Places I Have Lived
Restaurant work is smelly business. Not, however, as smelly as the most iconic of coastal Maine occupations, “lobsturin.”
I was living in New England and my landlord had an apartment above me. He would text me and say things like, “There’s a tin of muffins on the bannister.” Pretty halcyon, right? But it made sense for my small New England town where properties were rented on a handshake and a one-page month-to-month sublease. I’d never accept muffins from this landlord for fear of poison.
Middle class is as much a matter of perception as statistics—the number of Americans describing themselves as middle class has remained essentially unchanged in recent years even as their incomes and spending power have eroded. When the same term is used to describe an American household bringing in up to $100,000 per year (according to a recent poll; $250,000 if you’re Mitt Romney) and Laotians living on $2 per day (according to the Asian Development Bank), it may not be a very useful term.
It’s relative, in other words, dependent on context. It means you’re less well-off than the well-off and not as poor as the poor.
Sometimes it means that you’re a white girl in 1990s Oakland whose radical parents could live elsewhere but don’t. In that situation, you identify in key ways with your non-white classmates, neighbors, and fellow members of the local swim team — especially when it comes to trying to finally depose the fancy-pants country club team that shows up with their matching swim suits and their hubcap-size muffins and wins everything. In that case, you want what your team wants: to wrench victory from the soft hands of the enemy, even if only this once. But you also occasionally, guiltily yearn for the pop culture version of white adolescence, where everything is safe and clean, cute and funny:
If you had asked me in the summer of 2011 where I thought I’d be in a year, I would have said living a queer artist’s life in San Francisco, “writing” my dissertation. Instead, I spent the summer of 2012 moving my parents out of their retirement property in South Florida — think Boca but not nearly as bougie — and bringing them back to New York, where my brother and I had grown up.
Where have you lived, Marissa Barker?
Where have you lived William J. Read?
Perhaps Berlusconi is going to have company emptying bedpans in the Alzheimer’s ward: former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert has been convicted of taking bribes while mayor of Jerusalem and sentenced to six years in prison. He has appealed and his lawyers are arguing he should be given community service instead.
In a case that analysts here said vindicated prosecutors whose campaigns against corruption had been criticized as overzealous and expensive, Mr. Olmert was found guilty six weeks after a sweeping, yearslong investigation into the planning process surrounding the hulking, hated apartment complex in southern Jerusalem known as Holyland. A judge in 2010 called it “one of the worst corruption affairs in Israeli history.”
When Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem, he gave a pompous lecture to my high school graduating class (we were spending the second semester of our senior year in Israel as a reward for 13 years of Jewish Day School) in which he said, “We don’t build walls; we tear them down.” Then he was elected Prime Minister and proceeded to build the Security Barrier, which is basically the Great Wall of China winding around the West Bank.
Now he’s going to prison — not for building walls but for taking bribes to help build “Holyland.” Justice is sweet. Remember kids, DON’T TAKE BRIBES.
picture by David King
Cord Jefferson has written a lyrical, lovely, and charged essay about growing up black in mostly white and Latino Tucson, Ariz., and also about Tucson itself, where his childhood was defined first by and then against its specific idiosyncrasies:
The sun beat down on us relentlessly in Tucson. The flora was thorny and the fauna was unsociable. And yet there we lived and thrived, going about our days in the hard-baked rocky desert, laughing about the triple-digit heat. In a scene in Lawrence of Arabia, Mr. Dryden tells Lawrence, “Only two kinds of creature get fun in the desert: Bedouins and gods.” We were not Bedouins in Tucson, and so we must have been the latter.
I remember getting my first fake ID, which said I was 18 so I could go to bars in Mexico. We found a check-cashing store south of the Tucson Mall that issued its own ID cards for customers who couldn’t obtain anything else. “We don’t verify any of the information you put on these,” a woman said from behind bulletproof glass as she pushed the paperwork through a slot. “Write whatever you want.” That’s how my friends and I ended up with slips of laminated paper that listed our addresses as “420 Weed Ave.” and “666 Satan St.” In my photo I had a wispy mustache that curled upward with my nervous smile. My name was “Tony Montana,” like Scarface.
Especially if you have ever felt ambivalent about where you come from, and then guilty about that ambivalence, go ahead and read the whole thing. It’s pretty marvelous.
P.S. — Wanna about your hometown for us and how you feel now looking back on your childhood there? Email me! Ester AT thebillfold DOT com
Where have you lived, Zoe Daniels?