Saturday, July 28, 2007

Leaving Home

"She's leaving home after living alone
For so many years. Bye, bye"
Lennon & McCartney
I've been leaving home for a long time. Perhaps it began back in January when I casually told my translator and guide on Koh Samui that I would return to Thailand in August. Or maybe it was six years ago when my wife told me she wanted to live alone, and I moved out of our house. Better yet, it might have begun when I was 17 and plotting to cut the parental strings by escaping to, first, Berkeley, and later, Mexico (but I kept coming back until they finally left me). The point is, I've always had itchy feet.

Sometimes you can sublimate the wanderlust. Love will do that. A girlfriend or a wife, small children who need to be cared for, even pets. For me, marriage, children, a religious conversion of sorts and an academic career kept me rooted in place, for so many years.

I've lived in Santa Cruz for more than 32 years, almost half my life. Of course there were the two years in Connecticut and New York City, so it hasn't been a continuous residency. But Santa Cruz has certainly been my adult home. It feels like home, even now when my small apartment is bare, a few boxes stacked against the blank white wall.

Yesterday, after a week of lunches, dinners and coffee dates, I said goodbye quietly by myself to the places I've loved so much. Since moving downtown several years ago, close to everything, I've become a regular on the streets, like the Pink Umbrella Man but with less flash and pizzaz. After a last movie at the Nick ("Evening" with its all-star women's cast), I strolled down Lincoln, past Toadal Fitness and the new Indian buffet restaurant, to Pacific Avenue (the Mall to long-time residents), crossed in front of New Leaf Market, and walked across Soquel by the now not-so-new Borders. It was late Friday afternoon and the town was crowded with tourist traffic. You can tell them by their shopping bags, dishes of ice cream, and sunburns. I walked along, checking out the visitors and the street regulars, past the Coffee Roasting Company and O'Neill's across from Cinema 9 with its large line for the new Simpsons movie, and up to the Bookshop Santa Cruz. I've long haunted the shelves here and in the other store that was destroyed by the 1989 earthquake, as well as in the tent erected afterwards. Sometimes I'll go up to the top of the Mall across from the Post Office and back down by the old Lulu's. But now I patronize the new Lulu's in the Octagon building by the Art & History Museum. This morning I'll present my card with ten punches which qualifies me for a free cappuccino. I'll lift the cup in toast to my home, Santa Cruz, and all that I will miss while I'm away.

Who knew, when I came up here in early 1975 as a fugitive from Los Angeles, that I would stay so long? When that world collapsed, I set out with a relatively new girlfriend for points north, where my friend Peter had established a beachhead. We drove a rental truck and my Volkswagen , accompanied by her cat, and settled in a shady house in Brookdale with two female students for roommates. That idyll lasted all of two months, until, in a fit of jealous pique, I piled all my books and records in the back of the VW (leaving the furniture to her) and moved out. To sooth my wounds, I bid the seals at the end of the wharf goodbye (never to return, I thought) and drove back to LA where I drank and drugged myself into oblivion for three days. On the fourth I woke up and instinctively knew I had to go back or I would soon be dead. On my return I found a sunny room for rent in Ben Lomond and set about building a new life. In no time at all, I met the chef at a local restaurant who courted me with filet mignon and shrimp for breakfast. First came love, then came marriage, and soon there was our daughter in a baby carriage! A son followed in a few years. Santa Cruz had grown into the home of homes, the place where I would live forever.

Never make vows you can't keep. The Buddha teaches that change is the only constant in life, and I'd had a pretty good run. My children grew up and out. I found God and then lost Him here. I scratched the intellectual itch for many years up at the City on the Hill and came away full of truths and insights as well as three slips of paper giving me the right to put letters after my name (and introduce myself as "Dr. Will" to those I want to impress). I've listened to music, poets and preachers, toasted my body on the beaches, marched a zillion times through the streets with protest placards, and hiked a fair number of trails up in the redwood-covered hills. I've eaten with food stamps while living on unemployment and now I get a senior discount for purchases at New Leaf (and also at the movie theaters). I've lived in over a dozen houses, in various parts of Santa Cruz and up the San Lorenzo Valley, and I've owned a variety of cars, even a new one that lasted for ten years. New friends have come and old ones have died. I've reinvented myself several times.

Now it's time to go. I feel a bit like an old elephant, lumbering off into the wilderness to find a place to lie down. And I also feel a bit like Columbus, looking for a new route to paradise. Who knows what I may stumble upon?

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