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From the curved, brick street.

I landed in Huntington a few nights ago, to the warm home of my friends Sara and Jeffrey, so thankful for their hugs and hospitality. For the first few days, I felt very disoriented and at once out of place and completely at home. There’s a slightly dizzying disquiet for me here. Loud echoes and reverberations from adolescence and its maddening tincture of desire, anxiety, hopes and pain. My first love, first sex, first rock and roll, first hangover, first crushing heartbreak, first glimpse of existential emptiness. When I arrived in town I wandered a bit and ended up driving past the house where we had lived on Rugby Road. I stopped and looked up at my bedroom window. The curtain was open and I could see light purple paint on the wall and a little girl’s collection of pink and glitter and ribbon. I felt my throat close up a little and my head start to separate from my body. It was dark out, cold and damp. It was hard to stay in that spot with the tsunami of memories and emotions flooding and choking me. I drove on.

Before getting to Huntington, I stopped in Portsmouth, Ohio, where we lived for six years or so, pre-adolescence. A once bustling industrial city on the river, Portsmouth is now struggling under the dual curses of poverty and fundamentalist religion. I arrived feeling an exuberance for tracking down my old haunts; the baseball field, the river bank, the houses where we lived, the woods where we played. My sparkly excitement was met with large swaths of heavy, brown despair. Nihilism, broken minds, and cancer treatment ads covering giant billboards. Life was often difficult in Portsmouth where I spent some of the grayer years of my coming up. There is some nostalgia, and a few seriously fun memories of rolling down grassy hills, learning to ride a bike with no hands, and the neighborhoods where we lived, with whole societies of children that encompassed friends and enemies, where games of kick-the-can or red-rover were played with to-the-death ferocity.

Before Portsmouth I wandered around Granville, Ohio, where the blissful, idyllic parts of my early childhood reside, all sledding in deep snow, walks to the duck pond, the summer blackberry feast out back, naps curled up with my mom. Then to Athens, where I was born and later spent my first quarter of college. A quintessential college town with a gorgeous campus and all the important places within about a fifteen minute walk from the main quad. Brick streets and old buildings, front porches, a town warm and friendly, bursting at the seams with the creative and the curious.

My family moved to West Virginia when I was 12 and I left at age 22 for San Francisco. The last time I was in Huntington was spring of ’06, just about a year after my dad died. I came here to find him and see him again, to hear his voice and talk to his spirit that still inhabited the sidewalks and buildings and every tree and blade of grass on the campus of MU where he had taught for thirty-something years. He was easy to find, standing at the river, the mighty Ohio, sacred to all who have grown up along its banks. Spring is gorgeous here, and that trip aligned perfectly with the dogwood trees blooming like crazy, daffodils poking out of their cold hibernation, trees budding, winter coats getting left at home, smiles and warm hellos. Life emerging from cracks in the pavement, clear signs of hope and peace.

This time I’ve entered Huntington from the back door, the end car on the train. I see myself on so many corners, walking my paper route, riding endless hours on my bike. I see myself horny and alive, moving and playing, avoiding traps and bullies, seeking out the fun and adventurous. I see myself afraid, anxious about my place in the world I was growing into. I watch myself from behind, early twenties, loading my gear into an old bread delivery van and driving West. And I sit quietly and look, and stare, and listen, as the light softens and fades, and the frost takes over the cold ground and the naked trees. I don’t want to get close enough to touch or kiss or enter the places of my youth. I am watching from across the street, and that’s close enough.

Facing West

This morning I had eggs, latkes and a bagel at Katz’s Deli in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Now I’m in a Comfort Inn outside Wheeling West (By God) Virginia. My head is spinning, really hard.

I loved New York. I want to live there.

Last night I parked my car in the Bowery and was walking back toward the full-funk hostel where I was staying when I passed a small café. There was a slight chill in the air and it was drizzling rain. The café entrance was down a few steps and a handful of patrons were spilling out onto the small patio between the sidewalk and the door. There was talking and laughing and the place seemed warm and alive, an inviting contrast to the cold wet loneliness of the sidewalk. I stopped and looked. A beautiful woman in a shiny red dress was leaning out the door. She looked at me and said HI, and I said HI back. I asked if they were still open and she said, in a luscious accent, “Yes, well, it’s my birthday and we’re having a party, and you’re welcome to come in and have some cake.” I went in and sat at the bar and realized most people there were speaking Russian. The bartender, Tatiana (yes.. seriously) steered me toward one of their homemade infused vodkas and I sat and chatted with a guy sitting at the bar. (New Yorkers are so much friendlier than San Franciscans. What’s up with this?) As I was starting to leave, shiny red dress started dancing a tango with one of her suitors. I was mesmerized and tingling, watching and mentally inserting my own hands, my feet, my body into the mix.

I want to live there. In New York. And I want to live in that spontaneous tango.

Driving today from the edge of the East coast with Manhattan still buzzing at my back, toward West Virginia and Ohio, my home states, it felt like I was coming full circle. Looking at my past, from behind, in the light of the present. Or something like that. I feel like I’m sneaking up on myself. When I look at the drawing I’ve made of the trajectory of my life on the map in my head, I’m standing at the Ohio river facing the West coast. It’s very late on a very rainy night in West Virginia, and I’m staring at the back of my own head.

Tomorrow I’m meeting family in Ohio for Thanksgiving. I can smell them pies from here.

Roommates

There’s a mouse in my room. A part time mouse. He shoots in under the door and heads behind the TV table. He hangs out there for ten or fifteen minutes then shoots back out the door. I watched him do this three or four times last night. What the hell is he doing? At first I thought he was after the food I had in a bag under that table, but he didn’t bother it. Is he a drug runner? Mice all act like they’re on speed, anyway, running like crazy from corner to corner, acting like freaks. What the hell?

There are rats above my room, living in the ceiling above the bathroom. They rustle and fight and argue and screech at each other all night. There’s a herd of them, and sometimes it sounds like one or more are being slammed against the wall, getting the shit beat out of them. Thud, thud, screech, scramble. The noise from their rat wars is so loud that it sounds like parts of the ceiling are breaking under the strain. They don’t bother me too much since I don’t have to look at them.

The cutest of all the critters I’m sharing my room with is a small green lizard. Counting tail, he’s maybe six inches long, but he’s never fully stretched out. He climbs along the wall in a scriggly “S” motion, skittering two or three feet at a time. He comes in through a crack where the broken air conditioner sits in the wall and meanders around, looking for the hole above the door where a power cable sticks out. He pokes his head in and then slowly enters the hole, his tail sometimes sticking out for a bit.

A few days ago I found him on my bed, just sitting there, next to my pillow. He hung out there for a while, maybe asleep, but I doubt it. I moved closer and he jetted up the headboard and hung out there long enough for me to get a good picture of him. He’s cute, with a lean and efficient body, a tapered tail and mottled green skin. I’m sure his coloring serves as camouflage outside on a tree, but against the pink walls of this room he ain’t hidin’ from nobody.

I think that’s pretty much it for the menagerie; a cockroach, a cricket, mouse, rats and little green lizard, all sharing a small room with a tall bald man from USA.