It was raining, rather spitting, as I drove into Boulder, today, with the rest of the non-Boulder residents searching for some culture. I was headed to a few well-loved, well-worn boutiques and sidewalks that fill me with an appreciation of art and individual perspective. I was in need of some release from the cursed chains placed on me by predictability and sameness…release from wicked voices in my head speaking the languages of semblance and Pottery Barn. I wasn’t impassioned in my quest. I was gray. Like concrete. Indiscernible. Nondescript. Plain. I can sometimes feel the ordinariness setting in my veins like cement, not wanting to move, knowing that I must or everyone around me will pay the price and I will become a large, angry sofa ornament.
And so I made my five mile journey into Boulder, my Land of Milk and Honey. I call it that with the following disclaimers: It was not nearly as hard earned, and more taken advantage of, and not nearly as holy as the Land of Israel. Half of Boulderites denounce God and religion, the other half believe in mystical beings of all sorts, while there are the isolated few who venture down from the mountain to replenish their “milk and honey” stash while lauding the beauty and intrinsic value of everything from card board boxes to dread locks.
Boulder is all things to all people…or, many things to many people. For me it is my Promised Land. It is my deliverance from the sedentary existence that is life in suburbia. The town outside of Boulder (outside of culture, outside of creativity, outside of art and individual beauty,) that I so carefully researched, paid exorbitant housing prices and HOA fees to, and decided I had to be a part of, has sucked me in and held me under like a vacuum powered fish.
I think I know everything that is happening in my neighbors’ lives, and they claim to know everything going on in mine. Frightening. We like to pretend that we find comfort in knowing that our neighbors are looking out for us and that, for instance, they would notice if someone was stealing our mail, but in truth, we are terrified of what they might find out if they look too closely. They don’t have my back any more than Palestine has Israel’s. They’d chuck me under a bus and race off to put their spin on my story, if they weren’t so scared of falling off the curb, first, compelling me to indulge my own scandalous tongue.
Much comfort, for me, is found in anonymity. I find my comfort in Boulder, walking the broken sidewalks, disappearing among the happy, politically extreme with “Patchouli” clouds bobbing over their heads.
I admit my infatuation with these creatures. When I first saw them, I perceived them as dangerous and riddled with insects.
My brother-in-law has shaved his head bald. Shiny bald. And he has, I have discovered after minutes of researching, what is called a chin beard that is around eleven inches long and maroon in color. On a trip to India, one summer, he said he could not engage the locals in conversation, and they kept looking at him like he had made some sort of mistake. He took this to mean that extreme facial hair meant extremist political views. I think they thought he looked funny, like he’d made a mistake growing his beard out like that.
I suppose that is how I felt, originally, about the Boulderites, that they were extreme and odd looking. And I suppose that is true. I don’t think they would be offended by me pointing that out. I think they look different from us suburbites in order to be set apart…different. They are communicating that they look differently….they think differently. Period.
But I used to be afraid of them. Watching them closely, lest they snatch one of my children as we patronized the pricey kitchen store on Pearl Street, while carefully avoiding eye contact, so as not to accidentally strike up a conversation.
My brother-in-law, the same one with the extremist goatee, intentionally did strike up a conversation with one of the Boulderites on his first visit to Pearl Street. The gentleman was homeless and holding a sign extolling the virtues of God’s grace on our existence, “*and please give me some money for beer. Anything helps.” I think BIL was hoping to hear a touching story of how this man had experienced God’s grace in palpable, heart wrenching manner, but the man, unfortunately was somewhat incoherent and spoke mostly in numbers. I'm sure, had we the ability to hear his story, it would have been touching, heart wrenching even. BIL gave him money for beer and we continued our foray down the mall.
I have learned from that encounter and others like it that the Boulderites are, mostly, harmless, and have a lot to teach me. They’re sometimes loud, but usually quietly playing the guitar or bongo drums for cash or reading thick books by important political writers I have never heard of. They’re sometimes smelly, though not like you’d think. They have foul mouths and laugh, sometimes obnoxiously, at another’s obscene joke, but I think that speaks more of their sense of freedom than anything else. Perhaps that is why I have begun to find myself comfortable in their midst. Their freedom is enticing…that and I may be inadvertently getting addicted to the contact high. But mostly, I think it’s the freedom. They are not afraid of what you will see when you look closely. They wear their diversity with pride. They know they have bugs in their dreads, though not all of them do, but even if they did. They dare you to look. Go on. Look.
I have spiders in my closets and grime on my bathroom floor that I’m afraid to know the genus and phylum to which they belong. I spend so much time trying to cover up the moldy bits of my past, (and, if I’m honest, my present) that I could be missing out on the truly metaphysical, or perhaps the ordinary benefits of being free from the “knowing stares” of people…or free from caring about their “knowing stares.”
And, I have come to realize something else about the Boulderites. I am them. They are me. (Well, now I sound like them. All I have to do is don a colorful head wrap and attend the Reincarnation Yoga Class in front of Whole Foods, and I’ll be a fully vested member!)
What I mean is, I’m sometimes loud and smelly and have a foul mouth. I’ve been known to laugh obnoxiously, but as soon as I realize it, I stop laughing immediately and regain my poise. The very thing that intimidated me in the beginning is the thing I admire and envy most about my dreadlocked counterparts…their unpredictable displays of independence. Truth in their Liberty.