Last Easter weekend, when families came into town and everyone seemed to be out at brunch, I strolled down to the Dunkin’ Donuts on 100th and Broadway for an iced coffee, passing three Starbucks on the way. I always order my iced coffees with a coconut flavor shot because it tastes a bit like sunscreen, the spray kind that also moisturizes. I brought the coffee back to campus and kept the cup for a week after, washing it out so that I could drink water from it.
My love affair with the particular Dunkin’ Donuts brand of mediocre coffee (although, I think their iced tea is stellar—especially if you get it with lemon) began the summer before I got to Barnard. At the end of my shift as a beach attendant (which basically meant lugging around beach chairs for those summering at our town’s overpriced inn) I would drive to the closest Dunkin’ with my little brother. That’s when it finally dawned on me that, despite my best intentions, Maine might be a big part of who I am.
While I was growing up, my dad always told me that I was like him. That, despite growing up in Maine, I was a New Yorker too, and that’s why Maine always felt a bit off. It was really a two-pronged problem: I felt out of place in both my rich, white high school (which was cliquey but not entirely unpleasant) as well as in my state, filled with fishermen and snowmobilers. Try as I might (and I did: hiking, sailing, fishing, all short lived attempts at being “Maine”), it was clear I wasn’t good at being from our coastal town of Cape Elizabeth. I wasn’t athletic, outdoorsy, preppy, or at all satisfied with the size of my world in Maine. And so it was easier to cast myself as a future New Yorker.
I took comfort in that assurance growing up, but as I prepared to leave my home state for college, there was an unconscious softening that made me a little schmaltzy about the “what to do if approached by a bear” training taught at all summer camps in the state and the overpriced souvenir stores of the Maine coastline.
I would reminisce with high school friends about the basic things people generally think about when they think about Maine: the blueberries and the lobsters, the lakes and the mountains. We would remind each other of swims in the freezing salt water that stuck to you like an extra saline skin, so cold that it made your limbs go numb as crushed shells cut at your feet while you waded deeper. At the time we wished for warmer water or smoother sand, but now we remember that our seashore had actually built character. Being sucked into the unfamiliar territory of 116th and Broadway only intensified that feeling of nostalgia. I loved New York, but despite what my dad said, I wasn’t good at it.
So, in college, I dug into New England in ways that I never expected to. Suddenly, years of complaining about the particular brand of whiny toxic masculinity that I was forced to listen to on sports talk radio became bragging about knowing Boston sports fans in all their quirks and complexities: that most can barely make it through a Red Sox game without cursing out every single player, and many New England fans have given up nightshades because Tom Brady informed them that they were inflammatory. Overpriced L.L.Bean jackets stolen from my parents’ closet have become my entire wardrobe, even as I reside in the country’s fashion capital. I never eat seafood in New York out of respect for Maine’s fishing industry (Maryland’s crabs can shove it). I love to brag that I own sweatshirts from towns so small you can only buy their apparel at the gas station. All of this nostalgia is firmly supported by drive-by “facts” about things like Maine’s strong culture of independent politics or how Portland has the most restaurants per capita in the country.
But the truth is, and always has been, that Maine is politically divided (literally, electorally split in half), it’s old (we have a median age of 43.7, the oldest in the nation), it’s white (we recently edged out Vermont as the whitest), and it’s still somehow the “Oh, my family has a vacation home there” state despite having large swaths of people fall below the poverty line. Recently, someone painted “Black Lives Matter” on a wall of rock near the center of my town only to have “Black” crossed out and replaced with “All.” In high school, I felt surrounded by a lot of people unaware or uninterested in their privilege, their whiteness, or the implications of their wealth, and that was probably because our sleepy coastal town never asked them to encounter it.
This all made me want to go someplace where that would be less true. But once I got here, I constantly felt the need to champion all things Maine, and those aforementioned flaws fell away in order for me to embody this identity stripped of its failings.
It was actually WEEI’s latest round of sponsor pulls after a host did a caricatured Asian accent that snapped me out of the unabashed nostalgia. WEEI is New England’s most offensive shock jock sports station, constantly making the news for verbalizing that specific brand of New England “townie” that made me want to come to Barnard in the first place. I heard it a lot growing up, and I hated it a lot growing up. It wasn’t a cool or fun part of my identity-building process, but it’s in there nonetheless.
So maybe that’s the solution to my campus crusade: Every time I tell you about the best lobster roll I’ve ever had, or how the new Pret A Manger really should’ve been a Dunkin’, ask me about Barstool Sports, WEEI, Paul LePage, the opioid epidemic, our median age, vacation homes, white boys rapping in Sperrys, and how much it costs to store a boat during our long, harsh winters. We’ll go from there.
Have fun leafing through our seventh issue!