I came from a place of houses and cars. That’s all. No sidewalks. Walking anywhere was a symbol of poverty, was an admission of low social standing and meager means. Meager than most. My older brother and I once picked up a middle-aged woman in a Burger King uniform. The closest one was two miles away still. When we dropped her off, my brother patted his dashboard and proclaimed that “with all this new karma, this baby will run forever.”
A friend of mine visited from out-of-state and explained that people have nicer cars than houses. She said that it was opposite where she was from. She was wrong. Both the cars and the houses were shitty. Everything too new to be retro, too old to be attractive. Conservative. Suburban. Homes for city-feeders – but the cities now without appetite. A place that forgot to introduce tax credits and approve plans for county roads. The housing developers, they swopped in and bought out farms with leaning barns and renamed places Deer Lake Hills, even though there was neither a lake nor hills. There were deer, though. Usually on the side of the road, feet straight out, head back, tongue out. For a day or two.
There weren’t even restaurants because restaurants are places where you can eat something you can’t make at home. Places were called The Grill: Restaurant and Bar, Moe’s Family Style Restaurant, Eddie’s Family Friendly Food. Places where people too old or too tired ordered off laminated lists of their own kitchens, embellished with ClipArt.
Whenever I came home, my parents threw food at me – and not the type of food you want thrown at you. The kind of stuff you try to forget is legal for grocery stores to sell. The stuff you wish it wasn’t socially acceptable to feed children, old people, anyone whose mouth can open and close, really. My parents were always proud that they could put food on the table, but they had to side farther and farther from the table. You can’t survive for thirty years on leaky cartons of Chinese and Hamburger Helper and not become the person complaining theater seats are to small.
My friends came from places south of Cabear Lake Road. Where there were restaurants, driving ranges, two or three blocks of a downtown. Where people turned off their TVs and walked their dogs and hosted family parties on backyards that slopped into the lakes. Places that understood guilt.