Amid thunderclouds and ripening corn, I drove to work this morning, sleeplessly and deliriously marveling at this strange new parallel universe I have entered: Wisconsin. Ross and I have been residents of Madison, WI for nearly two weeks now, and every day seems to pack a whopper of a ‘sconi punch
It all began, of course, with a rain-soaked move into our still-not-unpacked condo about two weeks ago. After spending a week packing non-stop in Chicago, we arrived in Madison with our entire families in tow. Never having met before, they quickly met and moved onto unloading our 24-foot truck into our 900-square-foot condo. I think the parents bonded over their worried marveling about how we would ever fit all of our (mostly extraneous) belongings into our petite-yet-perfect new home. They had plenty of time to marvel, thanks to the super-movers we scored on Craig’s List–not only did they unload the entire truck in less than two hours, but Trinity, the head mover, carries around a photo of Bon Jovi and himself on tour together. Dude! Our $20-an-hour mover is Bon Jovi’s opening band, and he’s got the hairdo to prove it!
We spent the better part of the next week moving boxes back and forth around our apartment. With nowhere to actually unpack them, we figure periodically shuffling them to a new room is the next best thing. My personal goal was to be totally moved in by the time of start of work, but that was foiled by, well, us. My other personal goal was to be well rested for the start of work, but that was foiled by, well, tornadoes. Yep, you heard, me: tornadoes. Or rather, the threat of tornadoes.
The night before I was due to go to work for the first time, just as I’m brushing my teeth before bed, a weird siren sounds. “What is that?” I asked Ross. My first thought was police sirens or a bomb threat, but Ross was more in touch with his own Midwestern roots than I was: “Uh, Gibbs, that’s a tornado siren.” The last time I heard one of those, I was four feet tall livin’ in the burbs and there was still a farm behind our apartment. What do I do, stop, drop and roll? Thank god for Ross: “Grab a radio, and let’s get down to the basement, quick!” In our haste to save our own lives from the approaching tornado, we left the cats to fend for themselves upstairs and rushed to the…EMPTY basement. No one else in the apartment building budged. The radios barely mentioned the tornado warning. We sat foolishly in the basement for about ten minutes, then came to our senses and realized it was probably more important to be cool about these things than to actually save our lives. We went to bed, only to be awakened at 4 in the morning (the night before I start my new job, mind you!) by ninety minutes of tornado sirens! I thought the world was surely ending, but I kept my cool this time. I sauntered into the hall a few times: no stirrings. I stood at the window to check out our imminent doom: Nothing but still catalpa leaves and a slightly green sky. Not a single weather announcement on the radio? What is Madison’s deal? Doesn’t anyone care that they could be smashed to bits by some apocalyptic approaching twister? Ross finally cleared his foggy thoughts enough to call the police: Should we be worried? “Oh, no, the siren’s broken. Can’t quite get it to turn off. When it finally does turn off, though, could you let us know? Just dial 9-1-1 and ask for Nate.” A few hours later, I learned that only naive foreigners react to the sirens; the rest of Madison woke up to the sideways rain and gale-force windstorm that Ross and I soundly slept through.
The tornado sirens are just the tip of the Wisconsin iceberg! I work with a brigade of blonde German-Americans, all married, all with children, and all planning their next several pregnancies thanks to Waunakee’s generous benefits and short-term disability insurance. Everyone is perfectly nice, and there’s even a faculty kickball league, but I sense a bit of the alterior Minnesota nice behind the endless smiles and “you betchas.” Maybe I’m a jaded urbanite, but can anyone really smile this much?! I take that back: in Wisconsin, people really do smile that much. I mean, why the hell not? At the grocery store, there are literally FOUR AISLES of cheese, all from Wisconsin and all dirt cheap. At the Saturday morning farmer’s market, you can buy a month’s supply of bratwurst for $3! You can get buffalo meat, ostrich, venison, and pork chops all for less than a beer in Chicago! And did I mention the ten types of eggplant and endless varieties of sweet corn? And that four ears of sweet corn only cost $1? Or that Wisconsin has fabulous microbrews that are cheaper than the already-cheap gourmet cheeses? We’re beginning to understand the extra girth on most Wisconsin waists.
Alas, our beloved local farmer’s market was closed this past weekend by the annual Nazi march on the capital. When we arrived at 11:30, the farmers (who are mostly Hmong, by the way…go figure!) were scrambling to pack up their tents. Why was the market closing early? “The Nazis are coming. The police are worried for our safety.” So worried, in fact, that the riot-gear-free police force stood on corners on their cell phones and talking with market patrons.
Fortunately, our neighborhood is a haven from the likes of the anachronistic Nazis. We live in the hippiest neighborhood of hippy Madison. Every other building is a co-op, a social justice center, an actupuncturist, or a plain old head shop. At our neighborhood festival this weekend, aging white deadheads rocked out to the soulful accordian tones of Buckwheat Zydeco and the Chicago Afrobeat Project…not the music I’d expect from hippies, but then again, the urban hipster seems to be creeping in. Are we the front wave of the “urbanization” of Madison?! The newspaper does run a story every week about the condo blemish upon Madison’s soul, and we do live in a condo…uh-oh. While we refuse to stop washing our hair and wearing socks with our Tevas, we will try to assimilate a little. We shop at the Willy St Co-Op, and we may even call the local pet psychic to find out why our cats are crazy. Yep, we’ve got a local pet psychic.
I love Madison.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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