written May 12, 2012
I have a lot of books. I became reacquainted with just how many (and how heavy) tonight. The value of these bound pages is they store much more information than I can. I forget, often and quite easily. So they come to my rescue, these large, outdated paper flash drives, presently taking up a large portion of a U-Haul sitting in the complex parking lot. I can sound quite smart, flipping open a cover and riffing on someone else’s documented brilliance.
Charles Dickens said of a home, “Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.” Still getting paid by the word, I see. But still, sounds enthralling, right, like it’s the lead-in to an awesome infomercial? Tell me more! In steps the Dalai Lama for a mystically simple summation: “Home is where you feel at home and are treated well.” Yes, home can be any respectable Howard Johnson. Yet more vital, like a place of never-ending hugs with a complimentary hot cocoa and grilled cheese sandwich bar. Like Mom used to make. Perhaps then, coming from a good home is essential for both having the wherewithal of past experiences and the confidence given by strong parental magicians. Some of us are lucky, are given bricks. Others a bunch of straw. Go make something of that already! The proximity of home, and its compulsory tethering effect on us, was once touched on by Dwight Eisenhower, adaging “There are a number of things wrong with Washington. One of them is that everyone is too far from home.”
Since leaving my Elmwood abode in 1997 I have moved a least once a year. I count twenty four moves since in total. My primary addresses during ranges from college flophouse to open barracks to a barge, to a full house then trading down for a closet and then storage locker. ‘I’ve been everywhere, man,’ indeed. Even Edwardsville did not abruptly solve this vagabond puzzle. I moved into a house at this new college town with my old Western Illinois buddy Andy Dix for a wonderfully retro few months until June 2007, transferring to a single apartment, just down the stairs from where I now am.
In mid-October, at 28 years-old, I finally had my first home. The first dwelling I could retain for the remaining years of my student life, and slowly make it my own. This did not happen all at once. Andy joined me for a second time in all of the apartment’s bare-white glory. The living room initially boasted just a couch, a floor lamp, and some battered book cases. It was sit not much when April Benson visited a few weeks later, but it was nice that for a while she would make return visits as we worked at Ashley Furniture together into 2008. This was a special, fleeting era of coworkers I loved and a life aligned t0 my post-Navy dreams. Andy eventually exited under strain in the late spring, the first of the Revolving Roommates. I hit a low point in early June. Andy was departed to being a doctoral program in communications, while April was leaving for Columbia, Missouri’s Ashley branch just after returning from for long-planned adventure in Germany. Fairly shattered at the loss of my pillars. Joined a YMCA a block away, and this became my life until the end of August, going twice a day.
Yet I was first to receive an odd phone call in late July. “I have a friend who needs a room,” the voice said. The person in question had just arrived in the country, but where he had been staying had been too loud—so he was living in his car. Yet I had had no takers, and rent was becoming a liability. “Sure, have him come by tomorrow to check it out. Oh, and where did you say he was from?” I inquired.
The next afternoon a thin, skittish young man with dark hair and large eyebrows was at my door. What happened next was like the premise to a three-week sitcom. Within half an hour this new Perfect Strangers was formed, myself not quite remembering when I officially agreed. That night Adami Hassan told me of being from Mashhad, close to the Turkmenistan border. He was set to begin classes at Lewis and Clark Community College as we offered and sampled each other’s exotic foods. Adami kept to an impossible schedule, going from work at McDonald’s, to class, and back to another long fast food shift. Often I would see him every often day, coming through the door with a polite, soft, “Hello, Eric,” to make a bowl of rice and beef, then retire to his room for sleep. And I’m really not sure how he made it through the September Ramadan—“Eric, you do not understand, I am always standing in front of food all day!”
This time was a return to happiness. Adami was a kind, loyal friend. I had decided over the summer to scrap English as a Second Language’s flimsy certification for a path that already brought me personal joy—History. I joined the Anthropology Club, and followed the heady, historic campaign, overflowing with political passion, youthful energy, sideshow antics and an inspired impression. Cognizant of this moment, I began a Studs Turkel-inspired oral history of America’s reaction to the first African American president. As the project grew it consumed my winter months, interviewing anyone who would let me set my recorder before them: SIUE professors of history, political science, and economics, Mom and Dad for a rural-red take, Edwardsvillians, students, my old Navy buddy Jeremy Gordon. Over Christmas break I made an appointment to speak with my retiring Congressman Ray LaHood, who had worked with President-elect Obama of course, and stated he had no future plans (a few days later the news broke he was to be the Secretary of Transportation). My favorite interview, however, was that of William “Lefty” Bell. Mr. Bell had made a name for himself as a young pitcher for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1947, with the help of a letter from Jackie Robinson. I was transfixed in his Des Moines, Iowa home as he spun old baseball yarns of rooming with Ernie Banks, being tutored by Buck O’Neil , watching Satchel Paige put on one-man show, and having been drafted into the Korean War, hitting the town with Willie Mays.
Since April’s departure I was content to live as a single, focusing on my studies and other intellectual pursuits. Besides a passing hello to a girl who would “have to think about” nearly any questions posed to her and regardless soon moved to upper Iowa, I was putting effort into a foundation for that amazing, unknown woman I would someday meet. My romantic side remained.
I felt a surge of growth during the summer of 2009. Dr. Ruckh admitted me into a intellectual history grad seminar that was deep, dense, and thought-provoking. I attained a new lens, I might say, to view the past radically different, full of caution and nuance, in these few weeks. I confronted Gadamer, Bahktin, Tolstoy, and was made better for it.
I did not only spend my time contorting around Big Thoughts, I also invested in a bike, and became to cycle the many paths in earnest, again influenced by the brilliant clone of John Malkovich I had come to admire so much (who had sworn off driving a car, going on two years). I spent night reading Canary Row, Crime and Punishment, Tortilla Flat, and Atlas Shrugged with green tea at the downtown hipster café Sacred Grounds.
This internal metamorphosis of mid-2009 had me cracking out of a shell, you might say, that required external expression. I feverishly set to work remodeling the apartment into an artistic alcove straight out of the bottled away Norfolk imagination. Bold, colorful Leonetto Cappiello prints, Ghostly old Cubs photographs, a 1876 map of San Diego, a vintage Navy recruitment poster, Van Gogh, and Ansel Adams gave a texture to the ideas within me. New furniture, rugs, runners, bookcases, plants, and coffee table helped make it a living, fresh space. Yet the walls were blinding, stunting. Something had to be done– a deeper sky-blue on three walls, with the fourth a pleasing green shade. I rolled and brushed the entire day. The next morning I went out to turn my bathroom red. Amid these changes, things were also happening in Adami’s country. As the Iranian people spoke out against the government and what they felt was a stolen election, we discussed the demonstrations nightly, as he hoped to hear again from his family