FRIENDS AND FAVORITES
Have Yourself an Ambivalent Little Christmas
The Golden Age of Spam
Will the Real Renaissance Please Stand Up?
My Life of Crime
My Life of Crime, Pt. 2: The War of the Dandelions
Black (and Blue) Friday
How Not to Celebrate a Holiday
Traffic Report Fall Down
and Go Boom
O, Holy Weekend
You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?
Lessons for Hurricane Preparedness as Taught By Example in Raleigh, North Carolina
You Mean My Vote Actually Means Something?, Pt. 2: Are They Gone Yet?
The Last Reality Show
It Builds Character
Sink the Flu
WTF (in C Major)
Kneel before Za
I Got Your Breaking News Right Here, Pal
Christmas in July...or April...or maybe even December
Why I Hate "The Little Drummer Boy"
This past fall my wife and I went on a vacation to Washington D.C. This is where I lived as a child (sort of...I actually lived in Rockville and rarely set foot in the actual city as a child), so in some way I viewed the vacation as a homecoming.
There is, however, one problem with saying this, which is that I spent major portions of the week in places I had never been before, nor even knew the existence of when I was young. I only went to my actual home once.
And when I say I went to my actual home, let me stress that I did literally go to my actual home. For some reason, I wanted to see the house I grew up in when I was a kid. I still remember the address after all these years, so all it took was a couple of minutes of looking at a map to figure out how to get there. I drove up, turned onto the service street the house was on, stopped my car in front of the second house, and...
...it looked almost nothing like I remembered it.
It started to look familiar after a few seconds, but I really was expecting something different. I thought the hill in front of the house was steeper. I thought the driveway was longer. This is probably a function of my having been a lot shorter back then, but it was still a bit disorienting. Also, for some stupid reason I was surprised that a house that had changed hands several times since then would have its shutters painted a different color. But the more I looked at it, the more it came into focus.
For some reason, I decided I wanted to take a picture so I could show it to my parents. This was clearly important, because there is no monument, no government building, no anything in the entire Washington D.C. metropolitan area as fascinating as the run-of-the-mill house that we used to live in. And, of course, my parents would need a picture because they have no idea what this house they lived in for several years looked like. But for whatever reason, I decided I wanted a picture.
This was the point I started expecting to run into trouble. You see, there was a car parked in front of the house. Someone was probably home. And I was worried that at any second someone might come out of the house demanding to know what the hell this total stranger was doing taking pictures of their house. I wasn't certain how they would have reacted to being told "Oh, I was just taking a picture of the house I lived in when I was a kid." It sounds pretty flimsy, if you think about it. I also considered the possibility that one of the neighbors (I had noticed the "neighborhood watch" sign as I turned onto the side street) might call the police. Considering the fact that I wanted to spend a few minutes driving around the neighborhood, the police would have had plenty of time to find me and ask me what I was doing. I'm not sure what I was worried about, but by this time I had been staying in post-9/11 Washington D.C. for a few days, and all the new security measures may have had me feeling paranoid.
So perhaps it would be best to avoid doing anything that would draw attention to me for the next few minutes, right? So of course the next thing I did was drive around the corner to the elementary school, pull over, and take a picture of that as well. I should note that school would have already been in session by then, so here I was, a man in his late 30s parked beside a school full of children, not too far from Washington, D.C., taking pictures. Oh no, there's no suspicious activity going on here. Every time a car drove by I half expected it to turn around, pull over behind me, and start flashing lights at me. And "I just wanted to take pictures of the first school I went to" didn't strike me as being much more plausible than "I just wanted to take a picture of the house I lived in as a kid", even if it was just as true.
I then spent the next thirty minutes or so driving at a ridiculously slow pace around the streets in the neighborhood, pointing out where various friends lived and generally boring my wife to tears. Now, my wife did not act bored. She seemed to be quite interested. I can not thank her enough for this, because I can't believe she or any other living human being would actually be interested in a half hour of "this friend lived here, this guy who moved in the summer before we left moved here, the guy who lived here grew up to be a junkie". Heck, after about twenty minutes I started to bore myself (yet I still went on for another ten minutes). My wife nonetheless seemed to be quite interested. Clearly, I owe her one. If, as I suspect, she was hiding her boredom, then I'm thankful she had the decency to let me ramble on about this stuff to my heart's content. And if she was in fact truly interested, then I'm amazed.
I don't know why, but I do this sort of thing occasionally. If I go to Chapel Hill for any reason, I'm likely to want to swing by the apartment I lived in for two years in college. If I'm in Durham, I want to swing by the residential high school I attended. And if I'm in the town where my parents live...
Well, actually, that's a slightly different situation, because the only house in that town I remember living in is the one my parents still live in, and it's pretty much the only place in town I ever go to. That place was, to put it mildly, not my favorite place to live. There's an unexploded nuclear bomb in a bean field nearby, and if my parents, my brother and his family, and a handful of other assorted relatives got out first, I wouldn't be horribly bothered if the bomb went off and took the town out.
I'm not exaggerating about the unexploded bomb, incidentally. (Whether I am exaggerating about not being bothered if it went off is left as an exercise to the reader.) Back in the 1960s a plane carrying two nuclear bombs crashed about twelve miles away. The bombs were jettisoned before the crash. One of them parachuted safely to earth. The other plummeted to earth (an air force colonel was quoted as estimating its speed at about Mach 1) and buried itself who knows how deep under the dirt. I say "who knows how deep" because they never found the bomb. The area's kind of swampy and they were having trouble keeping the excavating equipment from sinking into the muck. (If you visualize this scene, it quickly develops so much dark humor that it wouldn't seem out of place as a scene in Dr. Strangelove.) So the bomb is still there. It hasn't exploded in nearly fifty years and probably never will, but it still strikes me as the sort of thing that would rightfully make most people nervous. I'm not going to claim the bomb is what inspired me to leave the place, but it obviously wasn't an argument to stay.
Now let me point out a little detail you may not have caught a few paragraphs ago. The bomb is under a bean field. This is because the land over this nuclear bomb is still being used used for agricultural purposes.
For the record, I don't eat beans. I advise you not eat them either unless you know definitively they didn't come from this place.
It amazes me that people still farm there. It amazes me even more that people are willing to live on a farm with a nuke under it. Personally, I would have moved as soon as I found out what had happened (predictably, no one found out about it until some time after the incident). But the people who lived there apparently had a strong enough sense of home that they chose to live in a house with a nuke buried under their yard.
I don't understand that sort of attachment to home. Sure, I enjoy the excuse to visit some of them, but this is in part because I have so damn many of them. If I'm doing the math right, I've lived in twelve different places in my life (seven of them before I was ten), and I don't even know where half of them are. The first house I lived in, I moved away from when my age was seven...seven months, that is. And that isn't the shortest amount of time I've lived in a place. It's hard to feel too terribly attached to a place when that's how long you stick around.
Heck, when I was at the residential high school, I basically had two homes. My parents' house was still my permanent address, and obviously my family lived there. But the school was where much of my stuff was, as well as most of my friends. My friends and I used to joke about what "home" meant. When we went to our parents' house we were "going home", but when we came back to school that was "going home", too. We decided that home meant "wherever you're not". That's about how seriously I take the concept of "home".
The neat thing about this mindset is that you can feel at home any place. I can go to a bed and breakfast and within a day it feels like "home" to me. (The fact that they always have luxurious breakfasts and often have extras like whirlpool baths certainly helps.) On vacation, when it's time to go back to the B&B I'll tell my wife that we need to "go home", and I mean it. For that week, at least, that's as much home as anywhere else is. So for one week this past fall, my home was an allegedly-haunted (but that's a story for another day) Victorian-era house on 14th Street Northwest in Washington D.C.
I even took a picture of it before we left. And the owner didn't even come out and yell at me.