Friday, June 4, 2010

gretna green



: a place where many eloping couples are married

The phrase GRETNA GREEN comes from the name of a village on the English-Scottish border to which young couples fled in order to elope outside the jurisdiction of England's strict 18th century marriage laws.

Life on a border is a fascinating place. In certain spots, you can look down the street and see where the rules no longer apply.

During snow storms in Connecticut, it was obvious where towns began and ended based on the quality of street-cleaning. Driving over some town lines, the gravel instantaneously changed from wet to dangerously icy. As a child I didn't really understand that different towns allotted different budgets for these services. I actually thought other towns were "colder", henceforth causing the streets to be icier.

The hugest liquor store I've ever seen was called Yankee Spirits, located in South Attleboro, Massachusetts, about a mile over the Rhode Island state line. Unlike Rhode Island, Massachusetts could legally sell alcohol on Sundays, so the store attracted many border-crossing patrons. The building's facade was brick and fairly nondescript, boasting huge red neon letters, one in each window, that spelled out the name. Like a porn store, you couldn't really see inside from the street, but the parking lot was always bustling as though people were stocking up on canned goods before a storm rolled in. Most of my coworkers at Guitar Center (located just north of the liquor emporium) would make mid-Sunday beer runs to Yankee in order to replenish their reserve before driving back to Providence after their shifts. Sometimes they also drank beers in the sales office while watching Sunday football on a tiny television with a rabbit ear antenna.

When I was 19 I applied to the Interior Design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I don't remember why. I guess I wanted to go to art school. In addition to the portfolio, the application process involved four assignments, one of which was to illustrate a quote. I instead chose the cliche: the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I drew a comic illustration depicting a few cows sparsely placed in a field of dry, brown grass. Behind them stood a fence, beyond which there were several cows grazing in a lush, green field. And beyond the second group sat a building labeled: HAMBURGER FACTORY. Somehow I was accepted into this institution, but I decided not to go based on feeling like an outsider at the orientation.

For some reason, even though we all know the answer, many people still feel the need to ask others on their birthdays, "So, do you feel any different?" No. I don't feel any different. Nor did I feel different when I first menstruated, lost my virginity, or graduated high school. Sometimes these milestones are interpreted as borders or thresholds to be crossed. But it's just like driving into Canada—life is kind of the same.

GRETNA GREEN is a lot like a fireworks stand over the Connecticut/Massachusetts border—a place where people can go to legally do something that remains illegal within their frame of reference. Rebellion without consequences. Toy guns. Fake tattoos. Candy cigarettes. If I ever elope over a state line, I will make sure to include all of these items in the goody-bags handed out at my wedding reception, which I still hope to hold in the basement of a V.F.W. hall.

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