Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Old Kentucky Home

number fifty-two

This is an account of the first time I return to the US after several months living abroad. It is my first trip home after coming to think of Monterrey as my home. Actually, it is hard to decide what isn’t my home now, from minute to minute. 1,303 words.

[NL]—The last time I really thought much about rootlessness I was also in Kentucky. At the time I had just spent the previous day throwing out whatever still remained in my house. A long evening saying “so long” to everyone at my favorite bar, and then a long night on the toll road through West Virginia, brought me to that new day in rural Appalachia. This had been the first leg of the weeklong journey that ended here in San Pedro, Nuevo Leon. I was pretty tired after that first day, but I could not escape the exhilarating feeling that wherever I happened to be standing was, at that moment, where I actually lived.

In a smaller scheme it was possible to imagine that, as of leaving North Carolina, I had immediately slipped into a state of heading home again. I am certain that this is the way many people feel about pulling up roots and moving great distances. A baseball metaphor lends its cliché: start at home, hit that pop fly into the sun, and round the bases back to home. One moment I was standing on my doorstep, and the next I was twelve hundred miles away from a new doorstep and heading there for the first time. Except this doesn’t feel quite true. From the moment that I locked the doors in NC that last time and handed my keys to Phil, I became something more than homeless, or even homeward bound. At that moment I moved into the rather migratory state of some kind of meta-centric. Home followed me wherever I was. I was not walking around inside it, it was radiating from me. My cliché began to stretch into absurdity as I imagined myself someday passing fourth and fifth and sixth bases in a constantly expanding home-run in an increasingly ridiculous baseball analogy.

I know this is just a lot of words, but it was interesting for me to think about throughout the week. My stuff was either at my mom’s, or in Mexico, or hurtling just a tiny bit over the speed limit between the two. Other things that I used to own were now the possessions of other people. There was nowhere I could not stop and simply stay. I had no special claim to any place, really—no leases or binding documents—and it was fair to say that wherever I happened to be—in the car, say, or Kentucky, or a roofless rest area outside Dallas—was no more or less informed by my presence than the home I was heading to. There was no reason they could not all thought of as my home. Far from a scary feeling, this was a freedom; this rootlessness gave me an equal ownership in every place available to me: no strings attached. The whole world was just that sunny baseball field and I was just the man to haul ass around it.

Much time has passed, though, and we recently returned to Kentucky for Sunshine’s birthday. While it was hot in Northern Mexico in July, with temperatures regularly hitting the hundred and teens, I had been concerned about heading back into the humidity of the southern US. I had also been a little concerned about our flights, since the last time I had boarded a plane I had spent the fifty minutes between Monterrey and Mexico City in terror. This time around the fear of flying had lessened some. I armchair speculate that this sudden phobia is my working through post September eleventh issues, as asinine as that sounds; I am hoping that I will soon return to the hardened air traveler I once was. Stepping into the Kentucky weather was about as bad as I excepted, but after several hours I had mostly stopped noticing it.

Sunshine’s birthday was about the middle day of our vacation. I gave her cowboy boots wrapped in homemade “legal alien” wrapping paper that included our faces. A fantastic time was had by all.

I was incredibly excited to be back in the US for eight days. It was coming home, of course—what isn’t now? It was also a great opportunity to take advantage of the many comforts afforded me by my familiarity with the place. Sunshine’s parents are fun and relaxed, the farm is beautiful, and there’s little more to do all day long than sit on the porch looking out over the toy-studded landscape. That, and to do a heck of a lot of shopping. It is difficult for me to isolate the things that I miss from home (the US) when I am home (in Mexico), but it was very easy to find things I couldn’t live without while at home in Kentucky. Every store we happened to duck into sold some necessary item, the cultural exclusiveness of which had gone unnoticed until just then.

I was very happy to see my mother, who picked us up at the Lexington airport, and Sunshine’s father who was waiting for us at the farm. I was very happy to see our friend Ellie who happened to be in Lexington on business. Sunshine’s mother returned home from China about halfway through our visit, and I was very happy to see her. Sunshine’s extended family foliage of cousins and uncles and aunts and nieces and neighbors came regularly by, and I was happy to see each and every one of these people whose names I had still been struggling to sort out two years ago. The air was clear, the sky was starry, and the food was filled with comfortably predictable ingredients. The first night we were stateside we ate in a Mexican restaurant. We just can’t get food exactly like that anywhere in Mexico.

But in a used bookstore in Lexington I had the predictable emotional pang. We had returned to the United States exactly three months, almost to the hour, after I had crossed the border in the other direction in April. Sunshine had gotten to come to her childhood home and see her people. It was her birthday and she had been in Mexico almost twice as long as I had. Fair enough. As much as I love Kentucky, though, the majority of my people are elsewhere. The places and foods of my childhood homes are in little mill towns strung along I-85, long grown safely nostalgic. But this trip to the US, and Kentucky’s close proximity to North Carolina, has kindled a homesickness that has made me reevaluate my first superficial ruminations on my own rootlessness. I imagine the frustrations and fatigue as the sun sets on that endless baseball diamond, my multiplying team members strung along on the bases before and after me. So, there may be a scary side to this after all.

Currently, in Mexico, I am becoming attached to new people and new places. After we flew back here yesterday, and after customs and immigration, I was happily tucked into a cab whisking us through a city comfortably familiar. I probably even said something like “We’re home.” I was happy to be in the comfort of our house, in our neighborhood, surrounded by our things. I was happy to be greeted by our cat. Tonight or tomorrow night I will be happy to see our friends Christene and Tony, and to dine on excellent Mexican food with them. I am happy; but I am also still homesick, even though I am home right here. This, like the fear of flying, is something it is possible to imagine plaguing me throughout the foreseeable future. Is every base to be home plate? More or less. It may become very confusing to have so many homes to enjoy returning to. It may be bittersweet to always have to leave one to return to another.

Front Porch. Photo Illustration © El Joy

Quiet Reading Room

This is a quiet reading room. Often, I find it is uncomfortable to digest long tubes of columned text directly off a computer screen. This journal is dedicated to the collection, percolation, and ultimate integration of my personal experiences. Subjects that I want to examine and then talk about--sometimes talk a lot about--€”are presented here. This central content can tend to thousands of words, maybe millions. I was afraid that readers were leaving the presentation boggled, spinning, googly-eyed. Or perhaps when confronted with twenty-four inches, or yards, of monitor sprawl they were just giving up. I am not even certain that I have necessarily solved this inevitable content problem of modern information enjoyment, but here is what I have done.

After long and highly scientific routines manipulating double-blind control- and test-subjects, peer reviewed journal publications, and hours and hours of hands-on experimentation, I have crafted this quiet reading room. There is no scientific way to control the length of the articles I write, but careful handling can somewhat soothe the contextual presentation. In other words: I have dropped the traditional speculation about lexicon, and attacked the question of the matrix itself instead. Brilliant. After years of diligence what I eventually crafted is this reading room.

The walls are contoured to relax instead of constrain; the paper is made to soften instead of reflect. The light is dimmed--just so--€”to prevent strain, angled to prevent umbra, and color-coded to soften harsh red lights and deepen wimpy light reds. There is nothing I can do to control aural environment, but my recommendation is that it should be kept quiet. About ambient sound: these entries are probably best read as far as possible from emergency vehicles, preferably from beneath the muffler of a vintage fire fighter pilot's scarf, puffy old duvet, or snow that is still falling.

My theory is that the wide web world is filled with potent and material opportunities that are just too difficult to digest for many people to take part. Enjoyment of this stuff is regulated to the routines of crawlers and robots at the peril of humankind's peaceful future survival. In an attempt to delay this likely outcome: welcome to this quiet reading room. It is for people like you to relax, kick back, and hate my content for better reasons than the dizzying vertiginous specter of its lousy dpi presentation.

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