Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I'm allowed to say this. You're not.

I went to Long Island today. Had to. I don't like Long Island much, but I find myself having to deal with Long Island a hell of a lot. I've always had a theory on Long Island, and I think it's a good one: You're not a loser just because you live on Long Island. There's nothing wrong with you if you live on Long Island. Many, many good people of my acquaintance live on Long Island. You are a loser, however, if your sphere is limited to Long Island. If you aspire to live, and to continue living, in perpetuity, on Long Island. If you're the "Boy in the Long Island Bubble," and you believe the place to be a self-sufficient paradise, then we've nothing to talk about. You are a loser. A Long Island loser.

I went to Roosevelt Field today. "The Mall." Lots of nice stores at "The Mall." Ambiance. Nordstrom. Banana Republic. Themed stores filled with anything you'd ever need, but nothing you'd want. A food court with sushi. That industrial smell they spray at the mall to let you know you're in a really big place with lots of nice, new stuff all around you. Sit at the food court and focus. On the people. Focus on the people and don't be fooled. They don't match the place. Block out the background, and you're in Kansas. Block out the background, and you're in South Dakota. Block out the background, and you're seeing girls who wear green eye shadow, with hoop earrings, in bathing suits at the beach. And if it cuts through my consciousness, it's got to be wrong.

I drove up the street on Long Island today. The street where my parents lived. Tidy houses. People who mow the lawn every week. Nice people. Nice people with cobblestone and Belgian Block. Circular driveways on a postage stamp, in front of a two bedroom Cape Cod, done up in Belgian Block because, well, the guy next door has one, too. And so it spreads. The whole thing -- the double doors, the Belgian Block, the white Escalade, the shrubs with the price tags left on -- because that's what they do up on the North Shore. Hurry up and dormer every room in the house before the rates go back up!

I was on the North Shore today. On the LIE. The Long Island Expressway. Sitting there in the line, doing nothing. Heading home. Passing Roslyn. Great Neck. Manhasset. The towns that give Long Island its reputation. The monied. Stratification. And you know? I've never really been there. Never jumped off at those exits. Don't know those places. Go out to California, though, and they'll tell you how it is:

"Long Island? Lawn Guyland? Wow. You must have money."

And they don't know, but I do, because when I walk around Long Island, I don't see money. Not where I go. I see people hanging on. Trying. Playing the role. And the guy from California only meets the people with the money, because people from Lake Ronkonkoma don't travel in his circles. He's never been to Coram. Never wandered into a bar in Valley Stream and saw two guys put their guns away. Block out the background, and you'll know you're nowhere. Block it out, and you've got Long Island.

They stay because it's familiar. Good people stay. You go somewhere, and then you come back and normalize, because Long Island's what you know. You grow up on Long Island, you can still get "it," but you get "it" despite the place, not because of it. There are hurdles to be jumped first. But they always go back because it feels centered. Hell, it's normal to me, and I didn't even grow up there. But you have to look. Block out the background. Artifice. Where's the depth?

I once saw an episode of Star Trek, where some guy on another planet had a great big telescope, and he trained it on Earth, and soaked up as much of the visual as he could. He reproduced it all, right there on his planet. Lived in it. And the crew of the Enterprise somehow ended up on this planet, and they looked around, did Spock and Kirk and Bones, and it looked a hell of a lot like Earth. Uncanny. But then the guy had a feast, and he trotted out all the food he could conjure up, and it had no taste. No texture. No smell. Because all the guy could do was see it, and imitate it. He couldn't feel it, though. Couldn't sink his teeth in, and couldn't get it right.

And that's Long Island. That's what it is. A nightclub in a strip mall. A pizzeria in a gas station. Jillian's. Nathan's where they clean the grills. Crap.