Home, I Like to be Here When I Can

July 28, 2007

First, thank you all who have understood and supported my trip to the hometown. It was a messy affair as I knew it would be, and it’s good to be back in the Outlands, swatting the black flies from off their bites, smoking cigarettes in the dark shade of the front stoop. There were some good times on the seaboard, and my family is rocking along much the same as when I saw them last. My old friends were still there with a few exceptions–one is a real estate agent in South Carolina, another a graphics artist in NYC, and yet others are lost to who knows what and where. Which is how it should be, I suppose. For all they know, I’m face down in some roadside ditch. And for all I know, so are they.

I am not a sentimental man by any means and believe in the virtues of understatement and quietude, in a person’s right to reserve to themselves all counsel, all judgment, all emotion. It’s not to say I don’t feel, I just don’t do it on the outside. This, as you can imagine, has elicited all manner of choice descriptions: cold bastard, indifferent prick, and my all time favorite spewed by a very talented writer, an aloof robot low on batteries. None of these things are actually true, mind you, but the reality is more that I don’t see the benefits of hemming, hawing, or otherwise getting too worked up for good things or bad. 

Which brings me to this: back home I caught up with a friend who had recently gotten back from Baghdad, where he served 18 months kicking down doors, waving around his rifle, and driving in the back of an armored truck ducking potshots from militia fighters hidden in buildings, along the roadsides, and wherever else they could see and shoot without being seen and shot at. While his stories were horrific and terrifying, it was the digital pictures he took that continue to flash on my eyelids’ insides like sordid home videos, grainy and haunting in their refusal to fit into any sort of context, any sort of framework, I can understand. I saw a photo of a headless body, hands and feet bound with some sort of wire, and what struck me was the shoes. They were old Air Jordans. Basketball shoes. The kind we coveted as kids and cried for when our whines went unheeded. Needless to say, it’s a disarming juxtaposition to recognize shoes as an ancient status symbol from my past on the feet of a young man who has had his head forcibly removed from shoulders. And I wondered how he would have reacted should someone have told him when he was still whole what those shoes meant in the late 80’s. Would he have laughed? Cried? Would he have spit in the sand and broken glass and looked off into nowhere in particular?

These thoughts have brought on a real evaluation of where I am and what exactly I think I’m doing with my life. I’m not a true believer in that I’m off to join this that or the other cause. But I recognize current events as a series of fenceposts getting thinner the further we move down it. At it’s distant end, it’s razor thin, and there can be no straddling, no indecision, no nothing. In other words, right now we move in a world full of gray, and the choices between either all of this or all of that are largely false dichotomies. However, could it happen that something becomes truly this or that, and there are only these two choices? Throw good and bad, right and wrong out. Forget that stuff because they’re pointless designations for what we want to happen and what we don’t want to happen. So, I’m wondering what’s going to happen when we get to the thinning spots in the landscape, when we’ve exhausted all nuance and are left with a broken compass, an untrue astrolabe under a new and curious sky.

Ugh. Enough, Puddlehead! You’re scaring the children and boring the adults. The long and short of it, I’m grateful to be home, and there is a north wind, and the nights are chilly, and I’m glad for the thoughts you’ve all sent, and I’m off to read all that I have missed.



On the Precipice of Messiness

June 25, 2007

T-minus seven hours and counting until I leave the mosquito-fest and blackfly bonanza that is my home for the summer staple roadtrip. Over the years, it’s been a complex event, going to my hometown, filled with the whole catalog of emotions and psychological confusion that one could reasonably expect in this our frenetic modern era. I left home young and with few resentments. I just drove off one day when I was supposed to be on a week’s paid vacation from work. I drove to Amherst and drove on. Cleveland, Council Bluffs, Denver, and I just kept going.  But I owe my family everything, and I knew that then as well as I know it now. I just wasn’t cut out for the East Coast. I hate traffic, the Joneses, and the curious ability of people from my home city to sincerely believe they not only invented urban life but have perfected it beyond any point of debate. 

So, when I go home and catch up with my friends, with the boys who are men now, I never feel quite exactly home. Rather, it’s almost home but as close to home as I can ask for. It’s a dreamish blend of reality and memory. For it is memory we’re acting out. Except we’ve traded the high school classroom and pool hall for the bar, for the nightclub, we’ve traded the study hall for the “so how are you doing? Another Yingling?” 

And I’m doing well. I’ve a good life here in the middle of nowhere, in a place my friends are convinced is Canada. If pressed, they’d have a fifty-fifty shot picking my town from Kuala Lumpur. But I live here. I’ve my work,  my dog, and a lake. I’ve got 300 inches of snow a year. I have good snow shovels and scoops. And I know that I can never come home again in any way that matters. I’ll take my few weeks off, I’ll enjoy my friends, my family who I love, and I’ll know, as I drive out of the city, the interstate on-ramps blinking in the rearview, that those who said they’ll visit, won’t. I’ll know that my life and theirs are seperate, and there’s no reconnecting. There is no way-back machine strong enough to erase the intervening years. And I’ll be grateful for what I have, for the radio and the sleeping dog in the back of the truck, and for the cigarettes, for the coffee, for the last city lights fading like so many  ignis fatuus I’ll be glad to leave to their own messy devices.