And No. My mother is not a stripper. Nor is or ever was a showgirl. I have never lived in a casino.
Growing up, I was forced to make these statements … all the damned time.
A few years ago, it happened again: “You mean people are actually from Las Vegas?”
Yes. And I am one of them.
From is a tricky bugger. Like all prepositions in all languages that rely on such things, it only seems like the most inconsequential part of a statement. From indicates the point at which something begins – a journey, an action, an everyday movement from one spot supposedly and eventually to another.
In other words, from denotes what has been left behind. Or at least it should. The problem is that endpoints make more sense in light of beginnings.
Personally, I think beginnings are overrated. Who cares if I came from, let’s say, Los Angeles, if I am now in, let’s say, Baker, California. I’m in Baker, now (home to the world’s tallest thermometer!). But when you say I am from Los Angeles in order to indicate a starting point in a lifetime – a temporal as much as spatial starting point – that from acquires enough significance to be poignant and accommodating and frustrating and misleading. If you identify with your hometown, if you love the way its cultures communicate through your gestures and clothes and habits, wonderful. Lucky you. If not, good luck.
I love Los Angeles, by the way. Many people do not. I met a few of those people one weekend when I traveled from L.A. to Reno.
“Hi. I’m James.”
“Hi. I’m Ted.”
“Where are you from Ted?”
“I’m from Reno. You?”
“I’m from L.A.”
“I don’t like Los Angeles.”
Great. Did I give you the impression that I cared?
The father of my sister’s college roommate did something like that to my father. The exchange went like this:
“Hi. I’m Nick.”
“Hi. I’m Ted.” (It’s always a Ted.) “Where are you from Nick?”
“We’re from Las Vegas.”
“I am opposed to gambling. I don’t like Las Vegas. ”
Great. Thanks for letting us know. I am also not big on gambling, but casinos did give my father the chance to raise himself up out of poverty. (By the way, my father is technically not from Las Vegas, if that even matters.)
When people insult your city, it feels like they are insulting you, doesn’t it? Even though the relative beauty and interest of a place need not necessarily reflect onto the beauty and interest of its residents. One’s relationship to their hometown is as arbitrary as is the year of their birth. Imagine this scenario instead:
“Hi. I’m James.”
“Hi James, I’m Ted. What year were you born James?”
“Ugh. I’m trying to forget that year. I don’t like 1980.”
No one has ever said this to me of course, but if they did it would not bother me in the least. When someone insults my hometown, though, that’s different. Because the same rules that apply to in-group humor apply here as well. If you’re not African American you do not get to use the N-word in a joke; if you’re not from Las Vegas, or have ever even lived there, you don’t have the right to talk shit about it.
Though to be honest, people don’t talk shit about my hometown as much as say stupid shit about it (“Sure it’s a 100 degrees outside, but it’s a dry heat”). Which is fine. We all do this kind of thing. I used to detest New York. Why? Had something horrible happened to me there? No. I never even stepped foot in Manhattan until I was in my twenties. But I did regularly watch the Late Show with David Letterman, which was filmed, as the opening credits say, in New York, “the greatest city in the world”. Seriously? Fuck you. Think you’re so much better than everyone.
I later moved to Queens and ended up staying in New York for nine years; I love New York.
But I will never be from New York, even if later I told people that I was. This was after I had moved abroad. It’s so much easier to tell people outside of America that you’re from New York than Las Vegas. They smile; they don’t ask questions; many foreigners automatically assume a traveling American must be from New York. Keep in mind that, after I moved to New York, I told people I was from Los Angeles.
Why did I pronounce such despicable lies? Was it because, at the time, it seemed more truthful to pinpoint a more recent starting point?
That was when I was in my twenties, and like most people in their twenties, I was an idiot – unsure but ambitious, all-the-while assuming that it matters to other people which clichés they associate with my un-clichéd individual identity.
I no longer live in either Los Angeles or New York, and I haven’t been back to Las Vegas in years. But now, whenever anybody asks, I am always from Las Vegas.
From really is a tricky bugger. No one should have to take it lying down when someone violates their identity by slipping some irrelevant metropolitan clichés into it. That’s what we do though, when we tell people we’re from somewhere. We give them a free pass to do what they were going to do anyway – take someone’s from and project it into the present so they can use the easy stereotypes of a place in order to place you within a category you were arbitrarily assigned to and which you may have spent your whole adult life attempting to flee.
Which is to say, what was to you only a from, to other people becomes an in. What you may have only considered a starting point you long left behind, others often take to be a space you forever reside in, no matter where you have ended up.
And, really, that’s just fine. As I have gleaned from age, in is much less tricky than from. We influence things much more from the inside than from otherwise.