Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Where I Hang My Hat

These are representative upright Nordic male citizens of Kingston, New York, in the year 1909. They are in fact--someone wrote on the back of the card--the Van Alen murder jury, although they might as well be the Ale and Quail Club. They do seem to have been put together by someone with an eye as attuned to physiognomy as Preston Sturges's: the bearded sage, the hapless pale accountant, the man whose mustache is bigger than he is, the tall and insufferably earnest farmer, the butcher whose jacket sleeves are always too short, the malevolent elder, the town slob--and that's just the front row.

I've just moved to Kingston.'s a long story, but let's just say that while I've hovered in the orbit of Kingston for some time, I now am truly of the place, a homeowner on a quiet street, one of those settled in the mid-nineteenth century and given a Dutch name in honor of the oldest families. Kingston is one of those sociologically stratified towns; you can tell at a glance that the accountant might have lived on my street, while the banker would have lived one block west, the butcher one block east, and the dog barber two blocks east. Kingston has dozens and dozens of such stratifications--it is an unexpectedly vast town, with at least four and up to a dozen distinct sectors plotted along two perpendicular axes. It was once quietly prosperous, a microcosm of the United States in its early middle age. Now it's merely quiet, and has spent the last half-century bravely trying not to crumble.

I never quite thought I'd fetch up in a place like Kingston. I was meant for the bright lights, I liked to think. But no, life has instructed me: I was meant for Kingston. It is not the bright lights. It possesses a number of railroad grade crossings, two chop suey joints preserved in amber, a bus depot, a dozen diners, some seventeenth- and eighteenth-century stone houses, giant bronze statues of Henry Hudson and Peter Stuyvesant, an authentic-looking Dutch step-gable house that turns out to have been built in the 1920s as a hotel, patches of fairly dense woods within the city limits, a few buildings in the port section that look as if they took a wrong turn on their way to lower Manhattan in the 1880s, collections of varyingly derelict tugboats and trolley cars, two outfits that sell medieval fantasy costumes for adults, the remains of a brickworks, a large and extremely variegated array of places of worship, a model railroad club in its own dedicated building, an empty lace-curtain factory, a string of functioning shipyards, a brewery, and two competing urology clinics that believe it pays to advertise. I wouldn't have it any other way.