Triangle Theory

The Three Least Cool (But Most Awesome) Places to Be From in the United States

I’ve been watching The Sopranos for the first time. Apparently it’s the twenty year anniversary, but I didn’t know that until after I started watching. I think I was just desperate for some “prestige TV” after Bodyguard left me cold. (This week’s email was very nearly “Things I Have Yelled at the Screen While Watching Bodyguard”.)

Anyway, I’ve had two interesting revelations: First, I liked Tony Soprano way too much. I know he’s an antihero, really the ur-antihero of Peak TV, but for the first few episodes I just saw him as neurotic and affable. Then he slapped his mistress around and had his nephew threaten to kill a dog, and I finally could admit that yes, this is a bad guy. Although it is a little weird that I watched him beat up and even kill people and still found him avuncular. I suppose I just saw his mistress and the dog as innocent parties. (OK, yes, the dog belonged to a sexual predator, but that’s not the dog’s fault.)

Second, and more surprisingly, I miss New Jersey.

Actually, it’s not that surprising. I have a lot of happy memories of New Jersey: my college boyfriend was there, and we’d often take the New Jersey Transit to his parents’ house on weekends and holidays. I even recovered from having my wisdom teeth taken out there. When I reunited with Danny Devito a few years ago for the Matilda reunion, one of the first conversations we had was about New Jersey, and how it “isn’t what people think it is.” Mostly, though, I like the people I know from there.

Look, it’s a big country. As much as I might love Minnesota and Wisconsin, as beautiful as Washington State and Oregon may be, as friendly as the South can be, as terrified I have learned to be of ever saying anything less than positive about Philadelphia or Boston (for the record, they are both very fun cities to visit, and Gritty fuckin’ rules), I don’t always get the people from them. They have their own culture, their own rituals and rivalries, their own ways of being polite or impolite. They’re too proud of where they come from, or too pretentious about it.

That’s why I have a theory: there’s a connection between people who come from three particular parts of the United States. (And most of the time, have moved away, or at least spent time away from there.) Every time I meet people from one of these places, I know we’ll get along. We seem to understand each other. If I map out where most of my friends and people I’ve dated have come from, it makes something of a triangle: New Jersey, Florida, and Southern California.

I call it Triangle Theory, though I have reconsidered renaming it, because there’s a fourth place that I consider an honorary part. No, not New York City: everyone I knew who grew up in New York is just too painfully cool. Regardless of their borough or neighborhood they all have a sophisticated air about them, something the rest of us can only hope to imitate. (I’d also argue that Miami may be too cool to be part of the Triangle.) No, the other part is Long Island. Think about the people you know from Florida and New Jersey. Then think about the people you know from Long Island, and think about the jokes people make about it. See what I mean?

For a while I thought that the connection was mostly demographic, that our home states had a similar ethnic makeup and a similar immigrant culture. Most fellow Ashkenazi Jews I meet grew up somewhere in the Triangle, after all. But it’s not just that. We all have the beach culture, and the vacation cities people love to come to, make a mess of, and leave. We all the have embarrassing bands or singers that we love unconditionally and will defend to the death. (I never knew anyone on the East Coast who would admit they liked Sublime until I lived with a girl from Long Beach, Long Island.) We are all defined by our proximity to much more interesting and beautiful places, and most of us end up moving away to these much more interesting and beautiful places. Most of all, we’re used to other places seeing us as a joke.

“Florida and New Jersey make sense,” some might say. “But Southern California? Southern Californians are supposed to be cool.” To them, I say, you’re not thinking of real Southern Californians. You’re thinking either of attractive fame or spiritual seekers who moved to California and never talk about where they’re actually from, or someone from a fictionalized, mythologized version of Southern California. You’re thinking of Orange County, which has a bunch of TV shows and movies made about it, not of Riverside County, which has a bunch of cows. (OK, yes, Riverside County had a movie made about it, but it was a David Lynch movie.)

“Surely L.A., is cool, though?” L.A., I would argue, is as much of a punchline as New Jersey and Florida. We are a city that exists so people from Massachusetts can move to it, become TV writers, and make jokes on TV about what a crappy city it is. Tell someone you’re proud to be from D.C. or Chicago, and they’ll say “cool.” Tell somebody you’re proud to be from Los Angeles, and they’ll ask what the hell is wrong with you.

People from the Triangle get it. While we love where we’re from, we have a sense of humor about it, because we have to. And that’s why we get along. We know we’ll never be cool, but we’re still awesome. Together.

Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Bubble and Squeak (Synopsis: two women who run a Bed and Breakfast solve murder mysteries)