Though I moved from Massachusetts 22 years ago, a recent interaction brought me straight back to my home state with sudden, unexpected clarity. I was listening to a couple of friends – one from New Mexico and the other from Texas – describe the cliques in their respective high schools. They soon realized that, in both regions, students who’d listened to country music and dressed like cowboys/girls (cowpeople?) had been referred to as “shit-kickers.” Intrigued by this discovery of shared nomenclature, my friends turned to me and asked what those kids had been called in my hometown. I thought for a moment, then replied, “He was called Billy.” In response to their confused looks, I added, “We just had the one.”
Poor Billy moved from Texas to Eastern Massachusetts at the beginning of high school, and he could not possibly have stood out more with his oversized cowboy hat, tight blue jeans, and giant silver belt buckle with the obscure warning: Don’t Mess with Texas. (I remember reading it and thinking, What the hell does that even mean?) Looking back, I must admit we made Billy’s transition to his new hometown pretty miserable, as Bay Staters (or Massholes, as we are aptly nicknamed) have little tolerance for anything “country.” [Case in point: last week, I heard from a childhood friend who’s raising her kids in Eastern Mass. As she lamented being the parent of a teenager, she offered this evidence of her daughter’s current, unacceptable behavior: “The other day I found myself outside her bedroom, pounding on the door and yelling, ‘We do not listen to country music in this house!’“]
A while back, I saw an episode of The Good Place in which Bad Janet insulted somebody (paraphrased: “Why don’t you shove it up your butt, you fat dink?”) and another rep from the Bad Place gave her a high-five. As I watched their interaction, I thought, Hmm. The Bad Place might be Massachusetts. Because that was a key element to social interactions during my formative years: whoever could deliver the most cutting insults got the biggest laughs and heartiest pats on the back. Mind you, these insults weren’t reserved for enemies. They were also for loved ones. We all (with the exception of poor Billy, bless his heart) honed our social skills by practicing the formulation and delivery of wicked burns with the most razor sharp cruelty possible.
It wasn’t until I moved out of Massachusetts that I learned not everyone relates to others in this way. For example, it turns out it’s not common practice to flip the bird to anyone who toots the horn while driving past me. Who knew? Also, it’s apparently not cool to burst out laughing when someone falls down, then proceed to tell that person what a clumsy idiot he or she is. Believe me, it took several years for my communication norms to be deprogrammed. I still need to tamp them down on a daily basis. And I am eternally thankful my thoughts aren’t audible, so every stranger who walks by with a smile and asks, “How are you?” won’t hear the response: “None of your business, asshole.”
To conclude, I’ll leave you with a couple of fun facts that I just learned:
(1) The word Masshole was added to the Oxford English Dictionary on June 24, 2015, and
(2) Hot mess, fo’ shizzle, and stanky were added that very same day.