it lovingly on my passenger seat. And before I can eat it, they’ll warn me that it just came out of the oven and it’s so hot, and they’ll just never forgive themselves if I burn myself eating it.

I’ve been thinking about this—about how strange it is to be the at least the most unfriendly person I’ve ever met in my life, and then to be thrown in with all of these smiley, happy people—and I have come to the conclusion that I must be on the Truman Show, and that audiences at home are being asked to vote me off and send me back to the big city, where I could just wallow in self-pity and emo-ness and no one would know the difference—OR maybe I will rise to the challenge and become one of these Minnesota-nice folks that are running RAMPANT up here.

Patience, grasshopper.


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