Saturday, November 28, 2009

Home: What Dorothy Thought She Wanted and What She Got

 It is said that you cannot go home again, which is a fair enough warning and a dramatic enough duality for the writer to be aware of, but in mitigation, it is a good idea to consider from time to time why one would want to go home again and an altogether other reason to consider what happens to you when you move from there to where ever it is you have moved.  It becomes even more intriguing to consider individuals who because of their careers or romantic allegiance move from place to place.

Welcome to the world of the carpetbagger, the summer resident, the other, the alien.  It is a world that begins somewhere within the human genome, its recognition spreading when one of our own goes off to school and comes back with a strange accent or no accent or a strange mannerism, or merely expectations.

You first became aware if it when you were plunked into the midst of the New York/New Jersey accent, which among other things had people, even teachers dropping terminal g's on gerunds, significantly not being able to pronounce words of Spanish derivation, and favoring Gulden's mustard over French's, Hellman's mayonnaise over Best Foods.  It was you being thought of as the person who had the accent, as in, you talk funny.  It was your own father, introducing you to something you would never forget when he turned on the radio one afternoon and told you to listen closely.  There are few things to compare with a baseball game being called by Walter Lanier "Red" Barber.  In later years, you would admire Mel Allen for his timbre and Phil Rizzutto for his twang, but these were Yankee announcers and you listened to them for something other than the context of baseball.  And true enough, Vin Scully is mellifluous and wise, but when baseball mattered to you, it was because of Red Barber.  You were able to go "home" again on that score when Bob Edwards of NPR would have a weekly hang out with Red Barber because hearing both men speak gave you the sense of being in the midst of an earnest conversation, where language was a game more splendid than baseball; those going home moments were for you what opera is for so many, revelations of feelings and incidents, interpretations of events that mattered because they were part of some essential calculus of being alive.

You became aware of not being able to go home again when you were in fact able to go home, to California, having been away to foreign lands of Massachussets and Rhode Island and New York and Florida.

Well enough, this is not meant as autobiography but as discovery.  The California you returned to was changed by an influx of people who had left their homes to come here, thus the change evoked in Los Angeles.  Soon enough, classmates left home to go to Harvard and Stanford and Berkeley, while you wanted, longed for UCLA and, just as you became aware of a shift in home base when some of your class mates wanted, actually longed for Los Angeles High School instead of the high school you attended, some of your acquaintances actually wanted to go to USC.

Movement and flux are as much a part of modern life as they were definitions of the foraging/hunting-gathering life.  You now see Los Angeles as something that has been done to the Los Angeles that was your home.  Indeed, at least one place you lived in Los Angeles is now something else, a row of condos with a swimming pool.  The nearby May Company Department store, where you were cautioned about playing in the foundations as it was being built is no longer May Company, it is LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,featuring on its web site a picture of the May Company as an historical feature.

When you are in Los Angeles now, it is not home, it is the place home has become; when you are there it is to teach in the very university you had no desire to attend.  Irony is heavy.  If you had been born in the city where you now live, you would have wanted to leave home to make your career in Los Angeles or New York, but shortly after you moved to where you now live, you were offered a job leading a publishing venture in Los Angeles, with the information that the company was moving to New York within two years and please do not take the job if you were not willing to move to New York.  You chose to remain where you are.  Two years later, you were in New York, entering  building on Third Avenue, where you met the man who'd offered you the job that would have moved you to New York.  "You should have come then,"  the man, whose name was Victor told you.

In his recent, elegant novel, Brooklyn, Colm Toibin portrays a young Irish girl whose home is in a small, tightly structured town in Ireland.  Her older sister maneuvers events so that the young girl must come to Brooklyn, where life changes her irrevocably, as she discovers when a major story point sends her back home to Ireland for an event.  She is seen differently, carrying the otherness and allure of America with her, making a man she could never have hoped to interest before decide he wanted to pursue her.

All a round-about way of saying that even though you do get home, home isn't home anymore, home is what you left, home is where you bring back what you have become, and what you have become has moved you along on a Darwinian escalator of change.  Since you are listening to cliches, home has become where the heart is.  Home is the place you yearn to be but may not in fact inhabit unless you learn the trick of time travel.  Home is the circumstances that you left to avoid; it may also be the place to which you return, tail tucked in glorious failure between your legs.  Home is the place to which you return after having seen New York and Los Angeles and now are glad to be back to whom and whatever it is you are back for.

Home is the place every character has cached away within the heart.  Wherever the character is located in a particular story or chapter, that character is delineated by a home he or she has left, remained in, or returned to face certain consequences.

6145 1/2 Orange Street, Los Angeles, California no longer exists.  You can park on the street, near the tree where you so often played, looking at what is there and experiencing the sense of reality having shifted on you; home has changed.  For a time you can fly model airplanes from the balcony, you can recall the back yard where you were invited into your first serious, remarkable kiss with the flame-haired Elise Bernstein, who made you swear you would always remember, because now that you had kissed, you could share the same Popsicle, which was always better than not having someone with whom to share a Popsicle.

Home is where the heart is; it is where you observe how the world around you works, and how people expect things from it, a place where you learn secret languages so that you can speak directly to your heard and find out what the hell it wants from you.

1 comment:

Kevin Bender said...

I liked this piece. Your mention of Red Barber prompts me to write to let you know about a documentary I did about him and five other baseball announcers. It's called Ball Talk: Baseball's Voices of Summer and is hosted by Larry King. It's now on DVD and available at