I need to talk for a little bit about where I come from.
I come from Alaska. I did not live in the absolute wilderness, but then again, the wilderness is never far from anywhere in my motherland. Moose wander through the streets, and the streets are literally ice for many months of the years.
The brand-new subdivision that I lived in as a teenager was virgin forest. I mean to say, a lawn was something of a futile absurdity. It made much more sense to leave the trees and bushes alone, and 99% percent of the homes in our area left their acre+ lots in their natural state.
We had a natural well that gave us water. It was ‘hard’ water which meant that the minerals coated our bathtub and left a funny taste when we drank it.
We lived outside a munincipality, the only police where the state troopers and they were seldom seen.
There was a lake full of fish a half mile a way, and our front window showed us a forest reserve that stretched for hundreds of miles long. We liked to pick berries and mushrooms there in the summer.
My parents drove to Alaska. They went their twice from their motherland in the golden rolling hills of California. First, in the 60s before Alaska was a state. Then again, for much longer, in 1972. During the new year’s party, Mom went into labor and produced me in a now-defunct Anchorage Hospital.
Now I live in the golden rolling hills of California. And only very recently, I realized:
Mom and Dad thought Alaska was exotic.
I never never never thought it was exotic. It was home, with all the boringness and familiarity that means. But for them, it was almost like living in a foreign country. It was exciting and new and unexpected almost every day.
Now, Mom and Dad live in Sacramento. They talk a lot about remembering different places around there. Things are the same for them. Things are a lot like how they left them when they went away. Not exactly, time takes its toll, but enough the same for them to remember.
But me, I feel like California is a very exotic place. With its short snowless mountains and lush vegetation, fruit trees and warm nights, its population density and freeways, California never quite fits. It’s always not home.
Not to say I ever want to live in Alaska. I am a permanent ex-patriate.
But I chafe at the expectations. I demand to know “WHY?” and resent every rule or expectation as irrational and irrelevant.
When I bought my condo, as part of the forest’s graveyard of paperwork required, I was given the Rules of the Condo Association. Chris read them with me.
“WHAT?! I can’t put my bike on the balcony.”
“No Pool parties? Who do they think they are?”
“No dog over 40 pounds? Why is that their business? IF I want a dog, it’s my problem.”
Every rule was an imposition. I was buying the home, I should be able to do whatever wherever I wanted. Every rule made me suspicious.
Chris told me, “That’s the price you pay to live in a condo with other people. If you had your own home, you could do what you wanted.”
I signed, muttering and rebelling, but I signed.
Now, I am looking to buy a home! HOoray! I can paint the outside, I can have a BIG dog, I can put my bike wherever I like and all the rules are gone.
Chris and I are buying it together, so, he wants to live in his hometown Claremont. A little tiny city that gives me the jeebies. Back to that in a moment.
We’ve picked a house, made an offer, and are waiting. Chris was telling me what to expect from his home town.
“Claremont does not allow parking in the street overnight. Between 2 am and 6 am, you can’t be on the street without a temporary permit.”
What is this? WHAT?! THEY ARE PUTTING RULES ON ME AGAIN.
See, I am feeling crowded about this already. This town is full of all kinds of customs and ways of doing things. Where I come from, independence is prized and conformity is despised. There is no set way that everyone should be or do.
And yet, this little city has all sort of rules and permit requirements.
But here’s the creepy part that gives me the jeebies:
Everyone from there or associated with that city, thinks that the city is great. They all say what a nice place it is, how wonderful it is for kids and for creative types. It is a college town after all.
And even more than that, everyone I’ve met from there is excruciatingly nice. I mean it! They are smart, and kind, and usually benignly humorous.
Is anyone else hearing the jeebie music in the background? I’ll admit, I’m probably scarred by too many church youth groups. They specialize in niceness, while holding the dagger hidden until your back is exposed.
But I’m uneasily assured of the Claremont niceness. I mean, Chris is more Claremont than anyone, and I’ve been in daily observation of him for more than 5 years. He remains nice.
I just am afraid I will tresspass on the customs or BBQ the sacred cows of this little town of Trees and PhDs. I know there are all these expectation that I am oblivious to, like being colorblind. And I value my independence. I cherish my non-conformity.
They expect me to wash my car whenever dirt is visible on it. Hey, where I come from, you are ahead of the curve if both headlights are working. What do they expect from me?
They will expect lawn maintenance. Lawns! And if there are weeds, I would have to pull them up. I’ve never had anything to do with a lawn. I will probably fail at this.
I could offer lots of advice on removing a car after it’s high-centered on a snow burm. But that is not useful in my exotic new home.
I recognize, intellectually, that with all these people crowded together on paved streets and highways, some rules are needed. But I don’t like it. Rules feel categorically repellent.
It will take some time. I’m not from here.