I just came from a soccer tournament last weekend in a picturesque mountain town known for its iconoclastic vibe. In fact, many of its residents wear shirts that say Keep [City] Weird. Which city, you ask? Doesn’t matter. Let’s just say location scouts for Footloose didn’t spend too much time there. But so what? Different strokes for different folks, right? More like Diff’rent Strokes – as in What’chu talkin’ about, Willis – for this place was not your father’s Oldsmobile. A lot to take in for a square from the suburbs.
And take in we did, my daughter and I. We must have driven around the central green fifteen times, people-watching as we looked for a parking space. I know what you’re thinking – if free love, why not free parking? A great question. Yes, parking signs were everywhere, but that wasn’t the real problem. Understanding the restrictions was. Reserved for Alan Alda? That hardly seems fair. And No Parking Between Summer Solstice and Earth Day? Who am I, Enya? I have no idea what that means. Not that my Suburban had a prayer of fitting between the lines, a parking space barely wide enough to accommodate Doug Henning circa 1975, commuting on a unicycle.
Like Tim Tebow at a Wicca convention, I felt less welcome the deeper into town we walked. Even the wind chimes – and brother, there were many wind chimes – startled rather than soothed. The locals seemed to feed off of my discomfort. Want to know what’s more annoying than seeing adults play Frisbee Golf? Seeing adults play Frisbee Golf with an imaginary Frisbee. If I’m a cop that’s probable cause to arrest six times a week and twice on Sunday. You know how many didgeridoos I’d seen in my life before this weekend? One. You know how many I saw this weekend? Three. And no, Midnight Oil was not in town.
Let’s be clear on the real issue here. It’s not that I don’t understand the value of looking at things from different perspectives. Just last week my daughter needed help with a paper on Sonnet 116. I urged her to analyze Shakespeare’s work from the point of view of a classmate in young William’s homeroom, one with eyes for the same girl:
Tad: Check out the heart doily I made for Anne Hathaway. I’m going to ask her to be my Valentine.
Shakespeare: Methinks a fairer maiden cannot be…
Tad: Lose the pentameter, Bill. It’s just us. This is why older boys always stuff you in Ye Olde Locker.
Shakespeare: Well I like Anne too. I’m no good with scissors, so I just told her what’s in my heart. Silly stuff, about love looking on tempests and never being shaken. I call it Sonnet 116, but that’s just a working title. She probably won’t even read it.
Tad (crumpling up doily): You’re killing me, Bill, just killing me.
The point is, I understand weird. But there’s authentic weird and there’s phoned-in weird. Authentic weird would be walking around town like Dumbledore before Harry Potter was a global sensation. No easy way to say this, Albus, but as soon as you turn the corner you’ll see five other dudes dressed exactly like you, each casting spells and whatnot. That’s got to be awkward. And some of this stuff doesn’t even count as weird anymore. Organic granola? Like three out of four families on my cul-de-sac make their own. Patchouli incense? Please. I was using those sticks to pass myself off as worldly around women as far back as 1989.
I’m not trying to be a killjoy. Some of this will go over about as well as a bar of soap at Bonnaroo, but a little coordination by city planners might make for a better user experience. Off the top of my head, the Fire-Breather performed way too close to the Falconer. But for some nimble flying to avoid the fireball by Nigel-the-Hawk, that would have ended terribly. While we can agree that Sunday afternoon was unseasonably warm, we also can agree nobody wins when a Drum Circle is given Five Hour Energy. And that guy in the trench coat with jazz hands who kept yelling at the squirrels? He’s not a performance artist. He’s just plain nuts.
Leaving town under the light of a crescent moon, I thought of my daughter’s favorite childhood bedtime story, only now with a slightly different take: Goodnight trees, goodnight rocks, why so many hiking socks? Goodnight lamp posts, goodnight gates, goodnight dancing Kathy Bates. And that’s when it hit me, what’s so great about our country. These people don’t want to live in my town, and I don’t want to live in theirs. So I did what the tee-shirt told me to do. I kept the city weird. I left.