‘Not from around Here, Are You?’

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.

* * * *

[…] 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?”

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11 comments

  1. thebloggingbeebleeds · October 5, 2014

    That is good tactic though – set the bar low and people will be pleasantly surprised! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · October 6, 2014

      I think it informed my own outlook on life, so I really am a Poughkeepsian, I guess!

      Like

  2. Leigh W. Smith · October 5, 2014

    Great response to the prompt, Mark. Through the stories I’ve read here, I’ve become at least a little more familiar with Poughkeepsie. I can’t say that I knew your town was the target of jibes, but I know what you mean about the love/hate of a hometown. I lived in my hometown area from about birth through age 16, then another town, then another, then another. I changed school systems a few different times (even in my hometown). I attended 3 colleges in 3 states as well. So, I get your peripatetic-ness, at least a little. FWIW, Poughkeepsie, though hard to spell, doesn’t to me sound like a joke, just a Native American (I’m guessing) influenced place name. And so, to continue my brief anecdote, I returned there (just driving through) my hometown about 8 or 10 years ago, and it looked so different from what I remembered. More run-down. More depressing. But that was probably because I didn’t really see it on account of living there and being blinded to the shortfalls of a place, which is like an extension of self (if you let it be). In any case, I like the quite nice picture of Poughkeepsie as well. Looks pleasant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · October 6, 2014

      Poughkeepsie is an Anglicized rendition of a Dutch word that was an attempt at capturing what the first European (Dutch) settlers thought they heard the true first settlers (Iroquois) call the place. I grew up being told it was a Native American word or phrase that meant, “Little reed-covered hut by the water,” and the Dutch spelling of this on old maps (1660-’70s) was “Pekepse.” The city celebrated its tricentennial when I was in high school.

      The bridge above is the Mid-Hudson Bridge, officially named the Franklin Roosevelt Bridge because he was from Hyde Park (five miles north), represented Poughkeepsie in the state senate, and authorized the building of the bridge while he was governor in the late ’20s. (Like the Brooklyn Bridge and many others, it is a very old bridge that carries far more traffic that it was first built for.)

      Like

  3. lifelessons · October 5, 2014

    I loved your piece, Mark, as usual. Especially “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.” I grew up in a town of 700 and our most hated enemies were the inhabitants of the town 7 miles away. I think it started 50 years before when our town became the county seat, but there is more to it than that, I think, and I believe your statement explains it to a degree.

    I am very puzzled, however, over this paragraph: “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.”

    Were you born there, then left and lived in 20 homes elsewhere and then return to P. at the age of 21? I loved the line “population not me” but it seems to contradict the fact that you have lived there ever since the age of 21. Not trying to point out flaws–just trying to clear my head of these waves of puzzlement. I just can’t stand not to know.

    I really enjoyed every word of the essay/article. My need to know all would not have been pursued over a less-interesting piece. —Judy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · October 6, 2014

      Thank you as always, Judy. That is definitely a convoluted paragraph. I grew up in Poughkeepsie, went to college there (Marist) and then moved away–all the way across the Hudson River (seen at the top) to New Paltz, NY, about 10 miles away. Then I lived there and in another couple of towns in upstate New York over the next decade, then in Iowa, then in Massachusetts. I live in upstate New York at present, Goshen, NY. The joke about living past age 21 in Poughkeepsie was at my sister’s expense, as she resided there well past that. (Many somehow do.) So since 1990, when I was 21, I have lived in about 20 different places, including one more year in Poughkeepsie in 2005.

      Like

  4. abodyofhope · October 5, 2014

    Very true about home towns. My husband and I are originally from 2 major cities and have found ourselves in too many heated debates about who has the better “which” and “what”.
    Really enjoyed learning about your home towns. You have so many letters in both! I think of how it was spelling them out growing up 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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