This town ain’t big enough for the both of us,” is something you’d hear one cowboy say to another in an old shoot’-em-up western movie. These days I hear it from the average city dweller, figuratively speaking. Increasingly, as big as Birmingham is, everyone seems to run into someone they know, and some folks don’t care for it! A person who grew up in a town with a population of 2,000 people may say, “This town’s getting too small for me. I gotta get outta here!” Later, after moving to the big city, that same person may say something like, “This town’s getting too big for me. I gotta get outta here!” Perhaps we’re never really satisfied, or perhaps we’re just ever-evolving when it comes to what makes us happy regarding our neighbors or lack thereof. But I can’t help but notice that so many people are bothered that they know everybody and everybody knows them. Let’s examine, shall we?
I never heard Andy Taylor complain to Barney Fife that Mayberry was getting too close for comfort. Floyd the barber never said, “Oh great. Here comes that a-hole Opie Taylor again. God, I can’t stand that guy. When is he gonna grow up, leave town and direct Apollo 13!” Even Otis the town drunk was so familiar with Andy and Barney, he’d take the key off the hook and let himself into jail. A self-imprisoning, inebriated vagrant? I’d kill to live in that society! Granted, that society seems to have a total population of only 12 people. At least that’s all I ever saw in reruns. But more importantly, the citizens of Mayberry only saw the same 12 people every week and for years and never seemed to get tired of each other’s company. I know it’s a fictional town, full of fictional people, but maybe it’s also a lesson that familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt. It’s easy to hate a couple hundred people, but maybe not so easy to hate 12. Also, if Sheriff Andy Taylor and Matlock met on the street and came in contact with each other, would it cause a temporal paradox resulting in an explosion that would reduce them to subatomic particles and open a worm hole?
Ohhh God, I just had a nerdgasm!
Let’s look a little closer at the whole “familiarity breeds contempt” thing. Some people can’t stand to go to their favorite places around town because they’re sick of seeing the same handful of people. Even if they find that handful to be really nice and a joy to be around. “I can’t go to Bottletree tonight cause I just know Leslie’s going to be there. She’s always there.” Well, the only reason you know she’s there all the time is because you’re there all the time. Maybe she’s sick of seeing you, too. Perhaps this explains why so many people pay a cover charge at Bottletree for a band and just stay on the porch smoking the entire time and never, ever listen to the band. You just paid $10 dollars to talk to your friend. You could’ve done that outside, stupid. For free!
It’s getting so my single friends can’t date anymore. Using personal experience, let me explain. Probably the biggest (it’s a small town) revelation, is art openings. If you’ve attended one and found yourself thinking, “I’ve dated two-thirds of these people, I need to get outta here,” you’re not alone. I’m in a relationship now, but when I was single and not feeling great about it, I ventured out to an art opening to cheer myself up. It was Naked Art Gallery, and the usual cadre of patrons were there to admire the quirky, cool, kitchy offerings of the night. I greeted the folks I knew and eventually thought about the women in attendance. Many of them had either been on at least one date with me, dated a friend of mine, or were friends with another woman I went on a date with. “This is getting downright incestuous,” I thought. So I sympathize with friends who feel like the dating pool is more like an eight-inch-deep kiddie pool with only one inflatable sea horse for 30 people to share.
So Birmingham feels like a small town, you say? Join the club. Everyone says the same thing about their town, whether it be big or small. Right now in Huntsville, Montgomery, San Francisco, Denver, Washington, D.C., and Austin, someone is sick of seeing that same guy or girl or group again and again. True story: I was walking down a bustling street in Manhattan, a bigass city, full of people I’ve never seen in my life and will never see again even if I moved there and stayed for 20 years. I turn a corner and, BAM, I run into my friend Chris Parks. Chris also lives in Birmingham, in my neighborhood! We stopped and exchanged the usual pleasantries followed by the obligatory, “Small world, huh?” We asked each other what we were doing in NYC. He was visiting friends and just taking in the sites. I, of course, was on another one of my undercover Black Ops missions for the shadowy, secret organization that, unbeknownst even to the President of the United Sates, operates under the radar of the U.S. government.
But that’s neither here nor there. My point is, when we said, “Small world, huh,” truer words were never spoken, and they’re not bad words really. Most times, it’s quite nice.
If you’re tired of hanging around the same group of folks, try a new restaurant, club, park or sport. It’ll be exciting and new. At least until you get tired of that, too. Since some things never change, I know the generations of the distant future will complain about the same thing.
“I can’t go to Bottletree’s Interstellar Sub-orbital Space Pavilion tonight cause I just know Leslie’s gonna be there. She’s always there.”
“Here’s the thing…” is a weekly column featuring humor and commentary by Christopher Davis, comedian and host of Fresh Ground Comics and View of the City. Send your feedback to email@example.com.