Subtitled: how to articulate a lump in the throat.
What is home? Is home the place you live or the place you’re from? Maybe it’s wherever you lay your hat, that was a swell song. I’m a New Yorker but I’m not from New York. I’m from the New York area, that’s true. And I grew up coming to New York. I saw shows at Madison Square Garden and clubs that no longer exist like Limelight and the Ritz. I saw baseball games at Yankee Stadium. I hung out, shopped, and got my hair cut in the Village. But I was a bridge and tunnel person, no question. Mostly bridge. A Facebook friend of mine sometimes asks, “will you be home for blah blah holiday?” And I always feel resentful. I live here. This is my home.
My new kitchen is mostly from Brooklyn. Entirely, really. The contractor, the cabinets, the tiles, the floor, the granite… all from Brooklyn (the granite started in Spain, but that’s a technicality). So I’ve been going there a lot. My father is from Brooklyn and if I say something like, “I went to Utica & Kings Highway,” he’ll tell me what subway line I took. And he’ll call the lines things like, the “Brighton Beach line” instead of the letter. I can’t really pull that off; this isn’t my hometown.
The problem is, when the place you live changes, it changes incrementally so that it doesn’t seem different unless you really think about it. You know the neighborhood has changed but it doesn’t look strange because it happened so gradually. Sometimes you forget what store was there before the Commerce Bank. With your hometown, though, you go back and it’s all different. And worse, the people there treat it all as normal. They even get excited. Look! The Sears is a Super Wal-Mart! They’ve moved on while you’ve just moved away. It’s not really your town anymore, is it? You’ve conceded it to those who live there now. If you’re not from the kind of place that people are longing to get out of as soon as they can, this can be difficult. Especially if you go back now and then and see glimpses of what it used to be. Or if you find yourself knowing that the law office used to be the pharmacy. Or peering into the library and knowing exactly what section of books it is. Sometimes, as you walk through the mall built in the time of legwarmers before it officially opens, you can press your nose against the glass of the Men’s Store and in the dim light see the glow of the Exit sign above the door to the back room, and it’s the same back room of what was once the record store where you wiled away customer-free afternoons arguing whether Depeche Mode’s Music For the Masses or Metallica’s Black Album would be next on the sound system (guess which side I took).
And if there comes a moment when there is no longer any home there, then you begin to wonder, can the phrase hometown exist without the home part? If the whole thing has changed and you’ve spent the greater part of your life living elsewhere, and there is no home… is it home? And if you can’t feel that way about your current town because as much as you love it and want to hug it every day, it stills feels like you are a newcomer, then where is home?
Perhaps if you grew up in a house and then spent many years moving from apartment to apartment, it is tough to convince your psyche even six years after you bought a bit of New York, that the place you plunked down all that money for, though it is the same sort of apartment as all the transient places, is home. Maybe a new kitchen will do it. Maybe having no home in your hometown will do it. Maybe the boxes of your childhood bedroom now in your storage space will do it.
Yesterday, the day I lost my home, the house in which I was born, physically and spiritually, I nearly removed the entry in the “Hometown” slot of my Facebook page. But I decided not to. I just have to realize that hometown is a state of mind. You know, like Yogi Berra said on one of those tearjerker ESPN commercials about Yankee Stadium: “I won’t miss this place…. because it’s inside me.”
Of course, in our cathedral of baseball, we only used wiffle balls. But you get me.
Photo of the house in which I was born and raised via Google maps
Matthew Sweet – Nothing Lasts