Sunday, October 08, 2006


The core values of ones life are reflected in how one lives in the one place in the world they are free to live as they think they should — beyond the jurisdiction of any demands for obedience from outside the door. The meaning of home seemed to change throughout my life until I learned that it has little to do with place and almost everything to do with knowing the feeling of belonging in my own skin no matter where or with whom.

This journey of discovery began for me where it got colder than anywhere I’ve wanted to live since and there was a giant ravine that connected the backyards of all my playmates in the middle of the woods where we’d be the hero’s in our own version of the second world war and a half a day’s car ride would take me to grandmother’s house on the ocean in Sea Girt. One day that ride kept going and going on an abrupt change of scene where snow is never seen and the gulf was lapping at the foundation pillars of our little shack at high tide in a mangrove swamp on Tampa Bay.

The family myth that my father had to move to Florida for his health after contracting “parrot fever,” I later learned from him, when we were both “men”, was an allegory about a difference in understanding of what marriage compelled of Papa and the wife of the assumer of offense over Papa’s dalliance with his delighted mate. After Papa recovered from his illness in the great healing atmosphere of ocean air he afforded us a home five blocks further from a different edge of the bay where there were real red brick streets intead of the tops of the giant sewage pipes on their way through the swamp to further out into the bay being used as roads to the dry areas and the sides of which were lined with sunning alligators in all stages of alertness from totally zonked to awakening hungry. I learned to carry a big pole on the way to school.

My life in the house on the real street was pretty much the same as any of my peers except for having access to our home made sailboat and my parent's consent and encouragement to explore the environment out into the gulf. Sailing with my father to Cuba and the Yucatan formed a bond that withstood some pretty bitter wrenching in later years. Being a builder of sail boats and a painter, he employed his skills in the continual remodeling and expansion of our house and occupation of sign making and he let me help with what ever he was doing from hammering nails on the roof trusses for my new bedroom to using a four inch brush to blend brown and yellow to look like a thirty foot tall bottle of whiskey on a billboard from a ladder. What a life. The textbooks didn’t lie. The American Way of Life must be the pinnacle of civilization.

Then either the economy or Papa’s dream of a better life overcame his good sense and he took a better paying job in the highest concentration of noxious odors on the planet to design nuclear submarines for the cold war navy on the banks of the Singing River in Mississippi. And I suffered beside him, cooking every night, and eating at a restaurant on Fridays while Mama remained in the Florida house with my sister and brother until it was sold. In ‘54 my dad bought a brand new tract house built in the modern, prefabricated way of those days, recognizable for their asbestos shingle siding. Once again Papa set out expanding and enhancing his famiy’s home, but I no longer helped. No one could find me if I didn’t want to be found except my new found school skipping, siphon-gas and ride-around-all-night friends working off adolescent angst in the asshole of the planet, Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Two years of feeling I had no home had me never returning to highschool after my junior year in hopes the marines could show me what home and belonging was. A worse decision than Papa’s. Eight years, a college degree, a marriage and two daughters later the new economy of an IBM engineer’s pay affords owning three different houses over the next eight years the last of which was the last thing I ever pretended to own.

I have rented where I sleep ever since. Until I moved to where I live now all the places I lived over the past 32 years have been in the neighborhood of the University of Texas, with the exception of a year and a half living in a tipi I built as a guest on a friend’s land in the country. It was during this time that I learned what the words home, family and friends have meant to me ever since … in a bar.

When I first entered the Hole in the Wall it’s kitchen was temporarily closed for the past couple of months because the last cook was drinking on the job. The owner and day bartender in sympathy with how hard it was to keep up with a spiralling economy said, “I can’t pay you more than you’re making at the public tv art department, but I can throw in all your meals.” I could write an entire blog about the characters I grew to love and experiences we shared in that spot where so many felt compelled to collect for thirty years. It was where I finally experienced what most hometown folks never know any different than; knowing someone long enough to grow up and grow old with them. At thiry-six I was continuing the life I bolted from twenty years earlier, by sharing life and growing up with loved ones for thirty years.

The manifest destiny expansion of the university caused adjacent property values to leap beyond the capacity of a neighborhood pub to lease and it was let go to a Pizza Chain who wanted it for the reputation the name had gained over the years. The diaspora took about a year to complete. I finally got myself here to the country where I’d spent twenty years saying I wanted to be. And here is where here is.
Built from recycled driftwood and parts from my old apartment.

my bed for 9 months of the year for the last twenty years…

…next to the sound of water falling and frogs croaking on full moons.

from the garden

outdoor shower, yahoo!


Pisces Iscariot said...

As Neil Young once sang
"See the losers in the best bars,
Meet the winners in the dives"

Anonymous said...

Two daughters?
I learn something everyday.
Will have to catch up on that one later.


Zatikia said...

Interesting to know the life behind who is writing. Home for me is so important, it means safety. I find it hard to move and hope not to ever again. Your time in the tipi sounds interesting for a change, it is good to have those comparisons. The way your house is built is like many here. Starting with a trailer or motor home then gathering up enough for a room on front. I sleep outside sometimes, it is such a different experience, I think of you on that hammock, you must take in so much of the night. I don´t go into bars but what you write reminds me of the small village I lived in for many many years, we became like family and still are, a closeness that is very good.

gregrandgar said...

Amber, read my post, "Both Sides of the Coins"

Zatikia, I haven't consumed a six pack since I moved out here to the fringes.