What is it that composes the character of our communities? How do we define the differences that separate us and the similarities that bring us together? I've been mulling this over recently as I've witnessed a particular town, New Paltz, react to the death of one of its oddball characters, Ludwig Montesa. (Jennifer Gutman has penned a thoughtful remembrance of Ludwig, as he was known to all, "A Community's Character".) Allow me to oversimplify: New Paltz holds a vision of itself as an antidote to the blandness of a typical American town. It tolerates alternative lifestyles (viz. Mayor West's prescient gay marriage activism in 2004). Main Street is narrow and twists and dips and jams traffic at the slightest provocation. It fosters lifestyle-based businesses like hole-in-the-wall wine bars and book and record stores. There are no chain stores downtown (except Starbucks, which everyone seems to like.) It cherishes funkiness and offbeat creativity, which Ludwig was emblematic of—so much so though that there is a town-wide event planned in his honor on May 25.
The reaction to Ludwig's death, and the desire to mark his passing with an outsized ceremony, is also a celebration of what the community values about itself—a place where a young man could live a gender-bending lifestyle and find universal acceptance. In grief, the town proclaims: We are a tribe. (This is not to say that everyone who lives in New Paltz sees the town this way. Surely there are people who fervently wish that perhaps we could go back to a time when a man would not be seen walking down Main Street in platform heels.)
And then I witnessed a different kind of tribal activity watching the first game of the Knicks-Celtics playoff series on April 20, five days after the Boston Marathon bombing. Before the game at Madison Square Garden, star players from both teams briefly addressed the crowd, and then color guard units from the New York and Boston fire departments jointly presented the American flag. The playing of the natinal anthem was then followed by a chant of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" (Followed closely by the equally familiar chant: "Let's Go Knicks!")
I understand why. The crowd at MSG was asserting its own tribal affiliation: To our country, which had just been attacked by men with exotic names from a part of the world unlike ours. (Of course, as Eric Francis Coppolino notes in "Once Upon a Time in Boston," this could just as easily describe US foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.) We invite people to the US—the poor, the huddled masses, the wretched refuse, all the hoo-hah engraved on the pedestal on the Statue Liberty—and this is how they repay us. And the reaction of the crowd at MSG: fear disguised as triumphalism.
Here's what I think: We are all in this tribe together—you, me, Ludwig Montesa, the Tsarnaev brothers, the crowd at MSG, all the US soldiers overseas and all the locals who hate that. And we don't have to get along; conflict is seemingly hardwired into our combative DNA and we will always fight. But let's be clear about what we're fighting. Let's fight for something, like openness and inclusion. Let's not fight against something we hardly understand.
Family Fun Day
On June 2, we'll be hosting a Family Fun Day with the YMCA of Kingston and Ulster County at the Rosendale Recreation Center from 12 to 5pm. There will be music and storytelling with Uncle Rock and Story Laurie; field games for the whole family, like Ultimate Kickball, Human Bingo, and my favorite—the 50-Yard Scream; participatory drumming and dancing for kids; performances by the Percussion Orchestra of Kingston (POOK) and the Energy Dance Company; theater by the New Genesis teen actors; and more fun activities. For more information, check our Chronogram Kids & Family page on Facebook.
Department of Corrections
In our April issue, in an article on socially responsible investing ("Impact Investing: Money Management + Social Action"), we misquoted Don Shaffer, president and CEO of RSF Social Finance. The public benefit corporation has 1,300 investment partners, not 15. Also, in an article on Cold Spring, Garrison, and Mahopac ("Well-Kept Secrets"), we misspelled Russel Wright's name as Russel White. Our apologies.