Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Littlest Big City in the World or The Grass Sand Is Always Greener Browner

If Reno is the "Biggest Little City in the World," then what would you call where I spent my formative years? If I told you it was a city that's bigger than Miami, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, you'd probably think I was somewhat of "big city" kid. The reality is I grew up in Mesa, Arizona, a sprawling Mormon-heavy suburb east of Phoenix (itself, the fifth largest "city" in America), that, with more than 450,000 residents, manages to have all the trappings of a nondescript small town (no nightlife, culture or architectural landmarks to speak of) as well as all of the negative aspects of a big city (traffic congestion, smog, rapidly rising crime rate). None of this makes much difference now (it was a perfectly nice place to "grow up" back when and I haven't lived there since 1990). But I couldn't help but think about it when I got together with a former junior high (and up) classmate of mine for lunch yesterday (Mike, aka Sweetcheeks, whose family also lived in Dobson Ranch, a master-planned community built by Charles Keating before he went to the big house) and, with our instant hometown connection, suddenly realized how strangely envious I am of my friends who grew up in average towns (as opposed to our supersized one). Sure, some of them too couldn't wait to flee the 'burbs for the big city. But at least by being robbed of a Central Park West childhood they got the camaraderie of growing up in a "community." When I talk to my friend Kelly from Bayonne, N.J., it's obvious she "knows everybody" in town. If I meet someone from Bayonne, she immediately either knows them personally, or knows their brother, sister or aunt. When I go out to Copiague (Long Island) with Michael, he'll recognize the guy behind the deli counter at the corner market as being a classmate from high school or a friend's brother. Back in Mesa, with more than a thousand kids in my senior class alone, I didn't even know a small fraction of my classmates, let alone the kids "around town." And with seven HUGE high schools -- asking me if I know someone from "back home" is like asking a stranger on the street in San Francisco if they know Jim (which, oddly enough, I do).


Dobson Ranch: where being gay goes against the rules of the homeowners' association 

 If this post isn't making much sense all I can say is that it was incredibly heartwarming sitting there at lunch yesterday with Mike and having him know exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned "that subdivision on the wrong side of Alma School" and hearing him say his paper route began near the Alpha Beta ("By Par 33?" "YES!" ) and ran all the way down Baseline. Mike and I weren't even friends back when (we've only become friends since running into each other at a bar in Midtown a few years ago), but that instant connection you feel with someone from your "hometown" is something I rarely have gotten to experience in life, and is something that was obviously not possible with nearly a half a million people living across 133 square miles(!!!) of land. (I actually get a small taste of it being around fellow Oakland County types, where my original hometown, Madison Heights -- population 31,000, 7.2 square miles of land -- and its two competing high schools still is easier for me to to manage, despite leaving there in sixth grade.) To prove my point, I'm going to post these rare photos of me in "drag" from the 1979 production of "Christmas at Harvey's" in my garage (written, directed and starring yours truly). If I were from Bayonne or Copiague, I'm sure I'd be way too scared that someone from the "old neighborhood" would see 'em and "give me the business" next time I'm back home, or even razz me. But since I know what a faceless place Mesa is, I'm letting it all hang out. 'Cause you know I wouldn't normally do something like that ...

My brother Terence mans the register while I wo-man it up. Sadly, this was not even my first time in the hair and makeup chair: I re-enacted the famous 1970s Underalls pantyhose commercial in skit at Cedar Lake during sixth grade camp back in '78 to uproariously laughter...

Terence and my 7th grade BFF, Mike Murphy; Mike was first runner-up for an Oscar Mayer commercial back when, so he was the true thespian of the bunch (as demonstrated below)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mesa sounds like the "city" I live north of Dallas....called PLANO. Lotta boring uptight robots!! Moving to Cali this summer...yea!