Massholia Ornithology

Right before I left for Cape Cod, a girl at my local coffee shop said, “I bet everyone is super laid back there.” I couldn’t help laughing. Growing up in Massachusetts and moving to New York City right after school, I first encountered a laidback person when I visited California at the end of my twenties. “Ooooh,” I remember thinking as I struggled valiantly not to interrupt the slow-talkers and slam into the slow-walkers. “This is laid-back.”

The truth is that native Massholes are impatient, skeptical people who loathe airs and whose only form of pretentiousness is an avowed hatred of pretentiousness. Regardless of their ethnicity, religion, or sexuality, almost everyone in this state dresses terribly, drives even worse, and prides themselves on their frugality and inability to suffer fools. I find it all totally endearing, especially because, since nobody shines you on, the friendships you form are life-long and right as rain.

But the people are hardly laidback.

Take my trip to the town dump today. Here in Truro, where I am lucky enough to live for the time being, trash disposal is not something you can take for granted. In Brooklyn, all I have to do is remember to lug my shit downstairs as I run to the subway, but here you must drive your waste to the “transfer station.” What’s more, you have to apply for a permit in order to do so. I spent yesterday morning at the town hall providing my driver’s license, proof of temporary residency, car registration, and a promise of my unborn child. (At 46, this is no sweat off my back.) Finally, after slipping them a fifty, I drove off with the appropriate sticker on my car. Money talks, even in New England.

Today I carefully separated my trash and headed on over.

Frankly, I was excited. I’d heard that the dump came with a swap shop and, native Masshole that I am, nothing excites me like a swap shop. Sure enough,

At the dump for a reason.

after the transfer station manager rolled his eyes at my New York license plates and I waggled my eyebrows to no apparent effect, I followed two polar fleece-clad, grey-bobbed ladies into a ramshackle building bearing the sign NO STICKER NO NOTHING.

It was great, really. The clothes skeeved me a bit, though I’m sure that if I’d spotted a Pendleton kilt or London Fog trenchcoat I would have gotten over my reservations fast. But the books, record albums, and 1960s kitchenware were to die for. The books, especially. One thing I love about Massholes—and it’s a quality I thought was universal until I left the state—is that so many of them read prodigiously, even now. Stuffed among the Dean Koontz and Danielle Steel paperbacks were Updikes, Kate Millets, Alice Adams, MFK Fishers, and so many glorious 1940s cookbooks. A first edition of Charlotte’s Web was so dog-eared that tears welled up in my eyes. What grown child had finally surrendered that copy? Or had her descendents hauled it here after she’d passed over?

The two broads with whom I’d entered started talking to each other then. “Oh, Pilgrim’s Progress,” said the taller, more imposing one. “I’ve always meant to read that.”

“That’s what they read in the first half of Little Women,” I said. “The four girls each get a copy for Christmas and it’s their only present.”

The two women stared at me and I suddenly saw myself through their eyes. A know-it-all in a pleather pleated skirt, purple tennis shoes, bright pink lipstick, and big clear-framed glasses, horning in on them like she was the Queen of Sheba. In New York, I didn’t think of my tendency to join strangers’ conversations as interrupting. We’re all on the island together there, and our lack of personal space translates into the solidarity of the sand box. But I wasn’t in New York and sure as shit had just acted like I was.

I always find it funny when people complain about racism in Boston. It definitely exists, but racism is the square to the rectangle of overarching xenophobia–a suspicion of everyone whose parents didn’t bowl with yours when you were a kid.

The taller woman shook her head now. “I never cared for Little Women. Louisa May Alcott seemed awfully full of herself.” Reaching over my head, she grabbed a Barbara Kingsolver and marched over to the bathrobes. All in all, she was so unilaterally, unrepentantly unpleasant that I had to admire her style. Her friend looked at me with hunched shoulders. “I love Louisa,” she whispered. “So do I,” I whispered back.

I left a few minutes later with a huge stack of excellent 70s and 80s paperbacks, a 1920 edition of Little Women, and the biggest grin I’d worn all year.

I just love the birds of this land.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy