Gillian Flynn’s HBO miniseries Sharp Objects opens with its main character, a writer, returning to Wind Gap, her small make-believe hometown in the Bootheel of Missouri, that part of the state that hangs down between Arkansas and Tennessee. This sudden interest in the Bootheel has yet again prompted several friends of mine to text me from distant places, all posing the same basic question: “How can you, a non-gun-toting, non-snuff-dipping, non-Country Music guy, possibly be happy still living in Kennett, Missouri?”
It’s quite easy, and it really boils down to Wi-Fi, a Keurig, and staying busy.
In Sharp Objects, Amy Adams’ character explains that she is “trash” that comes from “old money.” Because she makes that fictitious admission about her fictitious self to her fictitious editor at a fictitious St. Louis newspaper, she softens the snarky and familiar cliche about there being “nothing but old money and trash” in her hometown. In the real world, I have argued many times that my hometown does, in fact, contain something more. I, who consider myself neither, concede, it takes an open mind to see beyond the presumptions created by aging buildings and closed factories.
Here are my tips on navigating life through a real life version of Wind Gap, Missouri. Without any serial killings, naturally.
First, let’s look at the first tool we all can use to fight the American small town stereotype: Wi-Fi, which puts small town information exchange on relatively equal footing with that found in “gentrificadia or suburbia.” Everybody everywhere has access to the same media outlets all the time. Totally different than the way things used to be. Trust me.
While I happen to really like the local morning personality on Kennett’s simulcasting AM and FM station, a much-too-large percentage of traditional radio in and around small-town America seems to comprise 14 different sub-genre tweaks of the Country Music format, and one very conservative talk station on AM. Wi-Fi is the game changer, YouTube the equalizer, and SiriusXM the bonus. The Tune-In app is cable-TV audio, static-free shortwave, and Pandora all rolled into one. For many hours out of any given day, those with great Wi-Fi don’t care where on the planet they are.
Once you have secured decent Wi-Fi, I suggest you allow yourself to indulge in a caffeine addiction. Coffee is a basic need for survival, and is the second major factor in living a reasonable life in the Missouri Bootheel. A Keurig and periodic trips to a well-stocked independent grocer, or Super Walmart (which we have in Kennett) or Target from a nearby city (in our case, one hour away) will produce the taste of high quality coffee. Mind you, we are talking about taste only. The Keurig will certainly not replicate the experience of like-minded progressive strangers exhibiting their familiarity with the contagious lingo of the Seattle coffee culture. However, for caffeine injection, and great tasting coffee, the Keurig is perfect.
Believe it or not, whether one is sipping in New York, London, Paris, Munich, or Kennett, Missouri, great coffee is great coffee.
Next, small town citizens must busy themselves up. How busy? Busy enough to make a living, and also be a decent parent. Busy enough to not have the time to drive around and think about everything some other town has that would be nice here. Busy enough to be able to forget the sad fact that modern science has been unable to safely and efficiently develop an eradication procedure for mosquitoes. That sort of “busy enough” is a loose amalgamation of several subsets, all tied to an individual’s employment and basic interests, and can be compounded by said individual to generate the desired factor of hecticness.
If you love to fish, gig frogs, ride four-wheelers in the mud, drag race on a quarter mile straight portion of a highway at 2 AM, dip snuff, or throw empty beer bottles at signs, Kennett, Missouri is already your paradise. I am unable to recommend two of those recreations, though, even through implication, as my day job requires me to advise the reader against those sorts of municipal ordinance violations.
Fishing, however, is perfectly respectable and, indeed, revered in the Missouri Bootheel. Many of my friends still look forward to baiting a hook, having appreciated the process since childhood. I can recall one childhood friend being excited at the prospect of stabbing a minnow’s eye, that he pushed his shiny silver hook all the way through both of the minnow’s eyes, and about a half inch deep into his own index finger. I, on the other hand, never could adequately make myself derive much enjoyment out of minnow torture, and, somehow never became much of a fisherman.
While I rarely take advantage of our many nearby aquatic resources these days, about once every summer, I make the time to stand on the banks of the Mississippi River, 20 miles away, and watch it flow and churn. Sometimes, when morning court in New Madrid (about 45 minutes from Kennett) finishes early, I park at a Mississippi River observation point and riverboat dock and keep my minivan running so that I can appreciate nature while still receiving the benefits of air conditioning.
This, of course, has nothing to do with my being unable to take the heat. This is truly about sweating less in an expensive suit, thereby resulting in the use of fewer dry cleaning chemicals. Indeed, staring at the Mississippi River with a Chrysler engine running is my one sure-fire way to help protect the environment from that dastardly tetrachloroethylene.
If one is a hunter, or claims to be a hunter, we are also in a perfect spot. Beyond using a Daisy BB Gun to shoot at crawdads on my grandparents’ farm in Arkansas a few times, I have never been much of a hunter. That doesn’t mean that I am averse to the killing of some of God’s creatures, though. I am a committed mosquito hunter, complete with a keen eye and a quick hand. In our family, I happily take on the role of midnight mosquito-stalker, raging and slashing at the vicious bloodsuckers that have successfully invaded our home despite multiple barriers such as screens, porches, garages, and strategically placed fans. If HBO ever develops a miniseries about a small town serial killer of mosquitoes, I want the lead role!
Small-town America continues to produce born drivers. Basically, those who live in or near Kennett and have a car-related hobby of some sort seem to be quite happy almost all of the time. Sometimes it is a demolition derby car, sometimes muscle car restoration. I, of course, have neither. My 1991 Toyota Celica convertible certainly needs to be restored, but I don’t have the non-committed financial resources to do it right.
Speaking of cars, if one’s job involves any form of regular travel, then the small-town perk of wide open space can be blissful. Who wants to worry about paying for parking a car in a city? Who even wants to worry about how long said car is being left wherever said car is left? Who wants to even lock said car? Well, honestly, we lock our cars around here now. But not all the time, every time.
And finally, in addition to working a minimum of 50 hours a week at a job that one basically enjoys, being a super parent, and spending whatever time is left on some random activity or hobby, it helps to develop a completely unnecessary quirk. Once every two months, I have court about an hour away in Union City, Tennessee. Usually the cases there are not stressful, but they require some personal attention. By accident, one day, I arrived two hours early for court. Not enough time to go home, but WAY too long to simply sit and review files in the hallway. So, knowing that I was not far from Kentucky, I thought, “I want to drive into the State of Kentucky, just to do it.”
And, I did it. Which brought me neither joy nor grief. However, once in Kentucky, I ran across a liquor store that had signs for Labatt Blue and Old Style, brands of beer that are not available in Kennett, Missouri. Now, unlike the fictional characters in Wind Gap who throw back alcohol at least twice per scene, and sometimes in slow motion, I don’t sit around and consume very much beer. But, I do want to have some around. I therefore make it a point to fit into my schedule the now customary beer run to Kentucky. It becomes an adventure when time is short, a conversation starter when someone opens my garage refrigerator and sees beer not available in town. And everybody knows what beer is and isn’t available in a small town like ours.
By the way, if you’re so appreciative of my tips as to want to mail me gifts, please remember that Wind Gap, Missouri is NOT real, and does not exist. Kennett, Missouri, however, does. Provided that we keep our Wi-Fi and Keurigs up and running, we will hopefully be the capital of the Missouri Bootheel for many generations to come. Unless the mosquitoes carry us off when the sun goes down tonight.
© 2018 John T. McMullan