When my old friend Rob calls us from New York City, he always asks, “But what do you do out there?” As if everyone who doesn’t live in Manhattan lives on a farm in the middle of flyover country where you have to pump your water by hand and use an outhouse.
Living in a small town would be his worst nightmare because what he really means by “What do you do out there?” is “Where do you shop?”
“Doing something,” to me, means mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, stacking the wood, tending the garden, fixing the house. To Rob it means buying things.
While Rob has tens of thousands more neighbors than I do, he doesn’t know any of them and you wouldn’t need your toes to count his friends. He lives in a tiny, wildly expensive apartment in an elevator building.
When he’s not working, he’s shopping. His closets are full of expensive suits and ties from fancy haberdashers. He would be appalled by the 10-year-old dark suit from J.C. Penney that I wear to weddings and funerals.
“What is there to do?” I answer him. “Plenty. We go into town and watch them put the mail in the boxes. They’re having a sale on sump pumps down at the Feed and Seed, and we don’t want to miss that. Doug’s having his septic system pumped Saturday. That’ll be something to see. Then we all stand around and wait for the latest news from New York on the noon stage.” I could almost hear him roll his eyes.
“Well, what did you do last night?” I asked him.
“Stayed home and watched TV.”
“And like 85 percent of America, so did we,” I said. “The other 15 percent were on Facebook. You want to know the difference between watching TV at our house and watching TV in your apartment?”
“Thirty-five hundred dollars a month, plus utilities. If you’re staying home most nights watching TV, you could do that anywhere. Sure, you make Manhattan money, but you’ll spend more than you make.
“Don’t you miss anything about the city?” Rob asked.
“Plenty. I miss the smell of slightly rotten garbage in the morning, I miss alternate-side-of-the-street parking, I miss gum-paved sidewalks, I miss spending 20 minutes trying to get a taxi in the rain.” I think Rob had hung up when I got to “parking.”
Since we escaped from the big city, I would love to say I’ve discovered that the most beautiful things in the world are the wildflowers in the spring
• Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.