Hi Neighbor!

Some thoughts on Rhode Island, neighbors, POCA, POCA Tech, and beer by Cris

Rhode Island is the smallest state in the Union which means that the 6 degrees of separation is more like 2 or 3. Through a short list of questions starting with: “Are you from Rhode Island? and Where do you live?” these lines of connection are revealed more quickly here than in any other place I’ve lived.  I’m not from here, but have been here almost 2 decades and with the volume of people we see at the clinic, I pretty much can’t go anywhere anymore without seeing faces that I know I’ve seen in our chairs, and had the pleasure to treat many of these folks myself. I see people when I’m shopping for food, riding my bike, at a movie, seeing live music, or at a restaurant. I’ve run into people I know from the clinic on the beach, and even out beyond the borders of our very small state! There is a joke here that Rhode Islanders don’t like to travel too far, or cross too many bridges, and if they have to travel more than 30 minutes from home they pack a lunch.

Some of the people we treat are our neighbors in the sense that they live in the neighborhood where the clinic is, or sometimes the neighborhoods we live in. I’ve treated my next door neighbor, and the neighbors across the street. I’ve treated people that grew up on my street, or are still best friends with the woman who grew up in the house next door, where her dad and brother still live. I’ve lived in this particular neighborhood for 13 years. Two of the 4 punks that work at PCA are Rhode Island natives and grew up on a street much like the one I live on, in houses with radiators that clang and hiss in the winter, and where a box fan is all you have to cool you on hot, still summer nights. These punks are my neighbors as well as my co-workers, although one of them has since moved to a new neighborhood north of the clinic and one has moved south from the clinic’s neighborhood closer to this one. Soon I’ll be moving myself, but I don’t plant to go to far and naturally I’m looking to live someplace where I already know at least some of my neighbors. It’s just easier to build connections off existing relationships; that’s why word of mouth marketing works so well, and why the network of POCA clinics across a continent actually produces referrals for one another.

Like everywhere, this place has a few quirks. People here like to give directions by where things used to be. “You know where that drive-in movie theater on Rt. 146 used to be? Go past where Ann and Hope was and make a left.” If you stick around here long enough this system works. In fact, all you have to do is remember what was somewhere, you don’t have to pay attention to what it becomes, and you can way-find based on the historic mental map you devise for yourself. One of those places, the brick buildings of the defunct Narragansett Brewing Company, I pass on my way to work (when I drive).

NBC stopped brewing beer long before I moved here, and yet I’ve heard stories about people’s relatives who worked there and apparently, even the delivery truck drivers all got a daily allotment of free beer! What they also got was “steady pay, good benefits, and free beer to some 850 workers. The company culture not only spawned lifelong friendships and good times, but also encouraged beer drinking during the workday.” Even though “where the Narragansett Brewing Company used to be” is a barren, empty field, I’m sure that place not only helps people orient themselves in the landscape, but also within their community and familial networks.

Mental maps, like driving directions, or the 2 or 3, or 6 degrees of separation, provide us with frameworks for our worlds. Without them, we would have to discover how to get somewhere, even places we have been before, anew each time. A neighborhood, family circle, or community help us remember our stories, our histories, our fears, our dreams. The landscape is populated with cues to the feelings and thoughts we’ve had.  They are markers of the past and reminders that there is a future.

When one of PCA’s punks moved back to Rhode Island after more than 2 decades, we went out apartment hunting for her together. At one of the places we looked at, I recognized the landlord as the brother of someone I knew was interested in attending POCA Tech, although it was still in its infancy of becoming a school. Since then this punk has moved (don’t worry, not too far!) and landed in another nearby neighborhood, thanks to connections that overlap with people we know through the clinic. That punk’s past-landlord’s brother, has since become a punk himself! He just graduated POCA Tech and passed the boards and is now on staff at PCA. Whew!

No really, WHEW! and WOO HOO!!!!!!!!!

I love that the net of the network here is so visible, so strong, so tangible. It’s comforting and easier to remember that we are all tied to one another, that we depend on each other for things like housing, employment, solidarity, and relationship, and acupuncture! We are also tied together across a much larger geography of the community acupuncture world, and the POCA-verse, which of course contains Planet POCA Tech. If someone told me that our patient James would be abducted by aliens and taken to Portland, Oregon to be transformed into a punk, I might have said “Pshaw!, not a chance!” But in fact something just like that happened, and now (in part because this is Rhode Island) he’s back, and I feel so grateful for that. What if every community acupuncture clinic that is had someone like James who could become a punk and then come back to work in the community? Or open a clinic in a place where there isn’t one yet!?!?!  That would be a dream come true. It already is for me and this community here.

I am grateful to have another great punk at the clinic, someone who understands punking, and CA and doesn’t have to be deprogrammed, or cajoled to do this work. Having another set of hands, and another heart and head, means we can continue to grow and serve more of our communities, and the communities of those people. I am grateful to the members of the POCA Co-op, and the patients at POCA clinics who don’t even know James and yet were willing to invest in his education as a punk, because it is an investment for all of our futures. Patients at other clinics have been willing to join POCA, and to become POCA Tech Sustainer because they value getting acupuncture so much, that just like all of us, they want other people to be able to get it.

James and all 4 of POCA Tech’s Cohorts are proof that the vision and mission behind POCA and POCA Tech are real and that in the absence of the institutions we need, we can build them. People from our communities CAN get an affordable education and DO come back to serve their own communities. If it could happen even just once, then it’s possible that it can happen dozens, or hundreds of times. And as the degrees of separation diverge from and converge upon our clinics and our coop, and the school, we keep the propelling the dream forward of doing for each other so that we can also do for ourselves and our families. Doing it together strengthens the fabric of our resolve and makes neighbors of each of us no matter the distances between. Being part of this bigger community helps us to see the common threads of our stories, and fosters caring and empathy for each other; another balm to the ills of isolation and alienation.

I just learned that the Narragansett Brewing Company’s story is ongoing. They recently had a “drink your part” campaign to help raise funds to bring the brewery back to Rhode Island. It seems someone bought the rights to this 125 year old brand and wanted to see it flourish again in the place that it started in. Since the ’50s their slogan has been, “Hi Neighbor! Have a ‘ganset.” 

The other day I ran into my neighbor at the clinic, he was the guy on the stool that rolled up to me, sitting in a recliner, and said, “What are we working on today?”

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