It’s a surprisingly warm Saturday afternoon, and I have just returned from running errands. Normally, running to the market would not bring me such pleasure, but today’s experience really got me thinking about the sense of community.
I woke up late (9:15, which for me is really, really late) and puttered around the apartment, made coffee, talked to my Mom, talked to Jack, wrote a few e-mails, did a Sudoku, you know, the normal Saturday morning activities…. I had my morning hankering for pancakes and coffee, and headed down to Faro’s. I should state right now that the apartment I’m referring to is not my own in New Haven, but Matt’s apartment in Brooklyn, which I have been staying at this week since I had two Tiffany concerts, a Western Wind concert, and my opera tomorrow.
When I’m in Brooklyn, Matt and I have a morning routine. In the many mornings that I’ve spent with him, I can only think of two or three that didn’t involve us walking down the street to Faro’s. We usually have the same waitress, a sweet girl with a nice smile, and a stunning belly button ring… anyways, I always get the short stack and Matt gets something involving lots of meat. At least once a week, one or both of us will stop at the market located three or four stores away from Faro’s and hit the ATM, buy a bag of M&M’s or a bottle of water.
Well this morning is a little different -Matt’s not here, he’s gigging with AWS in PA. I’m spending the weekend in his apartment without him, and there is definitely a reason for that, which I’ll get to later. Regardless of where Matt is, I wanted pancakes….or did I? As I slid into the booth that I sit in so often, the waitress asked me if ” he is coming?” Nope, I said. It’s just me, and I smiled to myself, partly because I was eating alone and that definitely gave me a sense of independent strength, until I realized that part of me was happy that she had called me out on my routine….. and that must mean that somewhere in me I really wanted to feel like I belonged here, that I was a staple of Faro’s.
I got the same feeling when I walked into the market to buy a loaf of bread. The same man who sells me my M&M’s and water smiles at me when I buy those items. It has become a routine for him and I, and that also encourages this whole sense of community.
In a world where I will go to extreme measures NOT to deal with humans, I found this sense of belonging to be fascinating….If automated checkout is an option at a grocery store, I’ll go for it EVERY time. I NEVER buy my train tickets at the ticket window, I can do it so much faster by myself. I pride myself on how speedily I can whip through the touch screen menu, and get really impatient when I stand behind someone who isn’t as familiar… they should go to the window, they have people to help you with that. God, I can’t think of the last time I spoke to a bank teller, haven’t they been made obsolete by now? And most recently, I bought my blackberry, got set up with a sweet new package, and even switched providers online, through wirefly.com, and I admit to you, part of the perk was that I wouldn’t have to deal with a cranky representative.
So why the satisfaction in being recognized by my waitress and marketman? Why will I go out of my way to avoid having an IMpersonal encounter with a human? I think on some level we associate the daily mundane things of life as being things that we need to take care of quick and dirty, and society recognizes that. Going to the bank is never a trip to the amusement park, and so they make it easier to do it yourself, whether that be at home online, or quickly at an ATM. It’s not a fun activity, so the bank has made it easier for you to take care of at your leisure, in exchange for your business. (However, have you noticed that banks now have hired people purely to greet you? I think they’re on to something.) The same goes for grocery stores, I’ll go to Stop and Shop over Shaw’s if it means that I pay a bit more, but can get in and out without having to deal with an (often incompetent) employee. (plus Stop and Shop has DD’s, and who doesn’t find shopping with coffee enjoyable?)
I’m getting off my point here. As I walked back to Matt’s apartment, I was overwhelmed by my simple Saturday morning- my interaction with my waitress, and the pleasant conversation about the weather with my marketman…. all leading me to think that I was part of this Kensington community, which of course, I’m not. I don’t live here, and this is where it all ties in folks. I have an apartment in New Haven, and I graduated in May. I live, albeit about two weeks a month, in a town that’s central pulse is the academic community of Yale, but I’m done with all that. I’ve said to many of you that it’s really strange to be living in a town that I don’t work in, and working in a town that I don’t live in, but this morning in one moment, I had this amazing clarity:
I have no reason to be here this weekend. My rehearsal got out early enough last night that I could have taken the train back to New Haven, and spent the weekend in my own apartment, but my life isn’t there anymore. The only reason I keep that apartment is because of Jack, and he’s in New Hampshire this weekend. If I had gone back to New Haven last night, I would have been incredibly lonely because there is literally nothing there for me this weekend.
My point is that on a very basic level, we all need to feel like we belong to a community, whether that be the immediate community, the one that you are actively living in, or whether it be a larger social network, like my colleagues in the music world. Musicians live in a metaphysical “village” that is so much larger than the concert hall, it’s the betterment of our art and of our lives through that art, and by extension those in the immediate community and those that are part of the larger one; and it’s a very real and natural thing. For me, my personal sense of community has always been the larger one, my musical world, and I think that’s mainly because I live a rather transitory and nomadic life. But today I felt really struck by what it was to experience the concept of community on a much more basic level. Sometimes you do want to go where everybody knows your name.