by Megan L. Wood
When I moved from Wisconsin to the Lower East Side in January, I quickly discovered my deep Midwest roots were very uncool. After a few smirks and condescending remarks about how I must be feeling “culture shock” in the big city, I learned not to broadcast the fact that I was raised and educated in, as our license plates proudly proclaim, America’s Dairyland.
It wasn’t always easy. When my date at Max Fish ordered a can of PBR, I didn’t tell him that my grandpa and his VFW friends considered it treason to drink anything that hadn’t been bottled in Milwaukee. When my neighbor wore a Green Bay Packer jersey over her skinny jeans, I kept quiet about the fact that my father, like all decent men born and bred in Wisconsin, owned a small piece of the team. And when a photographer at a birthday party in Brooklyn patiently explained to me how she recently canned garlic scapes, I refrained from sharing my mother’s recipe for pepper jelly.
But what a year! With Bon Iver’s second Wisconsin-recorded album in heavy hipster rotation and Chad Harbach’s Wisconsin-set The Art of Fielding on seemingly every Kindle on the L train, a strange realization occurred to me: Instead of leaving my tiny hometown in central Wisconsin to live in the white-hot center of cool, I could have just stayed in Waupaca (population 6,265) and churned out Styles section pieces for the New York Times until the cows came home — because, literally, there are cows down the street from the house. Without even trying, it seems, I was born in the coolest place on earth — and now everyone is trying to catch up.
The New York Times credited Bill Hemmer, a Fox news anchor, with bringing the traditional backyard game of Cornhole — along with, one imagines, countless bad ‘cornhole’ jokes — to New York. Hemmer said, “I find it to be a very charming, passive, social summer game.” But my dad could have brought his monogrammed Cornhole set to the big city years ago. Like my old man always says, “You know it’s summer when it’s warm enough to Cornhole in the yard.” And while on the subject of corn, it’s worth mentioning that while some New Yorkers have no problem waiting on line at Cafe Habana for the Brooklyn eatery’s “famous” corn, my parents have an actual entire cornfield in their backyard. No waiting required. Except for the actual growing.
Earlier this summer, the Times excitedly announced the opening of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a cheese factory and retail store, in the Flatiron District. Beecher’s sells fresh cheese curds for the princely sum of $22-a-pound. Maybe these curds are so fresh they squeak when you bite into them, as required, but Cheesie Bob, of Cheesie Bob’s Bleu Cheese House boasts that “In Wisconsin cheese making is not only an art but a significant part of Wisconsin’s heritage.” Oh, and Cheesie charges $5.25 for a pound of fresh cheese curds. For non-locals who don’t know that Friday is the best day for curds, Cheesie puts out a sign letting tourists know.
All summer long my Brooklyn boyfriend has been begging me to go canoeing on the Gowanus Canal with the Gowanus Dredgers, a group that offers paddling trips on the highly polluted water. “We’ll have to be careful not to splash ourselves,” he keeps telling me. I grew up on the Chain O’ Lakes, a series of 22 glacial lakes, where it’s still safe to get mildly moist. And at least there I can go for a dip and never see a single “Coney Island whitefish.”
According to the Times, the closest most young New Yorkers get to deer hunting is playing Big Buck Hunter, an arcade game with a dedicated subculture. One of the game’s champions, Alex DerHohannesian, was quoted in the Styles section back in May, saying “I’ve never really hunted before.” Although DerHohannesian (“DerHo,” to his friends) admitted that he “shot a squirrel once for Pioneer Day in middle school… cooked it and ate it, and it was god awful.” In June, in a Times magazine profile of Justin Vernon (yes, Bon Iver), Jon Caramanica went for what could only be described as a bit of Wisco porn, quoting the indie howler and Kanye West protégé on hunting: “The first time I ever did it, it was kind of beautiful… I was like, wow, I feel more mortal. I feel less important.” Well, three of my uncles have decorated their basements with head trophies (likely years before Taavo Somer raided his first country rummage sale) and boast that their venison is the best in Waupaca county.
As I write this, I’m sitting at my parent’s kitchen table, wearing my Grandfather’s old flannel shirt and looking out at the cornfield. The salt lick my dad placed out in the yard earlier this summer has been licked to nearly a nub by deer and I’m finding myself at a bit of a crossroads: Should I go back to New York to live among the squares? After all, everyone in New York is just so exceedingly tardy to discover trends. Maybe I’ll just stay here and finally start that pie shop with my mom on the site of the old Waupaca Café. Together we can count down the days until the Styles reporters show up for a profile.
Megan L. Wood has written for the Matador Network, Centro y Sur and CNN.com. She’s still waiting for Cribbage to make it big.