When I visit Bake, I involuntarily play a game in my head. Informally called, "How could I live here without Lithium," the game usually starts by noticing something that's "not that bad" or "semi-pleasant." Like the balmy evenings, the huge, huge sky, the quiet night, or a backyard with a swimming pool.
Then it goes on to where I'd live (in one of the Craftsman houses downtown, of course, where all the old trees are). Then where I'd hang out (the library, my computer, Tahiti on vacation with all the money I saved in mortgage payments). Then it starts to unravel...no place to buy organic produce, no place within walking or even biking distance, no moisture in the air, no restaurants that don't slather mayonnaise or beef broth on everything...and hardest to describe: no fucking scenery to look at.
The flatness and dullness of my hometown cannot be emphasized enough. In the part of town where my mom lives, all the housing developments are surrounded by beige brick walls. Driving to the store requires a vast trek down deserted, walled-off six-lane streets. The buildings are all one-story, and walking anywhere requires pretending you're playing a kid's game and taking giant steps. From most parts of town, you can see only the horizon's vanishing point (a feature I pondered over frequently as a child). From a few parts, you can glimpse mountains in the distance, but those only serve to remind you of the barrier between you and the outside world.
Inevitably, I lose the Lithium game. I once went to a carnival in France that had signs posted everywhere: "pas de perdue." No way to lose. The friend I was with didn't want to play any of the carnival games, so I kept pointing to the signs and pleading, "Pas de perdue!" The look on her face clearly said, "Don't you have carnival swindles in America?" or "How stupid are you?"
She patiently tried to explain that the signs meant the exact opposite of what they said, but by that time I had usually finished playing and was receiving my consolation "prize" of a plastic dinner ring or temporary tattoo. Anyway, the Lithium game is very pas de perdue. It morphs into, "How did I survive through high school without killing myself?" (Answer: sheer accident.) And then morphs again to "How can anyone stand to live here?" (Answer: to be discovered after they calculate the last digit of pi.)
I finally end up with the consolation prize of having left at age 18. But it costs way too many Euros.