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MIKE TAYLOR: Greenville Makes Me Nice

Living in a small town has made me a better person. It’s not that I wanted to be a better person; I did not do it. When I came to Greenville over ten years ago, I was happy just the way I was.

But little by little, this city has done its will on me and the person I am today is no longer the person I was so many years ago.

That Mike Taylor was an arrogant, self-righteous jerk. Yeah, yeah, I know, I’m still an arrogant, self-righteous jerk. The difference is that I realize it now.

I moved here from Detroit during the last big recession. I had done a lot of freelance writing; newspapers, magazines, online publications. It was boring. I could have lived on that part, but the money coming in was still less than the minimum required by my monastic and Buddhist lifestyle.

I could have worked harder and made more money, but I am, by nature, lazy. Hard work and I’m not on good terms.

Anyway, I came here from Detroit when the Daily News offered me a job that met my minimum loot requirements and a job that was mostly interesting. I looked forward to going to the office every day. Almost every day. Well, once in a while. Thing is, I didn’t hate it, which is more than most can say about their work.

The newspaper was fine. I liked the staff, the boss, the fact that colleagues often brought donuts. I wasn’t crazy about where my office was, but only because everyone could see my laptop screen and therefore knew when I was watching YouTube videos instead of working. (It’s liberating, the things you can own when you retire!)

But I digress. Often.

What I mean is that it took me a long time to readapt my personality to small town life. At first, I didn’t even realize an adjustment was necessary. I blissfully continued day after day being the same arrogant jerk I had always been.

If someone cut me off in traffic, I’d favor them with the same one-finger salute I’ve been using since I discovered it in second grade. If it was summer and the car windows were down, I’d also inflict the other driver with the esteemed profanity shootout I’ve been perfecting since before I even learned the one-finger salute.

I did it in Detroit all the time. In fact, I can’t imagine navigating Telegraph Road or the John R without a generous sprinkling of offensive words and gestures.

In Detroit, that’s not a problem. Because in Detroit, you’re unlikely to see the recipient of your verbal tirade again. Nearly 700,000 people live there.

Of course, Detroit being Detroit, there’s at least a chance of a moving altercation going from words to bullets, but it doesn’t happen as often as people think.

In Greenville, however, the reckless driver you loudly call (insert your favorite profanity here) is likely to deliver your mail the next day, cut your hair, or take your temperature at the doctor’s office. And you can rest assured that he will remember you without any affection.

This is because there are only about 8,500 souls living here. That seems like a lot, but it’s not. In a small town, anonymity is certainly not guaranteed.

By the time I started to realize I had a problem, I had managed to anger and offend the city manager, several local officials and school board members, the Walmart front desk, the woman who takes appointments for my doctor’s office and the girl I was dating at the time.

All those people I would end up seeing again and again (except the girl I was dating, she moved on). And every time I did, I felt embarrassed. No one wants to be known as an arrogant jerk, not even me.

So I practiced keeping my mouth shut, counting to ten, keeping both hands on the wheel, and pretending to be a decent, civilized human being. It’s one of those “fake it until you make it” things.

At this rate, in about 10 years, I could be a really nice guy. I have Greenville to thank for that.

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