One of the unique things common to most people is a stated belief that their hometown is no place special. This often masks a fierce inner secret belief that their hometown is the best place to be from and (insert name of higher power believed in here) please help those who chose to be born somewhere else, especially those unlucky ones from the nearest next town. Those people are the unluckiest of all, perhaps because they were born so near to greatness, but were not, rendering the failure all the more dramatic.
By the oldest of old-fashioned reckoning, counting on my fingers, I have resided in more than 20 homes in six counties across three states in two time zones. This is not any sort of record-setting achievement, but it has given me a lot of hometowns. Poughkeepsie, New York, population not me, is my birth hometown and I lived there every day and night past age 21, which must be some sort of international record.
Poughkeepsie is known for a few things, most of them to do with it not being worth knowing about, much less reside in or be from. It is one of the nation’s minor punchline cities, partly because the name is longish and amusing to say and hear and partly because it is Poughkeepsie. (See what I did there? It is sometimes too easy. The word is a punchline by itself.) Sheboygan, Wisconsin, a city that I came t-h-i-s c-l-o-s-e to residing in, ranks one place ahead of Poughkeepsie in the list of punchline American cities, according to international surveys of What I Am Thinking Now.
Something that I noticed early on was the city’s fascination with itself. Its media outlets love to recount every punchline, every occasion in which our jewel on the Hudson has been ridiculed. It is perverse. Because there are so few mentions of Poughkeepsie in the national or international media, those examples, those few mentions are treated as precious, are subjected to a sort of Sportscenter slo-mo instant replay.
Any Poughkeepsian can recount some of them. There was a “Friends” episode. There was a vaudeville song, “I’m a Gypsy from Poughkeepsie.” Now you know how to pronounce it. Jimmy Fallon is from near here, so the name probably appears as a punchline in his monologues.
It is either a perverse civic pride in being a small joke or we have professionalized the art of setting expectations low for the entire planet, just in case someone might visit and report that they were pleasantly surprised. (“You know something? Those people in Poughkeepsie eat food! They walk with both of their feet!”)
Any attention is better than no attention, someone, probably from Poughkeepsie, once said. And woe will befall anyone from Wappingers Falls, the next nearest town, since they are unlucky enough to be from a place near to such famous not-greatness yet reside in a place that is not-so not-great itself.
But ask me where I am from and sometimes I can sound like I am applying for a job with the Poughkeepsie Chamber of Commerce and begin to rattle off sights and sounds and memories. (“Halloween in Poughkeepsie.”) The man who invented Scrabble was from here. Smith Brothers Cough Drops were invented here. IBM’s history here. The colleges. It is perverse.
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[…] And after it rains there’s a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It’s not that the colors aren’t there
It’s just imagination they lack
Everything’s the same
Back in my little town
My little town, my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town.—”My Little Town,” Paul Simon
The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 5 asks, “Think about the town where you currently live: its local customs, traditions, and hangouts, its slang. What would be the strangest thing about this place for a first-time visitor?”