Maybe it’s my venerable fifty-two years; maybe it’s because I’ve been living in Emeryville,California, for five years—though it feels like fifty especially with the racket of that goddamn condo construction project right outside my office window; maybe it’s the gentle nudging of my dear darling wife; and there’s that current implosion of the market . . . but . . .
We’ve decided to go buy ourselves a house.
Let us do the laughing here (and believe me, there’s plenty to laugh at, but little of it is at our expense). Those of you who have known me awhile may be chopfallen to learn this, and a certain subset may wonder if perhaps I might be rousing from slumber some Cthulu-oid monster of American materialism who will devour every penny in my pocket and every bit of brain matter before reaching saturation; have I not seen Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and other cautions about this corner of the American Dream? I’ve also seen Roman Polanski’s The Tenant and if that doesn’t put you off renting, them maybe you’re the one who needs medication.
So, what the hell’s spurring this decision anyway?
I could give you the address of all the thirty-five plus apartments I’ve lived in during my life. You could go visit most all of ‘em (whatever hasn’t been torn down). But you’ll find no trace of me, not even the cold sweet scent of a ghost.
I’ve grown tired of moving and leaving nothing and taking little. Renting is easy, goes the song, but it’s a level of impermanence I’m finding unlivable. (Yes yes I know, everything is impermanent . . . God, I’m so sick of hearing we’re all going to die anyway, it makes me want to strive for immortality just to spite fashionable despair.) If a roommate isn’t moving on (or going batshit), it’s the property being sold from under me; if not the sale, it’s condo construction erupting ten feet away. (My moves have only ended happily twice: the first time when I got my very own place by myself; the second time, when I married Elizabeth.)
I believe most everyone feels this way (except for bin Laden and his evil minions, scuttling from cave-to-cave; and anxious antsy jet-setters and other of life’s chronic perambulators), at least eventually. Sure, change is normal and inevitable, but why make a fetish of it like Americans seem to? Gracefully accepting it as a fact of life is one thing, but change for change’s sake is to live like a psychopath. Life is full of “existential” moments (i.e.; unpredictable), but living that so-called “philosophy,” I’ve learned, leads to its own prison: drifting and cold, like an asteroid,waiting only to get bumped by other asteroids. Slackerhood has its own ennui.
Make no mistake, this is not a scheme for warp-speed profits—especially in this market-- but an actual quest for an ancient, nostalgic concept known as a home. For nihilistic reductionists, this may be only a reactionary expression of the territorial imperative, a license to make like Dustin Hoffman swinging that man trap in Straw Dogs (that wasn’t his house, BTW, if you watch it closely).
I believe my reasons have more to do with nostalgia for my Christopher Robin boyhood in that old Andrew-Jackson-era house on Red Mill Road outside of Mohegan Lake, New York. Officially, it was three-acres of fields and woods; unofficially, it was miles and miles: To boys, trespassing is an adult’s abstract legalism; remember the “TRESPASSERS W” sign in Winnie-the-Pooh? My buddies and I weren’t concerned about doing anything wrong. I only worried about getting yelled at. (A Google map search shows that, amazingly, much of those woods and fields remain!)
Of course, if I ever do find that world again, I won’t experience it as wandering with the forest creatures to the Enchanted Places. In earlier posts (July 1, '07), I’ve quoted that line from The Wild Bunch about being a child again, but that, in its pure form, is neither possible, nor morally right. Home ownership will be full of existential moments as Mr. Blandings knew, too. But God’s gonna go “Ha!”, whether or not we make plans. His laughter is not a call to passive surrender—no one, not even a monk, dies saying, “Well, at least I didn’t do anything”—but, I hope, a call to courage, grace, and flexibility. A Main Street businessman’s practical sense bred with a nose for life’s best surprises and possibilities and the guts to meet them.
The loan documents have been submitted. Monsters and man traps lie ahead. So does possible joy, satisfaction, and a sense of accomplishment. Sure, I’ve got plans. And I’ll make new ones, if I have to. I’ll make some place of my own to wander.