“Home is not where you were born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease” – Naguib Mahfouz
On an afternoon like any other, I was in a store like any other, a general store. I got to the register at the same time as another customer and motioned for him to go first. His clothes were worn but neat, his skin was tan but clean, and his sunglasses were spotless: he was unmistakably from out of town. He approached the register and made a request under his breath, “papers.”
“What?” replied the cashier as a line formed behind me.
“Do you have papers?” He whispered slightly louder.
With a nod of understanding the cashier reached under the counter and pulled out a pack of Zig-Zags, rolling papers ostensibly for cigarettes. The young man then quietly and politely requested inch-and-a-quarter papers which the cashier also had and supplied. He paid, thanked the cashier, and left.
The whole awkward episode hung in the air as I put my coffee and snacks on the counter and exchanged nods with the cashier. “Boy,” I said, “that guy didn’t want anyone to know he was buying Zig-Zags.”
Before I could get the words out of my mouth a lady behind the counter started to cackle. The cashier laughed too and said he wanted to be like, “you mean THESE ONES?!?” The people in line shook their heads, the lady cackled some more, and we all kind of bonded for a second. It was the sort of shared experience that happens all the time in these little stores that we take for granted.
The crux of the joke was that the guy thought anyone in the store was pretentious enough to care what he was buying. If ever there was a judgement free zone, it’s a place where you can buy double-decker oatmeal cream pies, pornography, and scratch tickets at 6 am. But what really amazed me was how, after he left and we all shared a laugh, that store full of strangers suddenly felt like a room full of friends.
The instant camaraderie reminded me of a lyric from a Lady Lamb song called “Billions of Eyes.”
The kind of high I like is when I barely make the train
And the people with a seat smile big at me because they know the feeling
and for a millisecond we share a look like a family does
like we have inside jokes
like we could call each other by little nicknames
It’s the same idea, where you share something and become sort-of buddies with would-be strangers. This kind of thing happens all the time in Maine (I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Lady Lamb is from Brunswick), like when you’re in a packed-house movie and everyone laughs at the same joke. Maybe it’s the weather or the blue-collar aesthetic, but Mainers have an strong desire to relate to each other on the same level. There’s a palpable lack of pretension here. We are, after all, equals in line at the general store.
A little ways down the road I passed two Amish girls on bicycles going the other way. They were coasting fast down a big hill along with the morning commuters, their faces lit by the sun low on the horizon, bonnets flapping, hair flying, eyes wide, smiles wider. Maybe I haven’t felt like that since I was a kid, but I could relate. I could relate, distantly, to the feeling of being that free.
It’s the kind of freedom that might be confused with escaping, but really it’s more like being home, where all your attempts to escape cease.