[Disclaimer: I may or may not mean any of this. This post is to document my “make-fun-of-everything” –> “realize I am closed-minded” process.]
So, here I am in a Super 8 in Coralville, Iowa. Coralville is a town right on top of Iowa City (Ryan likes to say that it’s sort of like how Emeryville is near Berkeley, but Coralville is even closer to IC). Like the Emeryville-Berkeley relationship, Iowa City is the college town with the busy streets lined with small shops and restaurants, while Coralville has all the urban sprawl. Unlike Emeryville, Coralville is kind of dingy. Unlike Berkeley, Iowa City is chock-full of bars, which are in turn chock-full of people. Pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/judytuna/sets/750102/
Iowa City has a really strange “I want to be Berkeley” complex.
I first noticed it when Ryan and I patronized The Java House (ah, the website isn’t as fleshed-out as I’d hoped). They had little flyers labeled “Our Story: how it all began!” and it said that the owner-president visited her brother at UC Berkeley, saw coffee shops, and thought “why don’t we have these in Iowa?” so she researched coffeehouses all over California and then started one in IC. Now there’s a chain of them all around Iowa City in little shops and bookstores and stuff. With free wireless internet, antique furniture, great atmosphere, and very, very expensive (but good) coffee. Ok, I only sipped ryan’s banana bread coffee, but it was good, and my apple cider + caramel was extremely good too. But there you go. Ever since reading that, it’s like everything I see is kind of a Berkeley-imitation. Like, this evening we went to an indian restaurant (which was delicious. I think Ryan will be just fine here), and while walking through the tree-lined pedestrian street with little shops, we came upon a drum circle. Maybe there were drum circles out here first. Who knows. It was a drum circle of the laid-bad real-drum lower-sproul kind, not the upper-sproul kind with plastic buckets and yelling people. I thought I might turn the corner and see pinkman on a unicycle.
Actually what really made me feel like there was some kind of odd feeling towards Berkeley was this crazy guy named Richard who had some living spaces that Ryan looked at. When we went to go meet him, the first thing he said was “So, you guys are from Berkeley, are you” since Ryan’d already told him that on the phone. He said that he’d managed these properties for a long time, then sold them in 2001 cuz he was tired of it, but the new owner-managers were negligent and just now he and his wife were reacquiring them and fixing them up. He showed us one large (too big for a single person to live in) loftish thing because it had new fakehardwood floors. Then he showed us a small loft. I cannot deny that it was charming, in its own hacked-together way–it was a very tall room with a haphazard-looking brick fireplace in one corner, a small kitchen and bathroom in one end and a little loft area above ’em with a narrow, long ladder without a railing on the side that you’d fall off. Pieces of wood nailed to each other in triangles and painted over. Very different. Cool, but how would you get furniture up there? And can you really see Ryan living in a hacked-together room by himself in the back of a lot with all these trees and old buildings (one of them had tombstones cemented to its side)? The guy could tell that we weren’t really feelin’ it and then he kept making fun of us. “You know, I’m really surprised at your reactions. 30 years ago, people from BERKELEY would have been bending over backwards to see this kind of thing,” he said. “I guess you kids aren’t interested in this, the ‘artsy fartsy.’ I don’t even have any advice to give you. You’re like a babe in the woods. Anything MODERN is just fine for you. You’re not giving a thought to the HUMAN element. If you’re going to be a writer how can you ignore human interaction? Well you’ll find out that it’s important later, I guess.” It was apparent that since we were from berkeley, he was expecting us to, I don’t know, embrace the bohemian lifestyle? Instead he got two relatively straight-laced, boring kids who never lived in a co-op, never got high on anything, don’t know much about life. Well I guess I should speak for myself. At least one of them was vegetarian, but we didn’t get into that. We didn’t talk much, R and I. We just listed to him rant about stuff like how he came out of Johns Hopkins, how he was a professor of french literature but hated literature because it’s about the disconnect between every human being, and how really, really disconnected we are from each other (and I still don’t understand the “reason” he didn’t like “literature,” he kept talking about the disconnect as if he were interested in it in real life, maybe he was saying he didn’t like portrayals of it in literature because real-life was more interesting?), how he hated religion, how he voted for Bush and people he knew when he was in academia kept asking him how he could be so conservative if he was so smart and knew all the smart people. I want to lock this to be friends-only, but part of me has the twisted desire for everybody I mention in this post to find out what a narrow-minded jerkoff I am. I guess learning to insult other people is a rite of passage, right? Only by insulting others can I be OK with people insulting me? So anyway he kept going on and on, and he KEPT bringing up Berkeley. He said to ryan, “You know, you’re really remarkable. You’re just a remarkable guy. From Berkeley, really. So do you have any kind of relic from berkeley, proof that you’re really from there?” R was like… uh, I have an ID card… and he said “So tell me, how did you get through Berkeley anyway? I bet you’re real studious, huh? Yeah…” and at this point I could detect he was backtracking: “Let me tell you something, when I got through my phd it was all just hard work, it has nothing to do with brains…” What I mean is I got the distinct impression that he was about to say that he was incredulous that we were from Berkeley because we were stupid. Incredulous we were from Berkeley because we were boring, unintellectual folk who were uninterested in his wildly artistic loft and uninterested in asking questions or engaging in intelligent conversation and interested only in “modern” apartments with no “personality,” the “safe” option, not talking to anyone. So he was nice in that he didn’t directly insult us, but he was obviously fascinated that we weren’t more worldly individuals or something. I don’t know. Actually, he was just messing with us. I don’t know why I’ve put so much thought into this encounter. He probably tries to get some kind of reaction out of everyone he meets. I am just too naive and I don’t get out enough and that’s why I’m fascinated by weird people. And very easily insulted.
Ok, and then the last example is The Red Avocado. R found this on the internet somehow, so we checked it out. It’s on the bottom floor of a house that we think is a co-op (there were tons of youngish people lounging about on the porch above the restaurant), and it’s organic, vegan/vegetarian fare. The inside had nice tables, abstract paintings on mounted canvas on the walls, antiqueish things about (we sat by an old dusty wood stove). All the tables had a vase with a flower or two in them. Anyway, what got me thinking was that they had jars for glasses, which is, in my mind, a very co-op-ish thing to do. You know, reusing things, living cheaply, I don’t know. Except all of their jars were the same. The silverware and plates were normal and nice, the food was presented gracefully and was around $8-11 per plate, the cloth napkins came folded around the forks… So doesn’t that like, defeat the purpose? The jars are just there for the look and feel of them, the paintings aren’t temporary random tenant wall art that’ll be painted over next year, it’s co-op lifestlye in one hip serving? And then I thought about it some more, and I’ve gone full-circle: so there are these ideas that have come to be viewed as having a hub in Berkeley, people who visit Berkeley and places like it bring these ideas to other places like Iowa City where they’re embraced but a little fake because they have to try to imitate it, it gets removed to the point where you get people trying to recreate the atmosphere of a co-op in a nice sit-down restaurant, and then a girl from Berkeley who is totally fake goes to this restaurant in Iowa and makes fun of them because they’re not as real and dirty as they are in Berkeley, but she needs to go to that kind of establishment in order to be able to feel “organic-cool” since she doesn’t actually live in a co-op and never has.
Who knows? Obviously I am being wrongfully snobby. Maybe I got everything totally wrong. What do I know? I’m not a culturally aware person. I have no right to be elitist about a lifestyle that people associate with the area I happen to currently live in, since I have no ties to that lifestyle and am not even good enough to graduate from college. Maybe this entire post is really offensive to anybody that actually knows anything. Also, what do I find so wrong with people embracing “organic, reuse-stuff, live cheaply” culture? What is wrong with “fringe”-y stuff moving into the mainstream and getting very slightly diluted in the process? Isn’t this a GOOD thing? Gets more unenlightened people (like me) thinking about eating organic and not being wasteful and stuff? What’s wrong with it being hip-ified? Why do I have to call it “fake” ? And it’s not like I didn’t like that place. I totally liked it.
I will tell you why all of this went through my head: I was trying to prove that Berkeley was better than Iowa City. Haha. But it’s really the same, in a lot of ways, and anywhere you go with people who talk to other people in other places is going to be the same, right? The differences aren’t as great as I expected them to be. I guess it surprised me because I thought California was some kind of throne of the world, an exalted place to be, I thought we’d deal with “country bumpkins” who didn’t recycle or don’t know what minorities are but really… ah, the little girl sees the world shrink before her eyes. I’m more closed-minded than my own stereotype of a closed-minded hick.
You know, if I expect anybody to ever read any of this, I should take more care in organization. It would just be an extra half-hour to go back and edit things into some sort of sense, and I ought to learn to use the delete button for things that are just extraneous. I’ve never been able to delete anything I write (or throw away anything I have ever owned, for that matter) because I feel like if I’ve expended the effort to type it out, however nominal, it has become a being that deserves to be put out there. I feel like if someone wants to get a big picture of me, letting them see everything is the way to go. It dilutes everything I say, though, so you end up with all kinds of stream-of-consciousness mess and what I really want to get across is buried inside layers of tangentially related spiderwebs.
I think what I really want to say in this post is that I feel very strange. I am flying back to CA (with a stop in Denver, a place I’ve never been: look for copious quantities of pictures of the Denver airport later) on Thursday (and going home to SJ for a few days) and then I have to get a job or something. My god a whole LJ post with no mention of WoW!