Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meet Me Somewhere Else


I lived in St. Louis from July of 1989 until February of ’92. They didn’t care much for the likes of me. I was committed to making things work out there, but in the end I succumbed to the pressure and decided that the feelings were mutual. Some of the things I’m going to write will no doubt offend the couple of good friends I made there, including Sticky .

Sorry about that.

I had been meaning to write about my experiences in St. Louis for some time now. What prompted me to write about it on this particular day was that I spotted a marquee outside of a local bar that boasted:

“Hoosier Daddy – TONIGHT!”

That was the name of my band when I lived in St. Louis. We were a damn good band too. Except for the fact that the drummer hated me. I rubbed him the wrong way. He was rebel from West VA that had relocated to St. Louis some 20 years prior to my arrival. He didn’t have much use for NY Jews. I am from New York. I’m not a Jew. But in St. Louis I was. Even after I told them I wasn’t, I was.

More on that later.

Seemed that people in St. Louis had something against “Hoosiers.” I noticed it shortly after I moved there. People would say things like:

“Damn Hoosier.”
“Stupid Hoosier.”
“That guy is such a Hoosier!”

One day I just had to ask.

“Is there some sort of rivalry between Missouri and Indiana?”

“Nooo. Why do you ask?”

“You just referred to that guy as a “Hoosier,” and the way you said made me think that you didn’t care much for Hoosiers.

“I don’t. What’s that got to do with Indiana?”

I sat there blinking. I hadn’t been there long enough to have learned that these people have a culture all their own. Things that I thought everybody knew, they didn’t know. Things they thought everybody knew, only they knew. I hadn’t learned that yet.

“Um, Indiana is ‘The Hoosier State?’ They got a college team called ‘The Hoosiers?’ People from Indiana are often referred to as ‘Hoosiers?’ That’s what it has to do with Indiana.”

“Really? I hadn’t heard that. A "Hoosier" is like a hick, or a redneck.”

That floored me. Not only did they have their own definition of “Hoosier,” but this guy didn’t know the real definition, and I concluded after several subsequent conversations, neither did many other people.

When I first got there, I was determined not to be the cliché New Yorker. You know what I mean. The thing is, they never gave me the chance to prove otherwise. That’s who I was.

I heard at least 20 times, “You probably think we don’t have any good restaurants here.” They wouldn’t wait for me to complain about a restaurant, or even wait for the discussion to come up. You know, not, “So what do you think of our restaurants?” I would try to be congenial and say something like, “The restaurants here are fine. I couldn’t afford to eat out in NY anyway!”

Then I would get what I call the “St. Louis Smirk.” The smirk that said, “You New Yorkers are all alike. You all think we are so stupid.” Never saw the irony that THEY were the ones who were stereotyping me, and not the other way around. At least not yet.

I’m not much of a sports fan. I liked whomever my friends liked, and I liked whomever was winning at the time. In NY, most people either liked The Jets or The Giants. The Mets or The Yankees. The Rangers or The Islanders. Not me. I liked all of them, especially when they were winning.

From day one, whenever I met someone new they would assume that I was a Met fan. That was odd. I mean, who never heard of The NY Yankees?

I’m not kidding here. They would always say the same thing:

“Pond-scum Mets.”

They said it in a way that implied those words went together in the same way that “Volkswagen” went with “Beetle” or “Southern” went with “Baptist.”

“Whaaa? Pond-scum?”

“You like the ‘Pond-scum’ Mets.” I didn’t forget the question mark. It was a statement of fact. “You like the Pond-scum Mets.” Period. End of discussion. None needed.

“Pond-scum Mets?”

“Yeah. We HATE the Pond-scum Mets!”

“Errr, actually I like all the NY teams.”

“Pond-scum Mets. Pond-scum Mets.”

I got so tired of hearing that, I started to say, “You know what? We didn’t even care about the Cardinals. This rivalry is one-way. In NY we concern ourselves with real ball-teams like the LA Dodgers.”

That used to piss them off. Funny thing was, I really didn’t care a whit over professional sports by that time. And it didn’t matter WHAT I said. One time I said, “Yeah, I’m from New York. I’m not a Met fan and I don’t care for baseball.”

“You like the POND SCUM METS!”

Idiots.

Ok, back to the whole Jewish thing.

I have light / olive skin, dark wavy hair and a dark beard. Prominent nose. I would occasionally be mistaken for a Jew in NY, but most people knew I was Italian.

Not so in St. Louis. In St. Louis I was a Jew.

I was working for a small company. They were a service bureau. Employed about 30 people. 15 key-punch operators, a few technical people and a couple managers. At the company Christmas party, a young woman who I’d known casually came up to me and said, “What are YOU doing here?”

I thought she was kidding. I laughed and must have said, “Standing here, drinking a beer and talking to you?”

“No. I mean what are you doing at the CHRISTMAS party? You’re a JEW!”

She said it the way Woody Allen said it to Tony Roberts in “Annie Hall.”

“JEW!”

“Um, well first of all, I thought anyone who worked for the company could come to the party, and second of all, I’m not Jewish. I was born and raised a Catholic, but now I’m an agnostic.” I was bit off-balance, but was ready to take it in stride and move on.

“C’mon. You’re a Jew and you know it! Why won’t you admit it?” She said it with an air of annoyance and self-righteousness.

At that point I wanted to call her an ignorant slut a la Dan Akroyd, but it was a company Christmas party and really didn’t want any trouble.

“Listen. If I was a Jew, I would admit it. I wouldn’t be ashamed of it. And I’d still be at this party, because it is for everybody.”

As I turned to walk away she said, “Even your wife and kids look like JEWS!”

[I’ll use that as an excuse to show off just how cute my little girls were back in late ’91, Jewish or not.]

Then there was the “What High School did you go to?” thing. There was apparently some sophomoric pecking order based on of all things, your high school, still going strong 20 years after graduation. There was the “NY Sucks” thing. People would say things like, “How many times did you get mugged,” or “How could you live in that dump?” None of them had ever been there. Granted, they’d seen “Death Wish.”

There was this guy who worked for one of our customers. He visited once or twice per month. He knew I was from NY. He told me one day, “The boss asked me to drive his car to New York City for him. Going to put me up in a hotel and fly me home.”

“That sounds great. Are you going to have any time to do anything?”

“I don’t know yet, but if I have time to do just one thing, I’ll be going to The Hard Rock Café!"

For some strange reason known only to themselves, the people there thought that those “Hard Rock Café” sweatshirts and T-Shirts were the bee’s knees. No one in NY, not from the hippest punk from the village all the way down the squarest cat from Levittown who liked The Captain and Tenille would have been caught doing yard-work in one of those stupid shirts.

“The Hard Rock? What about the museums? Central Park? Greenwich Village? Radio City? China Town? Little Italy? Empire State Building? Ellis Island?”

“Why would I want to go to any of those places?”

Then there was, “What do you mean you like The Beatles? The Beatles? Are you kidding? They suck! They broke up years ago!”

I remember that there was this one “Howard Stern wannabe wannabe” (redundancy deliberate) who called NYC “an open sore” and “a sewer.” His name was J.C. Corcoran. I actually called in one day to talk to him about the apparent “anti-Beatle bias” and he told me that it was more likely that they didn’t like me because NY sucks. Among other idiotic, ignorant and (as my dear departed Dad used to say) "as-funny-as-a-busted-bladder" things he said on the air everyday, this one day he referred to a real-life “Doogie Howser” Asian-Indian intern as a “towel head” and a “camel-jockey.” Beyond the blatant racism implied in those comments was that simple fact that the prodigy was an Indian, not an Arab!

Then there was their “world famous” V.P. Fair. Happened every 4th of July. I’d never heard of it. They were dumbfounded. “You’ve never heard of the VP FAIR!!!?????

“Er, no. I just moved here.”

“Where’d you move from, Neptune or some place?”

You’d a thought I’d never heard of the 4th of July.

“It is a famous celebration, known across the country! How could you have never heard of it!”

Or how about, “That’s so fruit!” (Means crazy, not gay.)

And my adventures at the Sunday School.

And on and on an on.

By the time I’d gotten a job “back east” I was so glad to be rid of that place, and I’m sure most of them were glad to be rid of me. I don’t feel any nostalgia for St. Louis, except for my friends. Them, and the ice cream. St. Louis ice-cream rocks. Perhaps my experiences were unique, but there seemed to be an odd consistency to them.

9 Comments:

Blogger Jill said...

Well, bless your heart, Viscount. I'm sorry you had such a rough time in St. Louis. We have our weirdness, to be sure, and JC Corcoran is a jerk. The high school thing? That's a way to classify people according to their roots. Going to Lemay says something that going to John Burroughs doesn't. WE're often teased for this, and it's a pastime not all of indulge. I wish I knew where the derogatory "hoosier" thing came from. People in St. Louis use it in place of "white trash." There's no animosity or rivalry I'm aware of with Indiana. It's just weirdness.

But you know, apart from those idiosyncrasies, I didn't recognize my home town from your experience. Albeit, I run with very good people, my business partner is a much-beloved New York Jew, and there's a strong progressive political movement catching fire.

If you ever need to come to St. Louis again, maybe I could improve your opinion. As my grandmother used to say, "Folks is folks." I'll show you some folks, good ones, and you can save on a hotel room by camping on my couch. Deal?

Again, I'm sorry your experience was so very negative and I'm appalled especially at the brutish treatment you experienced at that Christmas party. One can never atone for another's rudeness, but if I could, I would.

2:49 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Hi Jill,

Thanks for your kind words. I appreciate them especially in context when I consider how my post must read to someone like you. I really did meet lots of good people there - and am certain I would have liked you had I had the pleasure.

This is just a blog with a handful of readers, and I thought the stories and tone were amusing - no real insult intended.

3:08 PM  
Blogger fgfdsg said...

One of my friends went into a more detailed, and funny, description of 'Hoosiers' here a few months ago:

http://bsuwg.blogspot.com/2006/02/tales-of-midwest-installment-8.html

We have a Hard Rock Cafe in Melbourne, and I've walked past it a few times, looked at the ridiculous prices on the menu, and haven't figured out why anyone would want to eat there. It's only ever populated by foreign tourists.

It must be one of those 'implied cool' things and i missed the memo.

3:25 PM  
Blogger fgfdsg said...

Sorry, I stuffed up the link. Just try copying and pasting it.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cute kids.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Bobby Lightfoot said...

Woah! Sounds like me with San Diego. I remember when The Hard Rock stopped having live music because it interfered with merchandise and food sales.

Think about that.

You gotta love it when anonymous people compliment your kids and pets. I do that sometimes.

Yeh, they sound like a bunch of neo-Nazis to me, to be perfectly honest. Maybe th' next tsunami will hit there somehow.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

Gee, Al, you're really selling this St Louis thing. I'm just dyin' to get out there, like, ASAP.

No, really, I'm with Bobby. They sound pretty scary. I can see being proud of your hometown but acting like everybody obviously must have heard about this or that St Louis thing is odd. I never heard of the Fair, either.

And the Hard Rock in NYC - what is that about? I can't tell you how many times I walked by it when I lived there but I can remember how many times I went in: exactly zero.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you had such a negative experience in my hometown of St. Louis. I assure you that we are all not so prejudiced against New Yorkers. By the way, the reason "Hoosier" is used in a derogatory manner in St. Louis stems back to a strike that occurred in St. Louis in the 30's. During this strike, scab workers from Indiana were brought in to fill in for strikers. The perjorative hoosier stems from the St. Louis workers' lack of appreciation for this. So, at least there's some reason for why we use that term negatively. Of course, nowadays there isn't a rivalry between Indiana & Missouri, but we simply use the term to describe someone who is low-class or a redneck. Here's some more explanation of this term: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=hoosier

Linda from St. Louis, MO

7:52 AM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

Hi Linda,

I did meet a lot of nice folks there like you. The stories that I told in this post are true, but they were the stand-out stories. Most of the time people were decent to me and I had a good time when I was living there. I was in a cranky yet humorous mood when I wrote this.

Thanks for your comments.

3:34 PM  

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