I LEFT MY HOME, where my wife and cats were, my books, my print of Samuel Johnson, my espresso machine, my moderate drinking were, and flew to San Francisco on 20 November 2009. I stayed there for three nights, returning on Monday, 23 November 2009, to my home, where my wife, my cats, my books, my print of Samuel Johnson, my espresso machine, my moderate drinking all were waiting for me.
Why did I leave home? The obvious reason first: my wife of almost thirty years wanted me to go away for just a few, please God, days. She wanted some space—I understand—for a while, absent my where’s-this-and-where’s-that and my calculations as to my probable time remaining on earth, my speculations as to whether funeral directors charge by the pound and whether that should be a motivation for a weight-loss regimen—to save money, when the time comes. She wanted me out of town because of my startling her with these concerns, at inopportune times she said, at dinner with friends, waking her up to talk about it, all that. That’s a given; my wife wanted me out of here; and I understand that and know that she loves me even though she wanted me away, for a few days, please if you love me she said. Like that old country song, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” I understand, and I don’t hold it against her. In fact I respect her for it.
But beyond the wishes of my wife with her subtle hints—suitcase by the door, travel brochures under my pillow, her waving goodbye at all times of the day and night, when I’ve just walked in the door, for example—I think there’s something else, something about me, maybe all of us, something in the circuitry, that needed me out of here, away from the familiar. It’s the occasional need to feel lost and the accompanying need to find your way back home, back to all that home means.
And that can’t happen on familiar streets, near familiar freeways. What I mean is that feeling lost, that sense of disorientation, has never happened on those occasions when I’ve been out with my wife and have gone into a service station to pay for gas or have gone back into a restaurant to retrieve a forgotten hat or coat and have come out to see our car making it down the road, the tail lights of our little Prius receding and my wife’s hand out the window, waving, waving.
Yes, I’m disappointed, even emotional at such times; but I have never felt truly lost when I’ve been abandoned in a city near our home because I have lived here for forty years and know this area. Sometimes I have gotten home by bus, sometimes by taxi, sometimes I have had to hitch. But within the greater metropolitan area of Los Angeles I have never felt lost and have always found my way back home. As I said, it’s emotional, and yes, I’m hurt when she drives away; but I do my best not to show it. And that’s not because I think of myself as spartan or stoic (certainly not) nor do I even respect those attributes as ideals of manly behavior. No, I try not to weep because I have found that drivers won’t stop for a hitch-hiking old man who is sobbing by the side of the road. And bus drivers and cab drivers are also reluctant—a weeping old man with a hitch-hiker’s improvised cardboard sign, “Sherman Oaks? Sherman Oaks Adjacent?” Too many crazies; they’ll pass you right by. So I cover my feelings and always get home.
Two weeks ago, on 17 November at three in the morning, after making it back from Long Beach and with my wife at the door, looking disappointed (because there had been several other unsuccessful drive-aways in recent weeks, I guess) I said, “Well, it must be time for San Francisco. Am I right?” And she nodded vigorously and gave me a big hug.
It works this way. My wife has a dear sister who lives in San Francisco, right there on Nob Hill and not too far from The Ritz Carlton either. And my sister-in-law comes down here and stays in our apartment with my wife, has a nice visit with her sister; and I go to San Francisco and stay in her apartment—without my wife, my cats, my books, my print of Samuel Johnson, my espresso machine, my moderate drinking. It has happened before.
There’s no point in detailing at this time my fear of flying or of the Transportation Security Administration with its personnel and rules: What is it that I can’t take, please? Liquids, toothpaste, my Listerine? Guess I can’t take the large pocket knife that’s attached to my keys. And what do I do with my MacBook? In the case out of the case? Take off my belt? My pants will fall off for god’s sake if I take off my belt.
Even though all of these matters concerned me and I spoke with my wife about them as she packed my suitcase, I won’t detail my fears here but will tell you that the night before I was to fly, I was checking the train schedules to San Francisco. Twelve hours to San Francicso from Van Nuys, for your information.
No need to go into all that, our argument, and what my wife referred to as my unseemly emotionality, or what happened the next morning with security at Burbank Airport, my attempts at joking with the TSA personnel, and what I thought of as unnecessary questioning regarding medications I might be taking, medications that could account for what they referred to as my fitting some profile—trembling, dry mouth, asking for water. These people are only doing their job; and I understood that, at some level. No need to go into all of that; all you need to know is that I was finally allowed to board.
Nor is there a reason for speculating about my sullen seat mates and their reluctance to enter into conversation with me. “What’s that noise?” I said. “Do you know what that goddamn noise is?” No answer. And then when the flight attendant came by and I didn’t request any alcohol, I also tried to use that as an ice breaker, to explain my refusing alcohol to them, how I've been attempting moderation. Many people today will talk to you about your alcohol dependency, but my seat mates wouldn’t. And I tried several times.
But none of that is important, and we landed; and I found my bag and took a cab to my sister-in-law’s apartment, in an old building on Nob Hill, where I stayed for three nights. While my sister-in-law was in my apartment in Los Angeles. With my wife, my books, my print of Samuel Johnson, my espresso machine and, most of all, my moderate drinking.