NOTE: This post is intended to be somewhat satirical. (“Quasi-satirical?”) However, some genuine frustration is expressed here, and, while my choice of words may be a bit abrasive to those whom the subject is a personal matter (i.e. Nutmeggers), please try to understand that this isn’t intended to offend or come off as “whiny,” so much as provide some perspective on being broke in a small town. As the post concludes (at the conclusion, naturally), New Milford isn’t an outright hell-hole, although for the sake of emphasis it may be treated that way. Yes, life could be much, much worse, and I’m not promoting ingratitude here.
(March 1, 2016)
I live in porcelain white Limbo. I’m shacked up with my folks, broke—no car, no nothin’. Connecticut. The cost of living is through the roof, the liquor stores close at 9 and diners stop serving liquor after 10. The bars sell up-charged, watered-down bunk. What am I saying? I don’t even got to bars. I can’t afford that. A Steely is my pride and joy… or a splash of shitty vodka, if I’m lucky. No. I barely ever make it to the package store.
I’m 23. I say to myself, “you should’ve been in grad school, or half way around the world by now. You should have a car, and an apartment. You should be dating, and doing shit. You should…” yada yada. So I sit at home and sleep and then I write about it.
It’s not all bad though. Really. And precisely because this is porcelain white quasi-suburban bullshit-land. I mean, those basic amenities are our blessings, right? I’ve got a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a laptop from which I can communicate to you everything from Paganini to the heat death of the universe. I live in the country with the most disposable income of any developed nation, with the highest GDP per capita. I live in a nation that enjoys all these fruits in a way that it totally unsustainable, and which will eventually crash and burn under the weight of its pollution, over-consumption, and unsustainability, should dramatic actions not be taken. But we have to enjoy the moment, as they say. I’m sort of a curmudgeon, but I try to, anyway.
Let me complain a little:
I live in New Milford. I’ve lived here since 2001, when I moved from Austin, Texas. This town is basically a series of Dunkin’ Donuts and strip malls that opened up along U.S. routes 7 and 202, snaking along the Housatonic. There are auto bodies and a few car dealerships, industrial parks and convenience stores, condo complexes and old white churches with weather vanes or crosses on top.
Roger Sherman once lived here. I’m sure he thought it sucked, too. Anyway, his house is now town hall. There were a few movies filmed here, including that old Adam Sandler bit, Mr. Deeds. Indigenous Weantinock used to live here. I’m sure they enjoyed fishing in the Housatonic long before it became the river Styx. I’m sure they enjoyed the deciduous woodlands long before they were all chopped to shit and replaced with Walmart, Kohl’s, Verizon, and every other boring big box mart.
The demographic makeup of this town seems to mostly consist of pasty white soccer moms. They like to barrel down Rt. 7 in their minivans. Their kids have iPads and think they’re either living in Compton or an underground vampire lair. As you make your way toward Gaylordsville, a little “borough” of the town, you will notice a sharp increase in the number of rednecks, as well as old Methodists. (Throw in a few Catholics, Baptists, and one or two Jews for good measure.) A lot of these people wear plaid button-downs, tucked into their plain jeans. They peruse antique shops and thrift stores and the million fast food places that line the pot-holed streets.
There are no sidewalks to speak of. (Unless you’re downtown, of course.) If, like me, you don’t have a car, this is a living nightmare. I have to play Frogger—crossing four lanes of death—every time I want to buy cigarettes or a soda. If I walk along the back roads I have to make sure to balance myself along a two inch dividing line, a thin margin separating me from sixteen-wheeled hell freighters and farting Chevies.
Did I mention the rednecks? Despite being this far north of Dixie, you see a lot of pickup trucks, some of which are even audaciously adorned with the Confederate flag. The people who command these vehicles are known for tossing empty tins of Copenhagen and cans of Busch Light out their windows. This is part of the reason why we have a thick layer of trash built up along the roads. (I also see—in my many aimless walking excursions—empty bottles of Crown Royal and Sutter Home and little nippers. The other day I found a socket wrench, a saw, and a pair of pants. But I’m meandering, anyway.) They also seem to be the ones most likely to blurt out “faggot!” or some other obscenity, or blare their car horns, as they pass you down the highway when, say, you’re walking home from one of a thousand diners.
The diners, though… I always end up at diners. Not sure how. I just find myself in places like Three Brothers, Windmill, Johana’s, Theo’s—all these fuckin’ diners. And if it’s not in this town it’s in every one of its satellite settlements. Especially Danbury, which is a separate beast altogether.
Don’t get me wrong… I love diners. (Especially when they serve endless coffee for $1.25.) I just get bad déjà vu. Veggie burgers, home fries, spanikopita, challah, little metal pitchers filled with milk, the waitresses that call you “sweetie…” I dunno.
We have five (FIVE!) Dunkin’ Donuts in this town. If that doesn’t portend the apocalypse, I don’t know what does.
We’ve got a million copies of the same bank, always seemingly within spitting distance of each other. There are tattoo parlors and fast food places and stores that sell upholstery and furniture and clothes and a bunch of other boring stuff. It’s really just too much, the monotony of running up and down the same bullshit stretch of road, seeing the same pizzerias, the same bridges, the same empty and overgrown lots, the same nasty creeks… sprinkled with trash.
Downtown—the green and its surrounding “historic village”—is the main attraction, and draws in the majority of the tourists. (Though why you’d want to explore Limbo rather than, say, New York City (maybe an hour-ish away) or New Haven, is beyond me.) We have a stupid green and white gazebo that acts as a kind of symbol for the town. (It’s on our town flag—equally as pitiful.) I remember sitting in there a number of times, once looking over a graffito which read something like “I FUCKED HER HERE!”
Bank Street—so named for the large bank building on its corner—is prime real estate here. Every several months a business seems to close down on Bank Street, presumably unable to keep up with the cost. Some have staid for years: Archway News and Tobacco, the Bank Street Coffee House, a novelty/gag shop, the iconic Bank Street Theater ($5 for movies on Tuesdays) and a health food/organic grocer. But these are the minority. Most businesses on or around Bank Street close up as soon as they open. We’ve had a comic book shop (the owner was flaky?), a music shop, bars (too expensive, and the drunks were loud), furniture stores, clothing boutiques, and a Tex-Mex restaurant (wasn’t that great, anyway) go south.
I used to work at one of the Dunkin’ Donuts around here. It was one of those you see built into the corner of a gas station. Working with four other people on shift, confined to a hundred square foot space, is basically a nightmare. Especially for minimum wage.
Despite shitty customers (and let’s be honest—customer service is basically always taxing), there was some comic relief. Among the throngs of homeless nut jobs who wander the town green, one guy, who calls himself Ed (though he used to say his name was Matt…) would come in and talk to me about the most absurd shit, all while I pumped crappy coffee full of caramel syrup. He didn’t care. He’d lean his big arm on the sticky counter and just start yapping. One time he brought in a plastic bag full of maple seeds. He showed them to me and said, “hey, you see these apple seeds?” I told him they were maple seeds, a statement which he just outright denied, and then he told me something along the lines of, “man, I’m Johnny Appleseed. I’m going to plant these things all over the country.”
“Fair enough,” I told him.
He also once expressed to me that he owned a gold mine, one which so happened to be behind the very Dunkin’ Donuts that I worked at. Or so he said, at least. Funny. I never saw a gold mine. Just a parking lot, a creek, and some crumpled newspapers.
There are a few other nutty homeless people who travel to and fro, from Danbury to New Milford and vice versa. The HART bus (local public transit) is their drunk tank, as it is mine. (Sans drunk… for now, at least.) You see ’em hobbling around the streets, smoking, and just talking. Thankfully they don’t really beg much around here. They just file in and out of the tobacco shop.
When I volunteered at the local soup kitchen I’d encounter some of these characters. One was named Paul. A decent guy. Rumor was that he was a Harvard graduate. Used to ride a bike and smoke a little cherry wood pipe. He died of a heart condition not long ago.
Another was Dougie, or “Banjo Man,” who used to walk around drunk in the middle of the night, singing wildly and strumming his banjo. Once, he came into the soup kitchen asking for extra bagged lunches. (We gave out bagged lunches for later consumption, but the policy was to limit them to one per person per day.) He demanded more lunches in order to feed his “three-headed dogs,” which he supposedly lived with behind the local supermarket. There are, in fact, some bums who camp out there (or who at least used to), but I have my doubts about mutant canines.
Teenagers have nothing much to do here, seeing as this town is basically an open-air coffin anyway. Well, they have a skate park. And a baseball field. And a rowing team and parking lots to stand around it. And we’ve got the Maxx—the name itself makes me cringe—the “teen center” which miserably fails in its job of keeping kids out of trouble. If there were any drug deals going on while I was still in high school, it was always in the parking lot of the Maxx. Strangely enough, there always seemed to be a security guard walking around, though I guess he just didn’t give a shit, or didn’t notice.
There are these obnoxious bikers that fart their way up and down the road, often stopping at one of the trillion Dunkin’ Donuts to hang out in the parking lot for hours on end. Seems that’s what a lot of people do here: stand in parking lots. Unless you’re rich, in which case you probably have a house on Candlewood Lake, and your own pontoon boat, and can take lavish excursions to who-the-fuck-knows. Maybe Tahiti or Barbados or London or Mongolia…
We’ve got gas stations. And a few tattoo parlors. And a frozen yogurt bar. And a library. And golf courses/country clubs. We’ve got little hiking trails and ponds and the lake and some streams. We’ve got people kicking the dirt and picking at their food, drinking coffee and playing pool. We’ve got a few farms for pumpkin-picking and corn mazes, during the fall, of course. They’ve got cows. And the cows have got sheep. And the sheep have chickens. And the chickens have the earth.
Rolling hills. It’s all the rolling hills of Litchfield fuckin’ County. The “green wave” of the local high school. The mascot of which looks like a cracked-out version of Gumby… And we’ve got our fair share of parks and trails: Clatter Valley, Lover’s Leap, Dyke’s Point, the Still River Trail, and so forth. We’ve also got a tiny cave, called Tory’s Cave, which I’ve passed by, but have never been inside of. I hear that a British soldier once hid out there, during the Revolution. I also hear it’s a tight squeeze.
Beneath and along the bridges are graffiti etched out of the rust and painted over the steel. Beneath the big, red bridge on Lover’s Leap are some curious symbols suggesting the sigil of Lucifer, or the inverted pentagram, or just edgy-as-fuck teenagers getting stoned in the woods.
We’ve got mowed lawns and divided highways, back roads and abandoned lots (did I already mention that?), a psychic and a bunch of old, Victorian (-ish?) buildings converted into law offices and insurance agencies. We have a basketball court, a tennis court, gyms, a few marinas for the lake-side yuppies, and a factory or so… I don’t know whether they ever shut down the old Nestlé plant. All I know is that one day it just stopped smelling. I mean, for some reason, when it rained, the whole town would start stinking like urine and beef bouillon. I recall it less than fondly—having to stand there in the foggy morning, waiting on the school bus, wanting to puke.
We have little bits of swampland, criss-crossed with roads and bridges. Some of those bridges and passes are dilapidated, some drenched in spray paint, some overgrown with Japanese knotweed or goldenrod or wild mustard.
All in all, I guess it’s not such a bad town. If you’re rich enough, you can leave whenever you want. For myself, travelling three towns away is a serious ordeal. But that is also a product of my own laziness, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain.
Ah well. C’est la vie.