Today I walked around our little steel town and sweated like crazy. I learned to really love walking while I was in Paris. Granted, this isn't Paris. In fact, our town is actually known through much of Canada as being a bit trashy. I actually stayed with kids in the Paris hostel from Prince Edward Island who had heard jokes about the legendary "Hammer". It's an odd place- sort of like a cross between an episode of COPS and Mad Max. I love it.
I love that I live in a place where there's room for real creativity. Whenever I lived in big cities, I got stared at for my fashion sense, which is, as the Weezer song says 'a little wack'. Ask Claire about our arguments over my famous fruit bowl print shirt. Or the notorious yellow zoot suit. But, what's great about the Hammer is that a yellow zoot suit wouldn't get a second glance here. Everyone is broke and dressed ghetto fabulous. I feel comfortable here just being myself.
Supposedly, little blue collar towns can be close-minded. But, I find just the opposite to be true. Cities have a stronger idea of what's gauche or not. In small towns, you just have to socialize with everyone for a few weeks, until they decide that you're 'all right'. After that, you can be a cross-dressing, wife-swapping drug addict in your private life and nobody will have a clue, or even care, because they've got their minds set on your being 'all right'. I've met some of the most eccentric people here, but nobody really objects because they don't really bug anybody.
There have been writers who have argued that social invisibility is ultimately a good because it allows much greater freedom than being socially significant. When you're a nobody, you can get away with more because the cops don't care as long as you're not disturbing others. When you're someone important, you have more eyes on you. Every small town I've ever lived in has proven this. Behaviors that would be unthinkable in upscale suburbs are generally ignored or laughed off. The cities and suburbs that I've been in were all snootier.
The other cliche is that small blue collar towns are more religious. And there are definitely a lot of Catholic churches here. But, again, I find that people don't usually think it's their place to judge in places like this. I remember listening to a devout Christian at the small town grocery store I used to work at telling me about the guy down the street and his wife who liked to dance naked in the yard for strange men that he would find and bring home. But, the Christian guy could care less: "Well, that was just their thing I guess!" and then a few laughs. I've found that you get the real Bible-thumpers in upper-class suburbs. The pillars of the business community tend to be the born-agains. They feel they can judge the rest of us. I mean, after all, they can't look down on the rest of us for being poor... but, for being heathens? Well, that's a different story. I like that our neighbors in the Hammer are religious, but don't care that we aren't. I like that they never tell us about it, or slap stupid bumper stickers on their cars; that it's a private matter for them.
I like that I never know what to expect in the Hammer. Cities have about ten different genres of people and they're all about the same. Maybe it's exciting to see your first 'punk rocker', but after the hundredth the novelty fades. But, just about everyone I meet here is interesting, and most of the people I pass on the streets are as well. Sure we have some places that I'd rather not hang out for too long, but not nearly as many as I ran into in Washington DC. The other day, I saw a man walking down the sidewalk in pajamas with a lion on them and a cowboy hat. There's just nothing cliche about that. My neighbors fire my imagination. Whenever I think that I've seen it all, I just walk around my town and get proved wrong.