Soundtrack in my head: Saint Etienne, “Mario’s Cafe”
It’s almost become cliché to say that the little town of Madison combines the best of a big city and small town. I’m not sure I have a real perspective of that, given that the smallest metropolitan area that I ever lived in still had over 200,000 people.
Nevertheless, after living here in the little town of Madison area for almost a decade, I’ve become convinced that the Wisconsin “yah” is less related to the German word for “yes” and more related to “Y’all come back now, y’hear?“
My story starts in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. Five of us in the neighborhood had this group called the “Ravenswood Gathering” where we made an effort to create the feel of an intentional community without actually living together in the same building. Around 1998 or ’99 we invited this couple with a baby to join our group, and they considered the offer seriously, but ended up moving to the little town of Madison instead.
In 2001 I began to seriously consider moving to the little town of Madison myself and when I came up here to visit, I would often stay with this family who lived on Morrison Street. One day, they took me to a nearby neighborhood festival, and I loved it so much that I fell in love with this city. Another time, they took me to Lazy Jane’s Cafe, and while waiting for my food, I saw this woman who I swore was a dead ringer for a housemate I had back in 1988 while living in Urbana, Illinois. I hadn’t seen pretty her much since then. I initially dismissed the idea of it being her until I noticed she was staring at me, too, and so I said, “Um…Kim???” Not only was it her, but she and her husband were good friends with the couple that was originally from my neighborhood, and the five of us ended up sitting together for breakfast.
I began to stay with this couple as well during my visits to Madison as well. I was looking at co-ops, and they highly recommended one that a friend of theirs had helped start. I dismissed the idea because there were a number of cats there and I’m deathly allergic to cats. But to make a long story short, I moved into said house seven years later, and that’s where I live now. (The place was a pit when we moved in, but we scrubbed it down thoroughly. Unfortunately the smell of cat urine still occasionally comes out on 90 degree days.) It’s just a stone’s throw away from the site of the neighborhood festival that made me fall in love with Madison.
As for the couple who originally lived in my old neighborhood of Lincoln Square, they split up a few years later, and I’m still in touch with the husband. I just found out the other day that one of my housemates knows his ex-wife and hangs out with her at open mics. They no longer live on Morrison Street, but I still visit that block occasionally because the secretary of the Baha’i Local Spiritual Assembly lives across the street from where they were. She knows them, and is still in touch with them, too.
Recently I got a Facebook invite from a former regular patron at the Madtown Barefoot Boogie where I frequently DJ. She had left town a few years ago, but found herself back in the area and was holding a party at a friend’s house. It turns out this friend was the same man who used to live in my Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Square and who used to live on Morrison Street. I noticed that a former housemate of mine from another co-op I lived in until 2008 was also putting out messages about the event. I got to the party and found out this former housemate of mine was dating my old Chicago friend.
Other coincidences abound. The housemate who knew the ex-wife of the friend mentioned in the previous paragraph has lived with us for one year, but a couple years prior to that, her ex-partner and his new girlfriend membershipped our house. I know of two other instances where separated parents of the same children took a look at our co-op house on separate occasions, and the sister of one of those parents also came over for dinner.
While my housemate’s ex doesn’t live in a co-op, his current girlfriend lives with her children in a big co-op downtown. There have been two other instances I know of where the mother of a separated couple lived in our house while the father lived in the aforementioned big co-op house downtown, with the children splitting their time between the two houses.
It’s not just the co-op friendly crowd. The branch manager at my local credit union is a friendly person who often remembers names, mine being among them. His wife is a prominent TV meteorologist on one of the local stations. And so on, and so on…
People talk about six degrees of separation linking everyone on the planet, but I’ve become convinced that there are no more than three degrees of separation linking every person in the little town of Madison. Kevin Bacon has got nothing on us.
It’s very easy for me to forget all these “co-inky-dinks” and I’m well aware that there’s a lot more that I can document. So this will simply be the first in a series. Set a spell, take your shoes off…