Illustration by Chris Reed
I was getting my hair cut in New Paltz awhile back, and the stylist asked me if I lived in town. “No,” I told her. “We live in Highland.”
“Highland,” she said, as if pronouncing the name of some recently discovered planet. “Where’s that?”
And I had to explain to this woman, who had lived in New Paltz for almost a decade, that it was the next town over.
Almost certainly, she’d been to Highland before. You have to drive through Highland to get to Poughkeepsie. Perhaps she just didn’t know what it was called. (She definitely didn’t know how to pronounce it. You’d think Highland would rhyme with island, right? Wrong. The locals stress both syllables, as if bidding hello to the terra firma. I’ve been here five years; I still have difficulty with “Hi, Land.”)
Although our town is unassuming to a fault, Highland has a more chequered history than our renowned neighbor to the west. New Paltz was founded by French Huguenots, who were expelled from France because, if I’m interpreting the lore correctly, they were such wet blankets. Nobody had less fun than the Huguenots. In fact, the word “Huguenot” is French for “party pooper.” Highland, by contrast, was first settled by the Pang Yangs, an apocalyptic free-love cult. You read that correctly: free-love cult. Yet somehow, 300 years later, Highland has become New Paltz’s not-quite-as-cute sister.
Wherefore our municipal inferiority complex? I think it stems from our name — or, rather, our names. Although everyone calls it Highland, and our mailing address is Highland, and the street signs all say Highland, and our 12th-graders attend the somewhat redundantly appellated Highland High School, technically, we live in the Town of Lloyd. (It’s never just “Lloyd.” Even the sign on the municipal offices reads, ridiculously, “Town of Lloyd Town Hall.”)
Now, Lloyd is a fine name for a bloodhound, or one of Elmo’s Sesame Street pals, or a middle reliever for the Mets. But having a town of Lloyd is like having a town of Dave, or Joe, or Susan. It just doesn’t sound right. Furthermore, no one, not even the Town of Lloyd historian, knows who Lloyd was, or why the town bears his name.
With the opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson — a bona fide tourist attraction that’s as fabulous as a bridge to Poughkeepsie can be — the time has come to redress this onomastic deficiency. I propose that we change the name of both town and hamlet to a single, distinct moniker. And this time, let’s pick a cool one.
We could continue honoring the now-defunct Lloyd family and go with Lloyd Heights or Lloyd Bluffs (I like the double entendre in the latter; our motto could be “Fake it till you make it”). We could adopt the name of the most celebrated not-quite-as-cute older sister in history, and call ourselves Clementine. Or, better yet, we could honor our founding fathers and mothers, the fun-lovin’ Pang Yangs.
Free Love, N.Y., has a nice ring to it.
Greg Olear is the author of the novel Totally Killer. He’s been a Town of Lloyd man since 2005.