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Writing Myself West: Freedom Of Me-formation

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Five weeks ago, my dog and I moved to a shared house in the rural Rockies from our one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. Life since then has been a case of geographic loves-at-first-sight.

The small wonders of my new home leave me giddy and grinning. Huge landmasses redefine possibility and beauty. Even the local glitches are loveable, in a cultural-difference-can-be-lovely-if-you-don't-let-it-drive-you-crazy way.

Last week, my new "Rockette" life revealed to me:

*An independent gas station with a tiny, shiny, whole foods mini-mart in place of a Beer-n-Butts stand.

*A harp-and-fiddle holiday duo playing in the aisles of a family run hardware emporium.

*Friends gathering for a 6 pm dinner at...6 pm.

The mountains near our home are famous for its "14'ers," my housemates say. That's hiker shorthand for fourteen-thousand foot heights. I don't hike - yet. But the mountains seem to work philosophically for me, the way they work athletically for other folks.

This week, the trails that connect the flatlands to the peaks caught my attention.

"Every peak requires a downside" , their connective presence seemed to say. "Think about it, dudette," they continued. What good are life's awesome heights if you can't get to 'em?"

This new concept of positive downsides came in handy, as I encountered the first glitch of Mountain life. On the geological bialy of New York City where I used to live, physical space was atomically tight. But my private information was private.

In my new home, life works in exactly the opposite way. The land is large and protected. But my personal information isn't.

I've nicknamed my new homeland's inverse relationship between geological and personal space "RMBS" - that's ex-New-Yorkerese for " Rocky Mountain Buddinsky Syndrome." My first taste of it occurred as I applied for health insurance.
As a self-employed New Yorker, I had grown accustomed to buying the overpriced, awful plan of my choice. (See: here for more.)

But in my new home, thanks to RMBS, I'd have to pass a telephone interview about the last ten years of my personal health, care and prescriptions to be deemed "insurable."

I shuddered when my broker broke the news to me. The last time I'd submitted to an interview this unwanted, I'd ended up with a middle-management job debating commas in a corporate creative department with internal politics sampled from Stalinist Russia. The job had health insurance and a 401K. And yet, in the end?
On second thought, the insurance chat didn't seem so bad.

The underwriter called me at high noon the next day. I was in my car at that time. The radio was off. But I could hear the Ennio Morricone theme from "High Noon" playing in the back of my mind as my prospective plan's hired gun fired her bullets my way.

"In 2002, you filled a prescription for facial wash - why?!"

"Clearer, more radiant skin?" I said, truthfully, yet unoriginally. Stress had reduced my vocabulary to words I'd picked up from TV commercials.

"And that nasal spray in '05?"

"For temporary relief of seasonal allergy symptoms?" I said, trying to hide the wound that last question had reopened. In my role as "voice-over" artist in New York, I auditioned to be the voice of an Animated Fish in a nasal spray commercial. The fish would be the sidekick of an animated nasal-spray promoting bee voiced by Antonio Banderas.

Had I gotten that gig, how my life would have changed! Radio essayist leaps to fame as world-renowned animated...steroid-spray-promoting sidekick to Antonio B., the bee.

If I'd gotten that fish gig, I wouldn't be the me-I-am-today, of course. But maybe I'd be the Sarah Vowell version of me. And from what I've read, that's no bad thing.

Except for that fact that I wouldn't be here if I was there. And these days, here means everything to me.


Three hours later, I was deemed insurable. To celebrate, I drove to the DMV to localize my driver's license.

"Would you like to register to vote while you're here?" the man behind the counter asked.

I nodded, and reached my hand out for a voter registration form.

"Republican, a Democrat or Independent?" he asked, paperlessly.

I was shocked, and appalled. And really shocked. On the East Coast, I'd dated a guy for eight months who refused to tell me whether he dressed left or right, electively. And now a total stranger wanted to know my affiliation without so much as a shared chai latte between us?

"This is so wrong!" I wanted to yell. But all I said was, "Democrat." The DMV man nodded. And then, he fingerprinted me. I drove home in a state approaching blue. I'd been interviewed and fingerprinted, in the land of the free! But luckily, between every two downsides there stands a natural peak.

Acting on impulse, I stopped my car at an independent gas station. The place had a little whole foods market inside it, I'd heard. The idea was so odd I had to see it for myself. The store was a tiny gem of a place, shiny; steel-trimmed, like the little off-highway cafes I'd loved in Italy.

The tousle-haired young man behind the counter turned out to be the owner. He'd opened it five weeks before, he said - on the same day I moved to town. He loves life in the mountains. And yet? He dreams of living in Italy.

Before I drove off, I gave him my email, unasked.

What happens next? I'll keep you posted.

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