“Everyone in the country has a secret.
Which should have enabled my seeing it coming.
Which should have prevented my violent death.
But then, what could I possibly know? I am only a rapidly cooling, congealing corpse.
In this lost county of New York, abutting the Berkshires, unknown to most, and largely agricultural, there are pockets of multi-generational families who were born here and attended school here, married, bore children, and in a majority of cases, divorced here. They are either a dying breed of farmers who sell off parcels of their land, the very soul of their ancestors’ legacies, to pay the current year’s taxes, or they have become savvy entrepreneurs, eager to provide the services to which the weekenders do not wish to spend their precious hours attending. The ‘cityots’ (a quaint and locally ubiquitous slur combining ‘city’ with ‘idiot’) need someone to mow their lawns, haul their firewood, and wash their windows, so why not print up some business cards, set up a Facebook page, and charge near-city prices to free up those precious weekend hours for those who have found their way up the Hudson River in search of country life with its fresh air and open vistas of farmland.
For their part, the weekenders arrive fully intending to assimilate themselves immediately into village life; passionately ideological, their political probity is proudly professed at every possible opportunity. Their naïve assumption that the locals actually care about their commitment to the community inevitably begins to erode when one or another of the locals stands up at the monthly town hall meeting and pronounces judgment upon the newcomers, or reads out loud a random bitch piece in The New Yorker descrying the vitriolic - yet symbiotic - relationship that exists between the two factions.
Relative fiscal prosperity for one-time struggling farmers has become the equivalent of the casks of rum cased betwixt the boxes of bibles that made more profitable the 18th century New Englanders’ journeys to the gold mines of the slavers’ wharves. Put simply, the farmers are getting rich off of the newcomers, whom they then resent for their enrichment.
A sizeable clique of the recent arrivals are famous folk, celebrities who need both easy access to the city for work, and the cachet of blue-jean casual weekends that they can hold up to the interviewers from the hip city mags to prove their true down-to-earth natures despite their eight figure salaries. Where once the mainstay of the pub gossip was alternating braggadocio about the pointed capture of the day, now it is who has had cosmetic surgery.
The locals’ presumption that these newcomers simply cannot do without their early morning lattes has led to a spurt of eatery growth as well. Where once Lancaster was a small, funky (yet charming), one street town, now it is a one street town that houses a natural food store, a fashionable clothing store, antiques enough to entice even the most avid watcher of PBS . . . and restaurants of every possible ethnicity. Italian, Chinese, French, Continental . . . my God, man, there’s even a Thai place! In their mad rush to take advantage of the increasingly strengthening real estate situation, the hordes of escapees from Manhattan have actually ended up re-creating the city in the country.
Well, we all sell our souls in one way or another. And at least for the time being the air is still clear.
I may have been the biggest hypocrite of them all. I proclaimed my eagerness to be accepted by the locals—when in reality I hated them for their ignorance, their greed, and their lack of respect for that which sustains them, the mother’s earth. The vast expanses of farmland that had once graced this part of the country are rapidly becoming a pre-fab getaway development.
I hid my disdain of their ways well. You see, I fitted into yet another category. Not having been born here, I could never have been a true local, but I had lived up here long enough that the lines had blurred.
I had my “spies”- they came and drank my beer, ate my food, and in return, clued me in on some incestuous relationship, or some long-known indiscretion of a mutual acquaintance, even of the next batch of high-schoolers who would be absent from graduation due to a swelling of abdominal regions.
I never expected death to be such an epiphany. Rather, I thought that the epiphany would occur prior to my demise, perhaps even in time to prevent it. But no, all of the trite aphorisms are true. We really do have to wait until it’s too late for enlightenment to hit. Considering all of the things that I did to them, the fact that anyone at all feels even the slightest emotion about my life and premature death holds amazement for me; for I used them as the locals use the newcomers—for my own enrichment.
And as I said, it was a symbiotic relationship.”