The first thing my father said to me when I walked through the door was "Isn't it wonderful to go somewhere where everybody is happy to see you?"
There was a six-pack waiting for me in the fridge; good beer, too, not the canned Bud he drinks. (Not that I have a problem with Bud - I did, in fact, grow up on the stuff. But my father walked to the liquor store after killing his first six-pack to get me Sam Adams Summer Ale. That's saying something.) There were cigarettes. There were steak sandwiches. They even supplied me with a bus ticket to get there and a ride to get back. There was a bed to sleep on that predated the days when hitting on a girl meant pegging her with a dodgeball. There was air conditioning to keep cool in, a net connection and company.
Even the cat attacked me with her claws sheathed.
It was only for one night. It wasn't supposed to be that long; I was supposed to catch a bus down on a Sunday and come back that night, lugging leftovers and hand-me-downs and who knows what back into the city to further clutter my hopelessly overstuffed apartment and to fill my suspiciously empty fridge. I feel like The Narrator from Fight Club, eating mustard directly from the jar and filling my nights with infomercials and Taxi reruns. But when eight o'clock Saturday night rolled around and I realized I had nothing to do but reload the same three websites over and over again until Sunday, I left.
I wish it was always that easy.
- - -
I rode the bus into my hometown sitting across the aisle from one of the few people from my class in high school I regret not having kept in touch with and her boyfriend. She said hi and I choked, smiled, winked at her and proceeded to stare intently at the back of the seat in front of me. I felt like a lecherous old man. And then I realized that she'd just graduated from college. Everything crumbled. I listened to happy music that made me more depressed and sad music that made me want to cry. I looked out the window to see how everything I remember from growing up was still there - the pizza place, the railroad trestles, my high school with (this sucked) the lights on in the band room, the bars I never even noticed until the hormonal urge to get laid overpowered the cozy jungle gym midnights with Dunkin' Donuts coffee and Salem Lights pilfered from my mother, the wee small hours spent cruising around in my girlfriend's idiosyncratic Camaro. All of that flooded over me, washing away the unemotional New York City 'seen it all, and none of it impressed me' exterior, leaving me with what I am - a suburban born twenty-something with delusions of gradeur.
- - -
When I was a little kid our old apartment had a view of the New York City Skyline. Whenever I couldn't sleep I would watch the warning lights on some of the city's tallest buildings pulse on and off; one of those buildings, the New York Life building, is two blocks away from where I live now. The lights all cycled on and off at different rates, but every so often they'd all glow at the same time, or at least I assumed they would. I would sit there on my blanket chest with my elbows on the windowsill and my chin in my hands, waiting. I watched them weekly for three years but I don't think I ever caught them. I was fascinated by the patterns; it was like trying to conduct an orchestra with two different meters going at the same time.
We moved to a different apartment on the other side of the building before third grade and I had to find other ways of putting myself to sleep.
I thought about this before I left home to return to that place where I live. I thought about going up to the roof, kneeling with my elbows on the parapet and my chin in my hands, looking out over Newark and Jersey City to Manhattan, checking for patterns, but I didn't. There was too much to do.