Saturday, May 09, 2009
I was born on Long Island, New York, which, like most coastal land, is flat. I always thought there should be mountains although until I was 11, I had never seen any and believed that they resembled upside down ice cream cones, only larger.
I was aware of the so-called New York accent, but never developed it. It was one of endless ways in which I was a misfit. Years later at acting school, I was the only person in my class who had no regional accent of any kind. I sounded like a Californian.
For a couple of years, I lived in Minnesota where all the people were nine-foot blonds except for the men, who were taller. Their ancestors came from Norway, Sweden and Finland. I was never taken for Scandinavian. People politely asked me, "What sports do you like?" as they looked down at my five-foot oneness, and I knew they were thinking "Jacks. She plays jacks." What they said was "Oof-tah." In Minnesota, everyone plays ice hockey, which is a vicious sport. You would think it was about skating but the skating is just the means to beat someone up. Hockey players tend to be missing their front teeth. Nobody minds this.
Lunn's grocery store, which was carpeted, had seven or eight aisles of cookies and pastry as opposed to the standard one or two in other places. I assumed the intensely cold winters had something to do with this flagrant need for fat-building carbs. It is so cold in Minnesota that some men earn their entire year's living driving around the stadium parking lot jumping cars with dead batteries after hockey games. An evening at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis was memorable not only for seeing a young Tovah Feldshuh, who later played a major bitch on Law and Order until they killed her off, but for the fact that my post earrings froze in my ears during the short walk from car to building.
You would think that with such severe winters, the summers would be moderate but you'd be wrong. The summers are as insanely hot as the winters are cold. It didn't escape my notice that there is no ocean in Minnesota, but there are millions of lakes which infuse everything with the loveliest quality of light I have ever seen. The beaches are manmade, truckloads of sand deposited on the shores of lakes. Even the mosquitoes are oversized, probably from sucking on giants.
I missed the ocean so much that I moved to a small town by the sea in Massachusetts, which has a distinctive accent, too, as in Hah-vard. Boston was built in circles, even the places called Squares, so you can't get anywhere without driving miles out of your way to turn around, which could reduce even Marcus Aurelius to tears. The fashion industry has no foothold there; jack boots and dark down are worn for all occasions because sensible trumps death.
Later, living in Vermont, I was considered a "flatlander." This is not a compliment. "Varmint," as I fondly called it, is no slouch either when it comes to sub-arctic temperatures, especially when your house is not heated. I built a wood stove out of a galvanized garbage can and chopped logs every morning. To this day, I sneer at people who go camping in their RV's and think they are roughing it.
When I moved to North Carolina, I was told often and most tediously the difference between Yankees and Damn Yankees, the former being folks who come to North Carolina from above the Mason-Dixon line, the latter being folks who come to North Carolina from above the Mason-Dixon line and STAY. The Blue Ridge Mountains of Western NC are incredibly beautiful, and so is the Eastern coastline, the Outer Banks, miles and miles of exquisite empty beach ending at Cape Hatteras.
But I have never known another place where purveyors of so many religions were after my soul: The Southern Baptists, Methodists, Nichiren Shoshu Buddhists who chant for goods and finally lost interest in me when I confessed that I was only in it for the sushi, the Church of Christ, Seventh Day Adventists, Snake Handlers, Sister Polly and her tongue language and prayer cloths and the Jehovah's Witnesses. I'm sure I've left out a few. Apparently, I have a soul that cries out to be saved by every manner of deity, but I stayed true to my roots and rejected them all regardless of race, creed or national origin. I am an equal opportunity heathen.
To the rest of the country I may not have an accent, but my lack of a drawl designated me a depraved Union foreigner in Tennessee. I wish I had a pair of shoes for every time I heard "Y'all ain't from around here, are ya?" In the South, you would think the Civil War happened last week, and they're plotting a rematch.
It seems oddly full-circle, in a way, to be living in California because all my life I have been asked if I am from here. I am neither blond nor Asian so I will never blend into either of the majority populations, I did not move here to be discovered by movie makers, and I have not experienced a major earthquake yet, though it's only a matter of time.
But I will say this -- I am finally in a place where I speak the language.