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Dec 2002 / expatriates :: email this story to a friend

Good News, Bad News
By Kristeen Young

I have good news and bad news for you. First, the bad news: no one in the United States, except Midwesterners, knows where St. Louis is. They think it's New Orleans or St. Paul. And no one outside of the country has ever heard of it. When I lived in St. Louis, no matter how many times I heard this, I didn't believe it. I not only thought I was at the center of the United States, I thought I was at the epicenter of the world.

photo by Leo Weisman The good news is the same as the bad. When someone, or somewhere, is unknown, the future is wide open. The possibilities are endless. Mystery is a romantic and intriguing good thing. I love that not being on the East or the West Coast is just the tip of St. Louis' indecisiveness. I love that the city moves with an East Coast high energy, but talks with a West Coast drawl.

Since moving from St. Louis to the East Coast in November 1998, I've had many thoughts and feelings about my humid hometown become crystal clear (at least for now). I have made a transition of thought, and thought process.

In fact, I would go so far as to say I was never a St. Louisan until I left St. Louis. Shortly after arriving in Pennsylvania, I arrived at a hypothesis about East Coasters. They, or their ancestors, were cowards because they had been too afraid or complacent to venture west. Desperately clutching the Atlantic shore, they said, "This will do." Then, I began to notice that people weren't just close-minded in St. Louis. They were close-minded everywhere. I began to let my lifelong suppressed Missouri accent slip out (and people liked it!?). I started to treasure the quirks of the cursed city built over Indian burial grounds. I started to appreciate the music associated with the region, like the blues, country, ragtime, and Dixieland (music I had completely shut out when I lived there), and I started to let it seep into the music I was writing.

The cynical (like I know most of you St. Louisans are) will call it a case of pedestrian homesickness. But, as pedestrian as my feelings may be, the catalyst of my metamorphosis was not homesickness. It was a conversation with a friend of mine who was raised in Brooklyn.

Not unlike my relationship with St. Louis at the time, he hated everything about Brooklyn, and had done everything within his power to erase every trace of Brooklyn within himself. This seemed ludicrous to me. I loved the music, movies and fire of the people from Brooklyn. He obviously just hated himself if he could not accept and see the beauty of the very place of his origin. And, like I said, things became crystal clear.

I've seen London, I've seen France, I've seen St. Louis' underpants. A recent trip to Europe reinforced my belief in the existence of this problem on a grander scale. Many people I met seemed embarrassed about what they considered to be abysmal cultural conditions within their cities. They just knew it had to be better in the U.S. Funny, that was the very reason I had gone to Europe. I thought the cultural conditions had to be better there!

It is the same. We are all in this vacillating boat together. The old cliché that there is good and bad everywhere was said for a reason. Believe it. Take it to heart. Only then can we truly make a difference in our immediate surroundings and within our own lives, which is the only way to make conditions better anywhere.

This doesn't mean that I'm going to live in Affton and eat Fortel's pizza every Friday night for the rest of my life. Far be it for me to wave the jingoist flag in this global culture. But it does mean I accept that when I'm really tired I'm going to say "warsh" instead of "wash," and my friend from Brooklyn will say "winta" and not "winter." We will both think that the other one's cool and interesting and that we ourselves are nothing but low down, but there's nothing we can do to extract a childhood's worth of memories.

People who are not from St. Louis tend to pronounce the city's name "St. Louie." Even though this pronunciation is closer to the French origin of the name, they aren't trying to be cosmopolitan. They tend to giggle or smirk when they say it, or inflect the name with a sarcastic tone. This light-hearted approach leads me to believe that their associations with the city are cartoonish ones like the musical, "Meet me in St. Louie," or whatever superficial memory they may have of Huck Finn, steamboats, or the "Ark" (as West Coast people call it. My response is always, "No, that's on Mount Ararat.").

People who are from St. Louis will almost always pronounce the name "St. Louis," leaving that dead weight, muddy-thick, undertow recesses of the ol' Mississippi "iss" on the end of it. We know the true character of the heavily overcast, relentlessly suspicious town, and it's not a light one. I have spoken with more than a few ex-St. Louis citizens who think it's a very sexual city. (My theory is that the loins of the nation join at the intersection of Grand and Gravois.)

Kristeen Young is an aspiring, sometimes paid, singer/songwriter of German/ Native American descent. She was born at the now-defunct Regional Hospital, on Delmar Ave. One month later she was adopted by an Affton couple who raised her, in Affton, until they could do no more raisin'. Then, a bunch of other stuff happened. In November 1998 (like you already were told), Kristeen moved from St. Louis to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Sometime in 2001, she moved to W. Nyack, New York. Then, finally, in March 2002, she clawed her way to Manhattan, New York, where she presently resides.

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