Humid, muggy, and humble no matter the time of year, Cabbagetown modestly sits in stark contrast to the rest of the surrounding East Side Beltline neighborhoods chuck full of gentrification. In Cabbagetown, luxury apartments become dive bars, crowds of posh upper-middle-class whites are replaced by service industry lifers and gangs of hipsters making sure the riff-raff of snobbery is kept at bay. Let it be known; you are a walking target if you stroll into Estoria sporting anything even resembling a name brand. Your status symbol Ray-Bans and Ralph Lauren are a liability and a symbol of your evil conformist ways. God bless you if you have any confusion around the half-erased chalkboard menus. Unless you want the deepest scoffs ear gages and tattoo sleeves can produce keep your orders simple and your questions non-existent. All of these guidelines brought to you by yours truly come hard-earned from the school of experience, as I regularly found myself in Cabbagetown coming down from LSD drenched in sweat, covered in Ralph Lauren, and rocking my conformist Ray-Bans. I figure fair enough hipsters, I dress as if I come from the other side of the Krog Street Tunnel, but my actions must align with the Cabbagetown hipster community standards. Cabbagetown comedowns became a regular part of my Saturdays, leaving the fantastical world of psychedelica and entering Cabbagetown, amongst the hipsters, the mid 50’s divorcees, and rambling twenty-somethings, reality would slowly creep back into focus.
What is the rest of my generation doing right now? Images of ivory towers drenched in Ralph Lauren and Vineyard Vines cut across my mental, and suddenly I was right back in my ego, the part of me that obsesses with such thoughts. Everyone else my age (24) was out with their friends from college, enjoying a date night with their long-term romantic partner, or had already moved away from their hometown in search of a new version of themselves. I, through the culmination and interia of life, found myself still living in the same state I grew up in, 20 miles south of the suburbs I once called home but somehow feel a million miles away from everyone I grew up with. And here I was, 24 years old, spending my Saturday nights tripping on LSD. Is this really how life turned out for me?
“What would your younger self say if they met you today?” Recently, I’ve been posed this question more and more; for those asking, I’m sure it’s a way to validate their current standing in life with what they initially set out to be as a kid. While I’d love to think that if I met five-year-old me, he’d be amazed at what I’ve all done, he’d also have many questions, mainly how come you’re not famous and rich? As much as my humility would lead you to believe I am on a quest for something more profound, the five-year-old me knows the truth; I am an enterprising pseudo artist on the hunt for a big break and even bigger check. I always have been, always will be. Maybe a therapist would work with these levers of rich and famous and press out something rooting from childhood trauma or upbringing that led to this obsession; Still, before the trauma, there was me at five years old blowing on a dandelion yearning to be the wealthiest, most important person on earth. So, if the five-year-old me met twenty-four-year-old me under the influence of LSD on a Saturday night in July, things would get tense.
Ah, to yearn for the celebrity and riches available in America to anyone with enough ambition and complete lack of shame. To feel that tinge of pain that comes with daydreaming for more in the middle of the day at whatever shit job you find yourself working at, that tinge of pain is the American dream, right? A land where you can chase that dream at its highest levels, achieve it with zero talent, cutting the throats of any competition, and eventually abandoning the very core of who you are. And it all be encouraged in the name of proving you are indeed special. Special, not in the sense of unique but special as in better than the next guy, you’re not destined to work this dead-end job, oh no, you’re better than 40k a year and some PTO days, you’re destined for greatness in the land of milk and honey! You’re special!
Special can mean many things, but to me and anyone in my generation with an Instagram, it apparently means rich and famous. Kids growing up these days don’t want to be doctors or astronauts; they want to be social media influencers. I suppose the matrix of destiny that taps a few stand-alone talents each generation with immeasurable success and achievement is alive and well but has lost that mid 60’s counter culture dream of changing the world, instead of settling for the bright selfie lights and overdone makeup of a Kim Kardashian“talent.” Participation trophies and everybody winning make every child feel special, even without earning it. It’s not that we shouldn’t tell our children they’re special; we shouldn’t tell our children they’re special unless they earn it. Yes, you’re special, but are you special enough to earn it? As much as one can point to the reality TV stars of our days and say they have no talent, it surely took some amount of grit, hustle, and persistence to be the pretty talentless face we see plastered on billboards. So the question is, sure you’re special but do you have what it takes to prove that specialness?
With shallow desires for fame and fortune in tow, I felt a deep resentment walking by the posh, modern outdoor seating up and down on the beltline, judging every pretty girl and boy I saw, thinking, “what a bunch of schmucks. They’re just so damn content doing what the system says. The system says go to college, so they go. The system says get a good job, so they do. The system says go out and buy nice things, so they do. Fucking sheep. I’ll show you how much better than you I am, just wait, someday I’ll be rich and famous.” But how was I any different than these “conformists?” They followed a system of conformity, and I actively chose a rebellion system, albeit in the name of fame and fortune, but still, I chose a system nonetheless. Yet here I was, living my life according to my system of hatching hare brain schemes and half-baked passion projects to reach the top, resenting those who chose the more traditional paths of college and careers. For the conformists, I’m sure their college degree specialization provides their companies immense value. For me, what does my obsession with the rich and famous give the world? Another reality TV star? Another podcast?
As I sit writing this, I think of that five-year-old me. What would he think of all of this? I’m sure after watching the quintessential trip movie of every suburban high schooler (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”), he’d have a sudden reverence for the psychedelics. After going through ages six to twenty-three, he’d be in a head spin and finished off with the full-body ego slam a couple of tabs of LSD provides; he’d be speechless. Speechless because what exactly is it someone is supposed to say to life? “I did everything I set out to do,” then what?
At five years old, I would blow on dandelions wishing for a life of fame and fortune. At twenty-four, dandelions are simply nostalgia-inducing weeds. I suppose that’s what wishes without proper action become; nostalgia-inducing weeds. Weeds that you walk by and reminisce about that time in your life when you thought that one idea of who you are was everything. Weeds of self, made of hopes and dreams, which left unkept result in negative self-talk leaving ones existential garden full of angst, overran with isolating delusions of grandeur. So what’s one to do with these weeds? What happens when a dream is deferred or a flat-out failure? Indeed it dries out like a raisin in the sun, but where does that leave the dreamer? For me, it left me with more questions than answers and a constant doubling down on my desire for fame and fortune. Amidst yet another failed search for fame and fortune, twenty-four years old, coming down from LSD, leaned up against a wall at Estoria, I realized all of life was right in front of me, literally; Cabbagetown is life.
Cabbagetown gets something the other side doesn’t; they are not for everyone. If you were popular in high school and college, Cabbagetown is not your cup of tea. If you were an outcast and rejected most of your life, Cabbagetown is your mecca. For the hipsters, Cabbagetown isn’t just a neighborhood; it’s a way of life. A way of living that casts aside all pretense and airs in the name of something genuine no matter how different that is. Less fame and fortune, more impact. Less shallowness; more purpose. Cabbagetown represents the hope of maturity for my dreams; my conformist Ray-Bans and Ralph Lauren wardrobe be dammed, fame and fortune go to hell; I now dream of Cabbagetown. A place in myself no longer concerned with what I will get but what I do for others.