City Mouse, or The Guy From Brooklyn


Remember how in all those World War II movies, there’s a guy from Brooklyn in every platoon? You know, there’s the grizzled sergeant, the frightened newbie, the farm boy, the rich kid, the blond kid, etc., and there’s always the “ethnic” (Italian or Jewish) kid from Brooklyn. That was the role I played in Mississippi. Not only didn’t I meet anyone from New York City during my stay, I didn’t meet a single person from my Red Cross chapter — which happens to be the largest chapter in the American Red Cross.

Early on in my deployment, I wrote about how so many of my fellow volunteers seemed to be devout Christians, and how strange I felt in that environment. What I finally realized since then it wasn’t so much faith issues that separated us, but our employment history and place of origin. No duh!

I’m a “white collar” city guy, born and bred, while the majority of my compatriots were blue collar small towners. It’s not so much having money or not, but what sort of jobs you’re used to, I guess, that make the difference. I’m sure a lot of those folks have way more disposable income than me. But the experience really pointed out how insular my world is, where all my friends are artists, writers, or journalists, with a couple of lawyers thrown in for “balance.” Other than my building superintendent, I don’t know many laborers, farmers, electricians, factory workers, or shop owners. There’s definitely truth to some of the city-vs-country clichés: for one thing, urbanites definitely talk a lot faster than other folks. And we’re way more serious — or is it neurotic? In any case, non-urban people seem generally a lot… jollier.

Combine all these factors with the large number of seniors on the deployment, and we’re talking about some big gaps — generational, economic, ethnic, cultural, religious. No wonder I had trouble “connecting” with people for a while. Happily for me, in the last ten or so days that I was there, I fell in with a younger crowd. Even though they also hailed from small towns — in Illinois, Vermont, New Hampshire, California, Kansas, etc., — we had much more in common — and they weren’t such Jesus freaks! (Sorry; couldn’t resist.) I ended up having some great conversations about our mission, the people of the area, books, sports, TV — stuff other than church groups and people’s kids. (Although I had to endure far too many recaps of drunken sex escapades for my taste.) Mainly, I realized that if I had to choose which side I’m on, the 20-Something Searchers or the Wise Retirees, I’m still young at heart.

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[from left: me, Aaron (29), Chris (20), Tony (50-something), Nate (22)]

8 thoughts on “City Mouse, or The Guy From Brooklyn

  1. Welcome back! If Mar weren’t so far along in her preggers I would have been there with you; she okayed the idea, but I nixed it, needing to do some disaster relief around the Katrina-like mess of the apartment. Great post.
    I notice you didn’t post your age in the picture, you neurotic ethnic city boy you.

    1. oh sure, the ol’-my-wife-is-eight-month’s-pregnant dodge!
      everyone knows i’m practically Methuselah next to those young pups. i’m just glad Tony was in the picture too to help represent the emotionally-immature-geezer contingent.

  2. Thank You…
    My name is Mandi and i’d like to personally thank you… You see I’m from biloxi i moved shortly before the storm… My home, everything that i loved and knew is now gone. I tried to go to the coast but they wouldnt let me cause i tested positive on a pregnancy test… People like you tear at my heart… You are a true american. Thank you for helping my friends and family on the coast to regain the confidence it takes to live… I actually found your LJ thru someone who is on the coast who really appreciated what you did for the red cross in Mississippi… I dont even have the words to describe my feelings all i can say is THANK YOU!

    1. Re: Thank You…
      Hey Mandi,
      Wow, what can I say? You make it sound like I did something heroic. All I did was try to help, and the Red Cross enabled me to do that. I honestly feel like any able-bodied person could have done what I did — and they did. There were OLD people — folks in their late 60s and early 70s — doing the same stuff I did. I was proud to be part of such a wide-ranging group of volunteers.
      Like you said, I think the thing I we did more than anything else was help restore people’s confidence, restore their fighting spirit. And I saw examples of that as time went by. People rebuilding their homes, repairing roofs and fences, regaining their senses of humor. It was a beautiful thing.
      Best of luck to you, and I hope you find your comfort zone up here in the cold Northern states.

    2. Re: Thank You…
      p.s. I don’t want to forget to say how sorry I am to hear about your old home being destroyed. To me, that’s unimaginable. Hopefully, someday they’ll be able to rebuild the area back to something similar. In the meantime, it will all remain forever in your memories.

  3. Chris
    Thanks for the pic of Chris. I only have one of him, and he is such a character! We are going to look him up on our road trip to NY next summer. Seems there are soooo many volunteers from NY/Conn area in our kitchen..
    ~emtSue aka Cambrogirl

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