“Home” tends not to be a place on a map, as much as a place in the heart. The desire for a safe haven, a return to the womb. It is important to note that while the desire to return to the womb is universal, it is also the basis for many mental illnesses.
If I had a place I considered “home”, it would be Texas. There is a certain sensation, the feel of the air, that is comfortable from the time I step off the plane. When I use the word “home” in conversation though, I am referring to my current residence. As John Worfin said in Buckaroo Banzai, “Home is where you wear your hat”. I enjoy visiting Texas, but I do not long to return. I long for the comfort of the life I have made. I have changed location enough to know that places I leave do not remain static, they change, I change, and the moment we shared is lost but to memory.
I think of Disneyland, and the portion inside the entrance, “Main Street USA“. A street that never existed anywhere outside the memories of Walt Disney’s childhood. An idyllic turn of the (19th to 20th) century town in middle America. I wonder how it looks today, are they able to replicate something that their grandparents dreamed of? Today, living in Princeton NJ, there are residents who want to maintain the small town feel of the borough, which I greatly appreciate. I lived in South Philadelphia immediately prior, and my neighborhood had largely maintained its small town feel. I didn’t own a car, I could walk or take public transportation anywhere. There was a baker, a butcher (I used to eat meat), a produce store, and other small shops on my street. I knew everyone’s name, and they knew mine. Princeton, home to Albert Einstein, John Nash, and Princeton University, with its tree lined streets and appreciation of roots, seemed perfect.
Oh, the failed analogies. On arrival I became involved in a grass roots movement to save the “Dinky“, a small rail line which connected the borough to the commuter lines. What a wonderful introduction to small town politics. As I hadn’t bothered driving in some time, I still relied on public transportation, as do many Princetonians who commute daily to Manhattan. The University President didn’t want a “railroad running through my University”, despite the number of students it carried. She had just built a new parking garage and to reach it, the train had to go. Despite an overwhelming public disapproval, the University got its way. The station has been slated for “renovation”, a new terminus will be built off University property, no longer within walking distance.
Being a “college town”, the public kiosks are ablaze with notices. To me, even though I haven’t lost or found a cat, nor am I looking for used furniture or a garage sale, the kiosks represented a vibrant social network. To see one covered with notices means people are reaching out to each other. To the Chamber of Commerce, they represented an advertising opportunity being wasted on the public. The Chamber of Commerce put forward a plan to lease the kiosks, for $1 a year, and to replace them with glass enclosed advertising space. It really doesn’t matter what colour they’re painted, they will still look sterile. The public hated the idea, but the chamber of commerce, with seventy percent of its members actually located outside of Princeton, was able to convince the Town Council that the new kiosks would maintain the small town feel and provide advertising for local businesses (local remains undefined), while removing the “eyesore” of the “messy” old kiosks. The idea of a “Free Speech Zone” is redefined as “Advertising Space”. The “Disneyfication” of a beautiful old town continues.
Some of the silliness is simply based on appearances. Princeton is literally in the woods. Yet every wind storm, and there have been many in the last few years, knocks down trees all over the area. I was wondering how any trees remain. Apparently, the trees in neighborhoods are weakened when property owners place large mounds of mulch at their base. But it’s the look people want (the mounds), so yesterday coming home I noticed that one neighbor had placed nice neat mountains of mulch at the base of every tree, and also at the base of their mailbox. Another neighbor, who lost several large trees and his fence during Hurricane Sandy, has finally gotten a service to come out and remove the debris. Several large trucks have been there all week, cutting up the trunks and running them through a chipper. This morning, I noticed a couple of dozen bags of mulch in his drive. He’s discarding the chips from his own trees, and purchasing chips of a mulch company’s trees. They must have a more desirable colour.
The desire to maintain the old world while living in the new world is of course doomed. Nassau Street is rapidly becoming an open air shopping mall, the trendy chain stores replacing old, useful, businesses. We bring the world home with us. I am reminded of living in a suburban town in Pennsylvania, and hearing complaints about wildlife. If you didn’t want deer and fox and raccoons in your yard, why didn’t you stay in the city? My father exemplified the “Ugly American”, expecting the same amenities in a cantina on the beach of Mexico as in a restaurant in the States. People always want to bring their world with them, what was the point in traveling again? I’ve seen countless examples of people trying to bring “home” with them. The best story, crossing several lines, is of a Scottish band in Japan, looking for McDonalds.
You can’t go back, and you can’t escape. Something like “Hotel California”, or as Buckaroo Banzai (you really shouldn’t see this film) would say, “Wherever you go, there you are“.