Tag Archives: Burlington

Feeling Like an Outsider

For a few years my wife and I had thought about moving to Connecticut where my parents still lived in the house I grew up.  I was not all that happy with Philadelphia.  I did not like my job and I did not have that many friends.  My wife liked it there but she was willing to make a move.  So for a few years while I worked for Dechert I had been conducting a job search in Connecticut.  I waived into the Connecticut bar (a process which took more than a year of amassing records and dealing with the court system).  I was even approached by The Hartford (an insurance company in Hartford, CT) and interviewed for a position that seemed like it would solve all my problems. I ended up not getting the position.  After that my wife and I decided to stop looking to move to Connecticut and decided to buy a nicer house in Philadelphia in an effort to commit to the area and establish roots.

This issue about establishing roots has its origin in the fact that ever since I graduated from college I never felt like I belonged anywhere. When I was young I felt like I belonged in Connecticut even though I was bullied, picked on and humiliated.  When I went to college in Boston I felt like I belonged there.  I was on the same level with all of my peers who were from various places around the country.  But once I graduated from college and could not find a job I fell off the life track that I was supposed to be on and that I felt all my peers were on and had left me behind.  As such, I was so humiliated and felt like I had to hide from the world because I no longer legitimately held a place there.

This feeling stayed with me.  When I moved to Burlington, VT I felt like an outsider there because I was not hippy enough.  When I moved to Washington, DC I felt like an outsider because I did not have a good enough (i.e., well paying and connected job).  When I moved to New Orleans for law school I felt like I belonged on one level because I was on the same level as all my fellow students.  But deep in my heart I felt like I did not belong because I was not a native to New Orleans.  After New Orleans, I was an outsider in Scranton because I was not born and raised there.  And when we moved to Philadelphia I was an outsider there first because I was not a native to the area but also because the firm I worked for treated me as a second-class citizen.

This feeling like an outsider is a bit of a “chicken and the egg” phenomenon.  On the one hand, did I feel like an outsider because I carried that feeling with me?  In other words would I have felt that way no matter where I went?  Did I attract situations where I would feel like an outsider?  The job a Dechert would seem to support this theory.

So my wife and I decided to buy a bigger house during the height of the housing bubble.  We made some money selling our starter house but in order to buy our larger dream house I borrowed some money from my father.  He seemed happy to give me the money at the time but later I felt ashamed for having done that.  Especially after the housing market crashed and I lost my job and we were no longer able to pay the mortgage.  At first we tried to sell our house but there were no takers after the crash.  During this time I burned through my 401K that I accumulated over eight years at Dechert.  Just as that money was about to run out we were able to rent the house.  By this time we were living in Connecticut living with my parents.

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The Neo-Hippies of Burlington, Vermont Circa 1993

Lake Champlain from the Burlington wharves

Lake Champlain from the Burlington wharves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the summer of 1993 after I graduated from college I moved to Burlington, Vermont to live with my cousin who was in graduate school at UVM.  Before I moved up there I sold all my CDs at the local head shop.  I had a bunch of Pink Floyd, Allman Brothers, The Who, Beatles and Grateful Dead I had been collecting since high school.  I had the notion that by selling my CDs I was saying good-bye to the old me and ushering in a new chapter of my life.  I remember driving up 91 North feeling optimistic.

My cousin had an apartment on Maple Street with this guy Collin.  They had an extra room with a mattress on the floor for me to sleep on.  Collin had one yellow tooth in the front of his mouth.  He was always making us feel like we were horrible roommates because we left dishes in the sink.  “There is no dish fairy,” he said one time.  I seem to remember him leaving dishes in the sink as well.  One time we were in another apartment with some of my cousin’s friends and Collin came over to lecture us about not leaving the light on when we were gone.  He said something about the Inuit people being displaced so that a dam could be built to supply America with power.  He was part of this neo-hippie culture prevalent in Burlington at the time.  For the most part we put up with Collin’s behavior.  I felt bad and wrong that I kept disappointing him as a roommate but looking back on it he was just an asshole.

Burlington was full of these neo-hippies who smoked pot, listened to Phish and drank “Good Beer”.  I did all that stuff too but I felt like an outsider most of the time.  I kept my hair short and I guess that made me suspect.  The apartment across the parking lot (the one Collin lectured us in) had some younger kids my cousin knew.  I think he taught a few of them.  He always wanted to go over there and get high.  There was this one guy named Raph (or something) with long hair who played guitar.  I remember being over there, sitting around listening to him play and wanting to leave but feeling awkward about it.  It felt like they would be offended with me if I got up to go.  There were so many times I sat there, completely baked wanting to leave.  Another time I was walking down the street to the barber shop.  I passed those kids in the street and said hello.  They asked where I was going so I told them.  They seemed to think it was funny that I was getting my hair cut.  Sometimes we went to parties but it was always the same scene. I always felt judged for being straight-laced by their standards. The funny thing was that I was no stranger to partying. I felt so judged by these people posing as peace-loving, free spirits.

There were some good people there too.  My cousin had some older friends that we hung out with and went swimming in this huge quarry that filled up with water.  I remember going out with my cousin and eating Gravy fries at this bar Nectars where the band Phish played before they got big.  I got a job working in this restaurant on Church Street called “The Coyote Café” and met some cool people there too.

One time my cousin left for a couple of weeks to see a few Grateful Dead concerts.  He invited me to come with him but if I did I would lose my job at the restaurant.  So I felt compelled to stay.  I remember a conversation with my father where he told me he was proud of me for not going with my cousin.  My cousin’s friend from Notre Dame named Axel visited at that time.  I remember we spent a lot of time together.  He taught me how to play some chords on a guitar I bought on Church Street.  I remember sitting in the apartment with him feeling bored and awkward when Collin would walk through the room.  I did feel like I bonded with him though.  Years later I met up with him again thinking we would be on friendly terms but he was a dick.

I remember wearing Tevas (a type of sandal) for the first time.  I felt liberated.  It was hot and I did not have to wear socks.  One time I was walking back to the apartment in torrential rain having a great time splashing in the rivers on the side of the road going down the hill.

My girlfriend from college came to visit.  I remember my cousin made fun of us for bringing a case of Rolling Rock back to the apartment because it was not “Good Beer”.  One time when I got back from work she told me about a conversation she had with my cousin.  He told her that I did not like to party (I forget the context).  This surprised her because of what it was like at college.  I guess for whatever reason I did not fit in with the neo-hippies my cousin hung around with.  Interestingly, my girlfriend grew up in Nashville, Tennessee with one of the kids in the other apartment.  Small world.

Another memory stands out from that time.  I had this beat up pair of bucks that I wore to work.  By the end of the summer they were covered in grease and crap from working in the kitchen at the restaurant.  I was going to throw them away because they looked horrible.  “But are they comfortable?” my cousin asked me.  I felt annoyed.  I did not want to answer him.  They were comfortable as a matter of fact but he was implying that I was committing some kind of moral offense by throwing away comfortable shoes simply because they looked bad.  This is part of that neo-hippie ethic.  It’s not what’s on the outside that matters, I guess is the central theme of the ethic (that and everything the white man does is horrible).  If I throw out a pair of comfortable shoes because they look bad then I am being a slave to fashion or giving into the man or societal pressure or something along those lines.  In the meantime this neo-hippie ethic was so politically correct and so judgmental.  I don’t think that was any better than the straight-laced alternative.  At the time I did not know why his question “But are they comfortable?” annoyed me so much.  I probably partially blamed myself for being annoyed with him.  The annoyed feeling was my true self talking to me.  Feelings are always right.

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