There was a street we wanted to find. And a house, a 17,000 square-foot Victorian pile, which now sits behind a tire store, whose owner guards it with a powerful searchlight. And a walk in the woods, which takes us to another part of town, which is more like Alabama and less like the America of samey chain restaurants with their gelatinous salad dressing made miles and months away, their TV ads of cheese-coated, herb-crusted specials of a non-specific referential cuisine; or “beef crunchy tacos” made from, I kid you not, spicy Fritos; of middle-market, style-neutral box stores, where you could be any place in generic America and no place but America.
Give it a block off a main road and that fades away. You have beauty parlors next to auto detailing with BBQ shacks. It is spring and the trees are flowering like doilies; spring daintily served. The houses are smaller, but the yards are proportionately larger. White or yellow houses, green roofs, pink trees.
We go to a stand-alone BBQ restaurant. There is a man on foot picking up from the drive-thru window. Inside, a woman in a medical uniform, a lady in a lavender suit, a young father with a toddler who is scowling from a fall in church, are waiting to pick up.
“No BBQ today,” they say. “It’s Soul Food Sunday.” We order meat and sides. It takes a while to get them ready, then placed in Styrofoam boxes, contents scribbled with marker. We chat. Our older daughter flips through a newspaper of mugshots captioned with misdemeanors.
Around our neighborhood are older houses, smaller houses, sometimes unkindly referred to as tear-downs, with mature plantings. Even we would now consider them too small. To imagine living there is attempting to put on a child’s T-shirt. People are living without mud rooms, great rooms, teen suites or man caves. Or maybe they have remade the living room, the dining room and the guest room into these things, the house a Tardis of modernism, of air and light, disarmingly framed by wisteria.
Our boxed soul food suppers are slow fast food like the joke story on NPR about a retro hipster trend of dial-up modem internet cafes with lead-lined walls and a ban on smartphones. Studies show brain function is improved by slow-loading pages. They say.
It is hard sometimes to distinguish ironic from whimsical from satirical. For instance: a Playmobil Apple Store playset. Is it genius niche marketing or an elaborate spoof or wishful thinking? Who has time to fashion it? To build a website with it as a product? Who has time, in another gambit, to create fake embarrassing things parents would write on their children’s facebook pages, pixelating the names, creating long and hilarious comments. Or even collecting them? And then someone says, Check out the real ones. And they’re funny, too, but at a certain point it almost doesn’t matter which are the real ones, because we are just consuming them as entertaining product, as reality TV. And are you reading real comments when you read the commentary on the blog post which outs the first blog post as a hoax?
And who am I? Just some cat imagining my nine lives lived simultaneously in different places?
Another Sunday: I am on a plane reading the New York Magazine apartment issue, a voyeuristic glimpse into lives that are freakish in their specificity, their tolerance for cramped conditions, or their desire to have things just so, be they practical or decadent. I know the Wertis would have liked to live in the apartment being fashioned as an Egyptian tomb, with its stockpile of incandescent light bulbs and phonograph needles.
People will endure anything to be here is the gist of the entire issue. And if you’re in, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. And if you’re out, it’s like your nose is pressed against the zoo glass.
Neighborhoods, cities, houses go on and change without you. And you in turn find new ones and build your own bizarrely specific environment elsewhere. If your father’s house has many rooms, there will always be a place for you.