How to Survive Quarantine by Thinking about Places That are Worse than Your Small Apartment; aka: Let’s Talk about Vermont

One of the psychological tricks to stay happy and sane when you are stuck someplace is to think about how there are WORSE places, places where if you had to live there all the time, you would be perfectly miserable. Don’t think of Paris. Don’t think of Italy or Mallorca or Greece or the Caribbean or lake-front cottages or lodges in the midst of majestic mountains. You will just make yourself sad. Think of places you never want to go or that you regret going to. And, by co-incidence, here is an essay on Vermont which will make you happier that you are where you are. After you read it Darling, go put on something in leopard print, a nice shade of lipstick and have a cocktail.

When I first came to Vermont I felt quite out of place, as if there was something radically different, something unsettling and out of kilter. It took a few weeks until I had an epiphany in a coffee shop. I suddenly realized that everyone in the store was wearing the same clothes. It was August and the people of my fair city were wearing loose shorts, sport sandals or sneakers and cool cotton shirts. All of them. Every last one of them. Oh sure, there were a few loose cotton sundresses, but basically all the material was cotton, all the colors were muted, and everyone looked ready to head out on a minute’s notice to go hike a green mountain. I was quietly appalled. For a moment I felt like I was living in The Land of The Living Dead.

“They’re all pod people,” I whispered to my friend. “You could freeze them, switch the clothing, and no one would look different.”

She tried to tell me that I was imagining things.

“No, no,” I said, “look at all these people. Ninety percent are wearing something khaki colored on the bottom half of their body and everyone is wearing something vegetable-dyed, with a few pieces of jewelry which could be described as ‘tribal,’ ‘ethnic,’ or ‘hand-made.’ I think they all went shopping at the same time at the same place.”

I was lost when I moved to Vermont where you can look at a person for hours and still have no way to classify them. That guy in the baggy khaki shorts and t-shirt and Tevas could be a lawyer, a high school student, a plumber, a doctor, a logger, a senator or a ski instructor. No way of knowing. A girl of 6, young woman of 17, woman of 35 and older lady of 78 all wear the same shapeless, teal-green dress in different sizes.

I think this is supposed to be a good thing – very in keeping with the American ideals of democracy and equality. How practical. How egalitarian. And how convenient. I don’t have to spend ten minutes every morning getting my eye shadow on perfect. No need to worry if my socks match, if I have worn the same outfit two days in row, or if my hair looks like something small and furry nested in it.

No one in Vermont will ever tell me that my nylons are too dark or that maybe I should pluck my eyebrows or get a back peel. People are polite, refraining from any negative comments and judgements about one’s apparel and everyone wears what they want in peace, comfort and harmony.

But I find it rather depressing; people here are all a blur, a lump of indistinguishable humanity. There’s no joy in going to a coffee shop here. You sit for an hour and it’s just a stream of (in winter) beings in jeans, flannel shirts and boots and (in summer) baggy khaki shorts and t-shirts. No one appears in gold lamé or a feather boas, no skirts made from six shades of Belgium lace, no differentiating between 18 and 22 caret gold bracelets or wondering what kind of perfume it is you’re smelling. No trying to guess if that particular style of wrapping a sari indicates Northern or Southern India. In fact, no saris, no hoop skirts, none of those little capes that Iranian women wear, no transparent, cream silk harem pants or Italian shoes with what look like large spiders glued to the toes. No mystery.

It’s as if everyone here goes to the same school with a strict dress code. Thou shall not wear bias-cut, emerald-green velvet dresses; thou shall not wear royal blue Eton-collared shirts with onyx cuff-links. Thou shalt not walk down Montpelier’s Main Street in lime-green linen pants, a silk-lined cobalt blazer and a boater.

Is it a life truly lived if one doesn’t have a tiara on now and then?

Malheureusement, Vermont is not a frivolous place. People are very serious. And they expect you to be serious, hard-working and to be able to take care of yourself. I don’t fit in. Yes, yes I did take that train that used to go from Vienna to Athens by myself (before Yugoslavia turned into the countries previously known as Yugoslavia) and I know how to use a machete. I have built furniture. Yet I hate doing that kind of thing, Darling. I mean it’s all well and good if needs must, but if you gave me the choice between being a sober, hard-working, respectable person or a loaf-about who has martinis delivered every fifteen minutes, I’d say “two olives per glass please.”

Which is why I need to leave Vermont. In the town I live in for example, the bus station has no bathroom. Now I figure that a bathroom would be a basic element of a bus station – seems to be that would pretty much be the first thing one would build. But not in Vermont. And why is that so? Because who are at bus stations? People who are Vermonters who have only come a short distance, and thus wouldn’t need one, or people who are coming from a long ways away. Out-of-staters. Do Vermonters, in general, like out-of-staters? No. So why should they make their arrival more comfortable? Hence no bathroom. The other group of people at bus stations are those leaving, and if you are such a no-good-nik that you are leaving this wonderful place, you don’t deserve any amenities either. It all makes sense when you think about it.

Another example would be the bus system in my town. The buses don’t run on time. The bus I take to work in the morning arrives within a 6 minute time frame. It’s on a half-hour route, the roads are not changing their positions over-night, the speed of the bus is pretty constant, but arrival times vary. I have taken buses many places (UK, Canada, Australia, throughout Europe…) and every place else managed to figure out how to get buses where they should at the appropriate time. Not my fair town.

I spent most November twilights standing by the road waiting to take the bus home. Some nights is was 5 minutes early, some nights it was 15 minutes late and some nights it didn’t come at all. So I gave up, found my hiking boots (Darling, a gift from my father, which tells you how well my paternal unit understood me, a real father would have bought me a pet emu) and resigned myself to walking home from work every night. And as I slogged through the cold, sleet, snow, rain, and ice I realized that this was, in fact, the master plan of the bus system. To get people to walk.

“It’s nice out,” I could just hear the chorus of heartily, all-weather Vermonters crying. “Lovely weather! and it’s so good for you to be out and exercising. We’ll just keep those bus schedules so erratic that all you malingerers will be forced to enjoy the benefits of our pure air. Then only people who really need the bus system will use it.” As I said, if you just think about it a bit – it all makes sense.

I’d love to discuss all this with a Vermonter, but every time I’ve said something less than complimentary about Vermont, I’m asked to leave the state. Vermont is the only the second place I have lived where, if you say anything less than glowing about the weather/ people/ landscape, etc.. people invite you to move. You can venture comments about Germany’s cloudy weather and homicidal little old ladies in the bakeries and no one bats and eye. Remark that the people in D.C. are power-obsessed and everyone agrees with you. But say that you find Vermont roads a bit under-designed, perhaps even designed by blind cows or mentally deficient engineers, and you will get a cold stare and a frosty, “we like the roads the way they are. Have you ever heard the famous Vermont expression, ‘Welcome to Vermont, now leave.’”

I’m not sure what the problem here is. Honestly, Darling, you’d think people who ate so much maple sugar would be pretty sweet.