When I moved to Portland, Oregon, oh, twenty years ago, three things struck me and two of them might offend some people. All I can say in my defense is that I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the only other place I’d lived in the U.S. was New York City. AND, I went to college at Berkeley. So, that would be three of the bestest bastions of liberality we have. In other words, I didn’t (and still don’t, I’m sure) have a good perspective about life in our country.
What struck me:
1. The number of churches (and Mormons — at the time I thought they only lived in Utah). It seemed like they were everywhere, and of strange, decidedly evangelical, leanings too. I couldn’t believe Portland had so many of “those” people around. (Hey, even us liberals can be a tad rigid at times.)
2. The number of morbidly obese people in the all-in-one grocery/megastores. That’s really two things, because I was appalled by the megastores. Where had I been? The megastores had apparently cropped up all over the place, but since NYC didn’t have room for those, I didn’t know that. Anyhow, I’m not sure what it was about seeing so many very overweight people. It struck me as very much the other United States, the one I don’t know, which was the heartland, where the only salads you could get were made of iceberg lettuce. (Does anyone know whether that’s still true? It can’t be.)
3. Roadkill. Everywhere. Especially the squirrels in fall. This struck me more than anything else because I’m such an animal person. I can shrug off churches and other people’s bodies — none of my business, after all — but not those poor dead squirrels. When I moved here, I didn’t know squirrels made chittering/barking sounds. I kid you not. Much less that they die in droves in the fall. Every fall for years I’d remark it all over again — what gives with the squirrels? After awhile I started to refer to fall as “the season of dead squirrels.” I thought it would be a great title for a short story. I attempted such a short story.
So now the phrase is a floater. But at least I figured out the dealio with the squirrels. Come fall, they go nuts gathering nuts for the winter. Dashing across streets in frenzied bursts. Especially the adolescents who don’t know anything yet. Poor things.
I like to think I’ve learned a few other things over the years, too. I don’t bother arguing about politics or religion anymore. Everyone’s got a right to their beliefs … Ack, you know what just went though my mind when I wrote that last sentence? “No, they don’t.” It was so fast, I almost didn’t catch it. But at least I did. It’s the people who don’t catch themselves, who are righteous, who try to push their ways on the rest of us through the most outrageous of propaganda and other means, who scare me. I’m just your average person who likes my way of thinking yet knows it’s not the absolute truth.
It was my dad who pointed out that I was clueless. I’d grown up in such a rarefied environment (Marin County, folks — I’m. Telling. You.) that, basically, I didn’t know squat. He pointed out that I had a skewed perspective. And he was correct.
We all live within our skewed perspectives. I’m interested in those moments when I get a jolt of the bigger reality. Like when I moved to Portland. Like when I lived in third-world countries. The jolts are good for us.
Any other long-held skewed perspectives out there? Come on, be honest. When did you realize you were skewed?