Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 08, 2010


Is where the heart is


Is so remote


Is just emotion

Sticking in my throat


Is hard to swallow


Is like a rock


Is good clean living

Home is...

I forgot

—"Home" (1978), Lene Lovich

I spent a few days in my hometown of Westport, Connecticut recently, and it was an odd experience filled with a sense of wistful melancholy.

I've been feeling out of sorts for a number of reasons and, knowing this, my mother suggested that I stay at her house for a few days while she was out of town on vacation so I could re-center myself, away from the noise of Brooklyn and the daily frustrations I've faced lately. At first I turned down her offer, but I soon thought better of it and decided to use the weekend to de-stress and invite a number of friends over for the first cookout I would have thrown there in a long time. I sent out invitations to pretty much all of my friends who still lived in the Fairfield County area and hoped as many of them as possible could attend. Thus readied, I hit Westport last Friday afternoon and picked up the components for crafting a feast with my signature pulled pork and sweet lime barbecued chicken serving as its anchors.

Surprisingly — and perhaps disappointingly — not a gay bar.

While driving through a town that I've known like the back of my own hand since nearly forty years ago, I remarked on how many of the familiar landmarks have either simply faded away or been torn down to make way for either another of the steadily proliferating "McMansions" that litter the place while remaining unsold and unoccupied, or for more faceless, nameless condos or stores. But "fuck that," thought I, and off I went to find comfort in the only two Fairfield County institutions that never fail me and afford me considerable comfort whenever I'm in the area.

The Dairy King on Route 7 in Norwalk: the last holdout of a particular variety of chili dog.

My first stop was the venerable Dairy King on Route 7 in Norwalk, roughly a ten-minute drive from my mom's house and possibly the area's last holdout of the exact same kind of chili dogs found at the Dairy Queen that existed in Westport for as long as I can remember, until replaced within the past decade by the vastly inferior Swanky Franks. (Fried hot dogs? No, thank you!) It was there that I tucked into my customary feast of three of their brazier-grilled foot-longs slathered with delicious chili, washed down with a Barq's root beer.

Fun on a bun and sheer junk food bliss.

After finishing my tasty repast, I headed across the street to Superior, formerly Superior Oriental, the martial arts supply store at which I purchased my first pair of nunchaku nearly thirty years ago.

Despite the name change, Superior remains a high-quality purveyor of quality gear, weaponry and DVDs, and just entering the place brought me back to a time in my youth when the martial arts first seriously broke through my youthful ennui and filled me with a sense of empowerment. The shop's originator, a totally cool dude named Pak, is long gone, but I thank him for opening such a shop in the middle of an area with so little soul.

When I'd finished my pre-cookout grocery shopping, I took a walk around my mother's property and committed its current state to memory.

The house where I came of age.

A humble abode by the standards of Westport, this cozy dwelling was perfect for two people to live in and it seems almost unimaginably tiny to me when I experience it nowadays. Practically dollhouse-like.

Its grounds, once considerably more lush, are now sparse due to natural aging and the fact that my mom, seized by senior citizen paranoia, had much of its foliage and shrubbery removed, thus denying would-be home-invaders and assailants cover. The lone bit of de-forestation that I understood was the removal of the huge pine tree that once towered over the front walkway, a tower of needle-covered branches that finally perished and had begun to rot.

The space in the front yard where a huge pine tree once stood, before it died and was cut down to prevent it falling onto the house.

My walk-round soon led me to the stone path I'd put down that guided visitors from the driveway to the rear of the house, and now those pebbled stones have practically been reclaimed by the earth from which they were gathered.

The path culminates at a point where the traveler can choose between entering the converted garage that was once my bedroom, or proceeding a bit further to the back porch.

The door seen in back of me opens into the converted garage that I insisted be my room when my mom and I moved into this house at the tail end of the summer of 1980. In theory I could have used it to sneak out or sneak girls in, but the watchful eye of my mom, whose bedroom window is the one right above it, prevented that. Thus, other, more subtle tactics were employed, with a certain degree of success. (I can't enter that room without thinking back and smiling at the memory of fondling and sucking on a certain pair of bolshy, hard-nippled tits belonging to a certain kind sixteen-year-old brunette who had a kiss like a lamprey.)

The back porch remains much the same as it ever was, with some slight evidence of wood-rot, only now serving mostly as the screened-in area where my mother goes to read her newspaper or novels during the warm seasons.

The back porch, with the long-neglected Weber grill all fired-up and slow-cooking three sweet lime chickens.

It seems like a million years ago that the back porch was home to many drunken and stoned nights when my friends and I hung out and pondered what our lives would be like when we finally spread our proverbial wings and took flight beyond the borders of our hometown. The same could be said of the downstairs family room, sometimes not-inaccurately referred to by myself and my friends as "the Screening Room."

The Screening Room (as seen today): a fondly-remembered salon where minds were warped with booze, drugs, untranslated Japanese animation and a cornucopia of bad movies.

The hangout of choice of myself and my friends from roughly 1984 through late in 1989, just before I left for NYC, the Screening Room was the humble DIY alternative to the late night distractions offered by Norwalk's Sono Cinema and its weekly roster of projected cult cinema. My mom somehow tolerated this basement space being taken over every weekend by a seeming legion of my pals, many of whom routinely brought booze and weed for all to enjoy (not that she knew about that; she could be quite naive about such things). Many questionable flicks were screened and many illicit hookups took place during those halcyon days, including the kickoff to a long-term and cherished relationship of mine that occurred as the girl in question and I explored each other while MOMMIE DEAREST played on HBO (thank the gods she was on the pill). Other than my bedroom, this was the one place in the entire edifice where I felt at home. I just stood there and took in the sight of it and tried to wrap my head around a time and place that now seem as foreign to me as would the landscape of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom.

I then retired to the kitchen and focused on putting together the next day's feast, a time of preparation that entailed the overnight marinading of three whole chickens in my patented sweet lime concoction, and pulled pork that had to slow-cook for fourteen hours.

From these humble components are born things that delight the palate and result in food-gasms.

The following day saw the serving of falling-off-the-bone pork and tangy chicken that did likewise.

Pulled pork and sweet lime barbecued chicken. Now there's some good eatin'!

My friends "She Who Cannot Be Named," Jody and Chris, along with my old friend Amanda's cooler-than-penguin-shit parents, Al and Eulayla (who long ago became family) came over and merrily enjoyed the cooking and good vibes, and I wish the rest of the people I'd invited had showed up.

Al and Eulayla: two of my favorite human beings.

Then, all too soon, it was over, and although I got to see Francesca, a dear fiend whom I've known for thirty-five years, and her son, William (who I've known since he was born and is not in any way, I'm glad to say, an asshole), I was soon left alone again with my thoughts and remembrances.

My family moved to Westport in June of 1972 and my mother has been in what was our second house since the late summer of 1980, so there are three decades of vivid memories attached to that house for me. My mother scrimped, saved and fought like hell for that house and though I lived there during the years when I came of age, I can honestly say that I never truly felt at home there. Make no mistake, it was my mother's home, an insular bastion of self-imposed isolation, and whenever I return to the place it seems as though time has stood still since 1980 and none of my life outside of it has any validity while I'm there. I feel no connection with the place, either the house or the town, and look upon my time spent there as that of an occupant but never a part of anything that was real or truly inclusive to me.

While I was at home my mom was off on vacation in Spain, on what will most likely be her final big trip. She's seventy-seven now and the women in her family almost all seem to have a built-in shutdown date of seventy-eight. It was weird to be in that house by myself for most of the time I was there and the silence caused thirty years of memories, mostly not very good ones, to come flooding back. It was strange to be there and not have my every word or action sniped at, dissected or criticized and also to note the state of decay the property and house itself are in.

Sadly, my mom has lately displayed a myriad of the usual physical and mental impediments that come with age and has begun to lose much of her physical strength and stamina, such as it was, but it's all seemed to pile up with an alarming suddenness. I have no illusions about her inevitable demise and when she finally goes I will sell the house and virtually everything in it and kiss Connecticut, specifically Fairfield County, goodbye forever, and it saddened me to look at all that she fought for, the house, the land, only to see her grow old alone after what has not been an easy life, and I mourn for the times when she was ever truly happy or a pleasure to be around.

To tell the truth, I also get rather depressed when I contemplate how several of my friends since my youth have stayed in the limbo that is Connecticut and I often wonder where their lives would have gone if they had left the familiarity of the place. Several of them are quite literally never — and I do mean never — willing to come into New York City, even though it's only an hour away by train. What is it about Connecticut that holds any appeal to them? The place is in many ways like a state-sized waiting room for admission to the after-life, so what does it offer to those who are not over the age of sixty-five? In some cases I'm watching my friends, people who are the same age as me, grow old well before it is their time, and it is not a pretty sight.

Westport itself has somehow managed to become more artificial and surreal and it has a very "Twilight Zone" feel of surreality about it. The populace looks like it was part of a run of assembly line-produced replicants, discernible from one another only by the most minor of variations, and the cycle of churning out more cookie-cutter Westporters just continues on ad infinitum. It was bad enough when I was growing up, but if I were a kid there now, suicide would almost seem a viable alternative to living there.

While driving all over Westport and the neighboring towns of Norwalk and Fairfield over the past few days, the whole experience of living there came flooding back, the sights, sounds and even the smells of CT as the cool sea breeze blew in off the Long Island Sound hitting me like a goddamned sledgehammer. It was only when I got back to Brooklyn that I felt a part of the real world again and felt vaguely nauseated at that realization. I discussed some of this with my old friend Cat a few years ago, who also grew up in Westport during crucial years on the path to adulthood, and her suggestion of selling the house when my mother dies and never looking back because of the ton of negative memories the place stirs up in me seems more sound with each passing year. But that day is still a ways off, so until then I wish my mom an enjoyable rest of her time on this earth.


czelous said...

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb - born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok I know nothing's wrong . . nothing
- Talking Heads

I can’t understand why they stay either.

Amber Love said...

I'm going to be late because I couldn't avoid reading this. When I went home just for a weekend, I also felt out of sorts. I wasn't comfortable per se; but I had the opposite experience. I felt like I was a B&B in the surburban sprawl no longer countryside of NJ, but I didn't want to leave because I don't feel at home anywhere. But my folks were there and I didn't want to leave. I love your mum's place! It's adorable. If I could save my pennies for that day you would inevitably have to sell, I'd snatch it up and give you a key just in case. Too bad I'm broke. Hopefully that will change soon. And I do honestly hope that you are feeling better. It's a 9 hr train ride from Pitt to Newark (I checked to see about your birthday party).

Jim Browski said...

Connecticut is my home...good or bad, and will be until I die.

Home is what you make of it. I have my little corner of the world here in Norwalk. My home is my sanctuary, my escape from the stark realities of this godawful world we exist in. It's what I know. I feel safe there.

To me, New York City is a dense cesspool of filth and humanity, mixed together with sweat, noise and chaos. I would sooner live in a French Penal Colony than ever call that place my home.

So more power to the City dwellers. If thats your idea of societal nirvana, I wish you continued bliss. Its just not the place I want to grow old prematurely in.

Dan said...

Ah, Westport. There are countless Westports all over the place. Having become a Masshole, and currently living in Needham, I can see that these towns' vacant soullessness comes from the people that choose these places to consume and excrete in. The people that are "at home" in these places are by and large inherently worthless, materialistic parasites. When you find actual human beings to talk to, it's sad that it's a rare treat, but that's the nature of "suburbs with a good school system." We just wussed out of living in the city (Somerville) when we saw how shit-awful their school system was. --Dan M.

Anonymous said...

My former fiance grew up in Wilton and several of his friends just...never left Fairfield Cty. One of them (briefly) dipped a toe into NYC and lived in Hell's Kitchen for 5 minutes in the late 90s but now won't visit the City unless he can see GCT from his final destination. I can't explain the pull that parts of CT have on certain people who grew up there, but I nodded and agreed (sometimes audibly, to the distress of my colleagues) with your assertions that people really do seem to nest there...and age prematurely. I think that in his heart, Former Fiance really is one of those people and his desire to move back and settle comfortably back into the suburban familiar - alongside the same kids he went to Cubscouts and junior prom with, now in their late 30s - and I'm just not. As an outsider, I've seen the weird CT pull and don't understand it, either. You're the first person I've read or heard that's noticed the same. Selfishly, thanks for sharing - it made me feel less crazy.

Robb said...

I heart your heart. Thank you for baring it, Bunche.

Zoola said...

This was a beautiful entry. Thank you for writing it.