Earlier today, I was at the Phoenix International Airport. Layover. It was hell finding a direct flight out of Los Angeles. Anyway, I was sitting at the gate with a Vanity Fair magazine opened across my chest, a Starbucks holiday cup in one hand, and my phone open to Instagram in the other. I was laughing uproariously, tears welling in my eyes, the magazine threatening to slide to the floor, and the coffee sloshing over the sides of the cup. I was shaking with laughter at Instagram; complete, unadulterated delight. Ina Garten had posted a positively absurd photo of a gigantic gleaming hot dog slathered in mustard and it killed me. It absolutely slayed me. Why did it slay me? Just look at it! Look at that picture of a gigantic hot dog and tell me it’s not hilarious. Bonus: scroll through the comments and find the one posted by happylakegrandma and then proceed to not be disappointed. Nay, read all the comments! There are so many layers to this post being amazing! Ina is my queen but this photo is too much. Tony had gone to the bathroom and when he came back, I could only show my phone in order to convey why I was laughing so hard. Motioning to my array of goodies and entertainment he said, “Just look at you.” I said, “I know. This is who I am.”
This Thanksgiving, at a particularly transitional time in my life, I am thankful for all the things that keep me tethered to who I am.*
When I first got to LA (a whole month and a half ago), I was having a conversation with a friend who has also made his way to the west coast from Ohio. He said, “If your experience is anything like mine, you’re about to feel more Midwestern [but also] more connected to your Midwestern-ness than ever.” I imagined the space station Midwestern-Ness, careening around the earth in orbit; and me on a space walk, attached by nothing more than an umbilical cable, my space-suited appendages floating in anti-gravity, the craft Midwestern-Ness barely visible in the distance but assuredly still attached to me. I’ve never been sure of how to define “Midwestern” as it applies to me. It always felt like a label that was foisted upon me out of geographic convenience, but not necessarily true from a cultural standpoint. I might be making this up, but I swear my grade school Social Studies classes never talked about Ohio being solidly “the Midwest.” If you don’t know, Akron, Ohio is not rural (as in, farmland) at all. This isn’t to assume that Midwestern necessarily means rural, but to most people, that’s exactly what it means. Akron is quite eastward in the state, actually, not all that far from the hilly and wooded Pennsylvania state line. The area in which I predominantly grew up is in the Cuyahoga River Valley, making my childhood one of winding, steep roads, lush trees, peaceful creeks, and plenty of unique wildlife. I don’t like going outside, so I saw all of this through car windows. But this is all to say: I can’t stress how not rural it is.
In addition to the nature, though, it also boasts a thriving population, lots of concrete and railroad tracks, and the decrepit remains of rubber factories. You can view these by looking at a Black Keys album cover or a Cleveland Cavaliers pump-up video. In a pinch, that burnt out shoe factory in Jumanji is pretty close, too. It’s solidly Rust Belt, both because of its one-time monopoly on the rubber industry, as well as its residents having what I call the Rust Belt Chip On the Shoulder. That’s when your first instinct is to be defensive and to respond with some variation of, “Hey! You don’t know me!” (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then congratulations, you’re a bigger person than me, but that doesn’t make you better than me, ok?) ((See, that was an example of another way you might suffer from Rust Belt Chip On the Shoulder: deciding that you are not better than me.)) (((The third defining factor of Rust Belt Chip On the Shoulder is not wanting to be told what to do, i.e., “Don’t tell me what to do!”)))**
When I moved to Chicago, one of the first things someone said to me was, “…And to move here from such a small town in Ohio? My god, you must be so scared in such a big city.” A resounding angels’ chorus of You Don’t Know Me’s filled my head in that moment, as it always does when someone thinks they know me or where I come from. This is only tangentially related, but in college I was working a new student program and a woman (a new student’s mother) approached me and had some questions. We got to talking and she said she was from [redacted Coastal Elite city]. I said that was cool and that I was from “around here.” She then looked me up and down–head to toe and back up again, the fire of boho- yuppie scrutiny in her eyes–and said, “I know.” In other words, she had sensed my Midwestern-ness. I also Didn’tGAF that whole summer about ways to make my orientation t-shirt look stylish and I didn’t have a haircut yet. But all the same! It is always shocking when other people are disgusted by or worried about their perception of my Midwestern-ness. This happens all the time. Do you see why the Rust Belt Chip On the Shoulder is a thing?
My meandering affirmation brings me to this: I am thankful for moments where I can read Vanity Fair, because the interest in the magazine is something my mom and I have always shared, and her 6-year-running housewarming gift to me is my subscription. I am thankful for a sense of humor that allows me to fucking lose my miiiiind in public when I see a very fancy lady post an egregiously phallic photo of a hot dog. I am thankful for every new person I’ve met who has asked “Which one is Ohio? I don’t know any of the ones in the middle.” I am thankful to be tethered to a thing I never thought I was tethered to in the first place. I am thankful to be a 21st century person who still earnestly says, “You don’t know me!” I am thankful to have seen Lady Bird, loved it, but booed quietly when the titular character declared that Sacramento is the Midwest of California, in that it’s where your soul dies. I am thankful to not live in the Midwest anymore. I am thankful to be allowed to go back.
*To review, the things that “keep me tethered to who I am” was: 1. A small coffee 2. An article about Margaret Trudeau in which she talked openly about taking peyote before a state dinner and 3. A picture of a hot dog. I am a woman of simple tastes.
**This is not the correct usage of parentheses, don’t use them this way.