The Pattern of Human Boredom
I have always staunchly believed that small-towns are like small glimpses into the human condition. What do I mean by this? I mean that, given the lack of variety in company, culture, diversity, and even privacy so characteristic of small towns, how people live and react to this sheltered reality can really give you an insight as to how we human beings function. These patterns of behaviour can be traced back all throughout history, and I maintain that if you looked at the dynamics of a feudal peasant village in Europe in the Dark Ages, you’d find the same patterns of behaviour. The following is a list of the things that people do when the variety, diversity, and quality of company and amusement is limited:
1. Aesthetic Modifications
When you’re bored out of your skull and live in a place where everyone looks the same, it can be rather refreshing to stick out from the crowd a little. For a decent amount of money and some free time, you can easily dye your hair an outrageous colour, or get a plethora of different tattoos and piercings (even if your grandmother will take the Lord’s name in vain when she sees your handiwork at Sunday brunch).
Plenty of people get tattoos to express their trite and ubiquitous struggles, often in the form of song lyrics, flowers, tribal arm bands, or words like “hope” and “faith” spelled out in Mandarin and other foreign languages they do not and will never speak. Facial piercings are especially popular with teenagers, lending them enough edge to be lauded as criminals and ne'er-do-wells by the elders in their town, which is obviously the coolest possible title to hold when you’re fifteen. Some of the most common include nose, lip, septum, eyebrow, Monroe, and industrial piercings, and if you’re really sexually deviant, a tongue piercing. If you’re lame, you can just get a second ear lobe piercing. You tried. You could also get nipple or genital piercings, but no one will know how badass you are except for the people you hook up with (which depending on your promiscuity, will either be very few people, or everyone).
(Dark Age equivalent: combing your hair, getting a new skirt or tunic, semi-annual bath)
2. Substance Abuse
When there’s nothing else to do on a Friday night (and basically every other night), there’s always booze. And weed. You can drown your sorrows in a twenty-four pack with your buds, or, if you really need to get obliterated, do some shots. If you’re an alcoholic in training, get a bottle of whiskey and nurse it in your room, listen to Creed, cry your eyeballs out, then pass out. Repeat.
If you’re more of the clubbing type, get all dolled up with a bunch of your girlfriends, hang out near the bar, and convince your lonely neighbours to buy you drinks. You can get out on the dance floor and shake what your momma gave you once you’re sufficiently drunk, but be careful not to accidentally grind up against your uncle or make out with your cousin. You remember how awkward that was last time, right?
If clubbing just isn’t your thing, there’s always weed to fall back on. Now you can just sit around and get blazed with your buddies, anywhere, anytime. Weed is remarkably portable and easy to use; you can simply roll some joints and keep them for later, and then all you need do is whip one out and light up, and you’re on your way to saying “duuuuuude” a lot, looking at your hands funny, and talking about how time is an illusion the government created to keep us all in line. Just be careful you don’t buy some bad stuff from that seedy guy living in his parents’ garage, or you’ll be seeing monsters in every corner, get cold sweats, and be paranoid that someone is going to jump out and murder you all. And that’s no fun. BOO!
(Dark Age equivalent: pubs and ale, lots of ale)
3. Unprotected Sex
This usually follows the substance abuse. You’ve been grinding into the crotches and butts of strangers all night, and it’s got you hot and bothered. The night is coming to a close, the club is closing up, and people are leaving in pairs (and threes, and fours, etc). Now that you’re reasonably sure you haven’t been macking with a relative, it’s safe to take home that chick you’ve been dancing with who seemed pretty hot in the dark. So you hold her by the waist, carry her heels for her, stop halfway to the car so she can puke in the parking lot, watch as she wipes away the spittle with the back of her hand, and try to convince her you’re not disgusted (you are). Then you pack her into the passenger seat of your pick-up truck and head back to your sweet basement apartment in your parent’s house.
You two start making out despite the faint scent of vomit on her breath, and when things get hot and heavy, there’s just no time to whip out a condom, cause hell, she might puke, and you’d like to get at least halfway through before that happens. So you, champ that you are, just carry on like a trooper and go to town, not thinking about the STDs she could be crawling with, and not bothering to ask if she’s on birth control, because really, do you actually care? I thought not.
And I know you meant to pull out, you really did, but hey, man, you’re drunk, you just don’t have the forethought or even the co-ordination for that right now. It’s cool. I mean, the alcohol must’ve travelled down to your sperm and mutated them, right? And a beer-bellied sperm could never hope to actually impregnate anyone, right?
(Dark Age equivalent: having a saucy wench in the backroom of a pub)
4. Early Marriage and Child-Rearing
Okay, so you were wrong about the beer-bellied sperm thing. It did reach the egg, the persevering bugger. He’s like the Little Train that Could. But you really wish he hadn’t, because now that chick is knocked up, and she’s going to keep it, because she’s a good Christian girl, and besides, “haven’t you always wanted a cute little baby?” Not really, but whatever.
Now your parents and her parents are planning a cute little shotgun wedding at the local banquet hall, with a menu of chicken parmesan made with ketchup, some type of gelatinous pasta dish, overcooked green beans from a can, and a Jo Louis trifle with Cool Whip for dessert. Wonderful.
They made you buy her an engagement ring, too, so now instead of saving up for that Harley, you’ll be buying bassinets and diapers and putting your wifey through college when she tells you she has to do more with her life than just being a mother to your son Jared. Welcome to married life!
(Dark Age equivalent: exactly the same thing, minus the wife-going-to-college thing. College? You can’t even read, never mind her)
Now that you’re married at twenty years old with a son on the way, and will now spend the remainder of your years feeling trapped, miserable, sexually neglected and bored, you’re going to have to figure out something to do to take the edge off and ensure you don’t blow your brains out. Generally, you can go about this in three ways:
1. Substance Abuse (see #2)
2. Unprotected sex (see #3)
If you’re smart, you’ll pick #3 (hint: it’s the only option that won’t lead to #4 again). There are a variety of ways you can go about this. Generally, men will fish, fix up cars, ride motorcycles, get a trailer, camp, hunt, or, if you really didn’t have a chance to enjoy your adolescence, play guitar or bass (extra sad points if you actually start up a band with your second cousin and your best friend from high school, just like you all said you would when you were fourteen). Generally women will sew, read, join a book club, knit, shop, or get really into exotic cooking (it adds a little spice to your life to completely ruin a different kind of curry every week). Whatever you do, and no matter how good your intentions, you’ll drop the hobby like a hot potato soon enough and get right into the next one, because that hobby didn’t make you feel any less depressed about what’s become of your life. It also didn’t manage to remove that stupid “Born 2 Ride” tramp stamp you got when you were a young hussy because you thought you were sexy and clever. (Spoiler alert: hobbies don’t remove tattoo ink. Or shame.)
(Dark Age equivalent: hunting, musical instruments, Saint’s Days, May Day, public executions)
What small town would be complete without racism (and homophobia, and sexism)? The rationale behind this is simple: when your life sucks and you have no one to blame but yourself, blame another group of people instead! This is a convenient, simple alternative to having to actually face all the terrible decisions you’ve made over the years, and accepting where those decisions have landed you. Yes, you’ve worked a dead-end job for over twenty years to support your wife and son Jared, the result of a shotgun wedding when you were twenty. Why? Because you got drunk, had unprotected sex, agreed to marry her when she got pregnant, and then didn’t bother to get an education. Whose fault? Yours, clearly. But you’ll never want to face that fact, so it’s greatly preferable to just blame the immigrants for stealing the jobs you want (never mind that you don’t have the qualifications to get them), make fun of the way that they talk or smell or act, have your equally misguided, beer-bellied friends validate you by laughing along, and then carry along with your miserable existence.
(Dark Age equivalent: The Crusades)
See? Human boredom is always the same.
And there you have, it folks. The desperate boredom of humanity prevails. So whether you’re alive right now, or whether you lived in the High Medieval Era, small town dynamics have always been, and always will be, essentially the same. The only difference is whether you’re riding a horse or a pick-up truck to the bar, and whether you work for a feudal Lord or for Ford.