This evening, I called my friend, Delores, who lives a few blocks away to tell her that I found her gravy ladle.
“Well, I’d drive over to pick it up but I hate to go into that crime ridden neighborhood after dark!” she cackled. “You heard about what happened to your neighbor Karen yesterday, didn’t you? She was arrested!”
I gasped. But not nearly as loud as I should have, because learning that one of my neighbors has been hauled off to jail is a fairly regular occurrence in this small resort town. Just last week the commodore of the Yacht Club and his wife were dragged out of the club in handcuffs after causing a drunken fracas. Instead of being shamed, the commodore was lauded for this feat. After all, in a club where alcoholism is a requirement of membership, it took a heroic level of drinking to be expelled from the club. “Imagine what his liver must look like!” we marveled as he was removed in shackles.
Even Delores, the very woman reporting the news flash on my neighbor, had been arrested briefly for operating a whorehouse in her rental property across from my home. She was released when it became clear that she only rented the house to the whores and didn’t actually operate it. “All I knew is that they paid the rent on time,” she said in her own defense. Nonetheless, I insist on referring to her as ‘Madam’.
Ever since I moved to this town, I’ve met more felons than I ever did in all my years living in one of the dodgier neighborhoods of Chicago. The crimes are rarely bloody. Rather, they are rooted in small acts of defiance against authority. Since we live on a Great Lake, there’s often maritime law involved. It’s kind of like living in a Dickens’ novel. I half expect Charles Laughton to appear in powdered wig and sentence perpetrators to “the lash.”
“What did Karen do now?” I asked. A few months ago, Karen returned from spending 30 days in the hoosegow after mouthing off to the building inspector, a draconian figure known for recommending capital punishment for the crime of building a nonconforming porch.
“I don’t have details yet, but I do know that it took place at the Post Office!” Delores exclaimed.
“I didn’t know post offices still existed,” I marveled. I looked out my window and spotted Karen on her front porch, deliberately and defiantly leafing through a stack of mail. In my past big-city life, my first impulse would have been to avoid her until the drama subsided. But instead I waved cheerfully and, in response, she lifted her hand to her mouth, a merry pantomime that signaled me to stop over for a cocktail later.
I worried when I moved to this conservative burg that I’d be ostracized because of my sexuality. But after withstanding an initial blast of titillation, I was welcomed as just another outlaw. And this is why I choose to live in a small town rather than a big city.
When I was younger, it felt daring to live amongst the masses in an urban jungle. But, actually, it’s one of the safer ways to live. You can hide in plain site because no one is interested in peeking under your veil. However, in a small town, your life is completely transparent. Moments after a lightning bolt strikes your little life, the current runs through the psyche of the entire populace. Sure we gossip and judge, but then we pass the hat for bail and show up at your house with cookies and alcohol to welcome you when you return home in glorious rebellion.