Return

We landed and it was passports and paperwork and slow moving lines, the ineffectual efficiency of government agencies observing some economics too far removed from the realities of my life for me to comprehend. We were readmitted to the country without incident. It was exactly the same as I’d left it. I thought about the lesson of object permanence: your childhood toy lost behind the fringe of the grown-up’s couch turned out not to have disappeared but continued to exist, under the couch where you couldn’t see it, *but it continued to exist* like the whole time New Orleans has been here while I’ve been on the other side of the world’s couch-fringe horizon, pretending at some adventure. I ended up coming back a different man, of course, a typical story, a road novel if too short to be a full-blown Bildungsroman. POSTULATE: An object cannot change itself. I chose to change, therefore I am not an object, thus I am not permanent. So it took a minute to get back to my bearings: a week, no more. The neurons containing all that road geometry had to be remapped from the archives right back into normal life with all the other habits: spending too much at the grocery store, the bars, the restaurants, just a beer for the walk, etc. I notice New Orleanians can’t do a damn thing without looking shady; I never used to see it, when I was down among it, but now its like being in a parallel universe. It’s like seeing a vast swamp from above for the first time after a life along its edges, only guessing at its character. Seems best to resume the silence RE: all that. Take a drink. Tell a joke, a story. Defer to the long strings of visits, names chained together in unlikely succession, a sequence only clear using a dozen dimensions – quantum social life. Nothing but probability everywhere out here until observation, until a collapse to reality: I grow to expect the restaurants will be full of people I know. I find all of my friends have become, unsurprisingly, great parents. Lilly white and brown children alike can be heard occasionally speaking Chinese in play. The coke machine mechanic at the bar tries ginger ale for the first time: “not bad,” eye arched, smiling. Whole generations out there raised by bars (not talking about the socializing either, but the aesthetics), the best bars are always crowded, dark, tired. Never, ever perfect. How many memories are tied to decor? To sound? To smells, the seasons, the way the light breaks and more: whole generations raised by the likes of oily garages – bare bulbs and all, perfumed living rooms (shoes off on that carpet), space heaters, the current trend in bedroom colors (remember posters?), back roads, buzzing fans on wild axes, boat launches, stands of woods laced with roads leading to overlit parking lots. Think of the building codes that sculpted these streetscapes, that scratched the arc of the highway on the bridges across the sky, to houses of other colors, other shapes and tastes. The bar aesthetic in New Orleans is the way that memory feels: it was all real, I am certain, but the details, I never got a grasp on them, on the strange incongruities, the doubts of recollection – this bar used to be darker, these people more entertaining. Its a change, this new life: no idea where my passport is, got no car keys either though. Abroad, the passport ties me to America, but in America, keyless, there is nothing to tie me to anything. I get lost in the folds of conversation, like the winter fronds of palms, my thoughts always seem to point parallel, down. I’m the brown and grey of the winter swamp, but the green palmettos, you say, its not all dead and gone out there, don’t be so dramatic. But all most see of the swamp is the edge of where the highway is, nobody’s looking deeper in, they’re busy heading places. I let ‘em keep going, I have a drink and speak a while, to stay on this side of things, by the highway. No sense in going native, there’s mosquitoes in the swamp. Sure, I guess you could live out there like a Swamp Buddha (be sure understand the mosquito and meditate on the humidity), but remember that the clarity that’s so easy in the solitude of the swamp will kill you in the city. Nobody on this side of things knows what’s actually out there, in the swamp, in their heads, they stay on this side, on the map, where they’re from. The other, the unmapped, the foreign, is dangerous, because what if they like it there? What does that make of home? To be from somewhere, to make a home, is to know how to hide your weaknesses, your terror, but the city carries death anyway: a white bicycle, a stone memorial, police tape and sidewalk bloodstains, a streetscape of death, the price of cities, of living together. That’s the price of home, and the Swamp Buddha’s always gonna be too focused on them mosquitoes to tackle that exchange rate. The cost of constancy is high: you got to stay still, get a plan, pick some things to defend, find something to fear, throw everything else out because there’s no room left for wonder. A civilization of those who took the blue pill must still somehow acknowledge the reality of things, hidden in strange messages here and there, perhaps beneath the music in a Walmart or a bar: paranoia, or clarity? At least something unsaid, sitting there, something very important, just a little out of focus, just beyond the optics of Friday nights, of garage floors, of living rooms, streets, cars, and barrooms. A long chain of shadows and loud noises and WHAT ELSE COULD THERE BE and then someone asks me, kindly, “so what does it feel like to be home?” and I reply, apologetically, that I’ve completely forgotten.