When my old friend Rob calls us from New York City, he always asks, “But what do you do out there?” As if everyone who doesn’t live in Manhattan lives on a farm in the middle of flyover country where you have to pump your water by hand and use an outhouse. Living in a small town would be his worst nightmare, because what he really means by “What do you do out there?” is “Where do you shop?”
“Doing something,” to me, means mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, stacking the wood, tending the garden, fixing the house, cleaning the gutters, getting the storm windows ready, jawing with the neighbors about how strange the weather has been. To Rob it means buying things.
While Rob has tens of thousands more neighbors than I do, he doesn’t know any of them and you wouldn’t need your toes to count his friends. He lives in a tiny, wildly expensive apartment in an elevator building with a doorman. His cleaning person comes in every Tuesday. His only household chore is writing a check for the rent once a month. When he’s not working, he’s shopping. His closets are full of expensive suits and ties from fancy haberdashers. He would be appalled by the 10-year-old dark suit from J.C. Penney that I wear to weddings and funerals. Everything else I own comes from what Sue calls “The Gutter Cleaning Collection.”
“What is there to do?” I answer him. “Plenty. We go into town and watch them put the mail in the boxes. ‘Course we’d have to get there before 10. What time do you get up nowadays? Around noon? They’re having a sale on sump pumps down at the Feed and Seed, and we don’t want to miss that. Doug’s having his septic system pumped on Saturday. That’ll be something to see. Then we all stand around and wait for the latest news from New York on the noon stage.” I could almost hear him roll his eyes.