Sunday, June 27, 2010
It was around five in the afternoon yesterday when I decided to peel my ass off the chair and peer out of the cave. Through the barricaded window came a luring breeze, the hot but playful air of heavy Georgia summer. I’d spent a good part of the morning braiding bread and burning some dead animal on the stove, and the better part of my afternoon pushing down shovelfuls of job applications down the Internet funnel. My head rang with a dull ache and my legs longed for hard asphalt. With difficulty, guilt pressing down heavily, I rose from my cubicle and shouldered my bag and camera. With closed eyes I locked the door behind me, lest I entertain thoughts of going back.
Down Johnson road, past the liquor store which I’ve bookmarked for my following nights of unemployed desperation, houses rise like mushrooms. On a Saturday like this, I thought, nobody is home. So I stopped to contemplate the edifices at length, like an architect planning his new project, scouting for ideas. No wonder people call houses “homes” in this country. Personality abounds. There’s a perpetual competition of design and colors, a rivalry for originality. When I was young, Eva and I received a gingerbread house as a Christmas present from France. It came in parts, and we built it as we fancied, an absurd, brazen structure that didn’t care for physics. It looked wonderful. And it remained so, wonderful, something to look at, not something to eat. It was months before we could bring ourselves to eat the gingerbread house, and by then it was hard and chewy, and hardly as enjoyable to our mouths as the sight of it had been to our eyes. So as I walked down Johnson road looking right and left at the houses, I thought of them as gingerbread houses. Expressions in aesthetics, rather than dwellings made to last.
The big Southern mansions with their solemn columns, like Greek temples, have a forbidding air. There’s something royal in the way they stand. A footpath extends from the street to the house entrance, dividing the trimmed lawn right down the middle. It has the expectation of a red carpet, this path. I halted before one of these houses and waited, as if any moment Gwyneth Paltrow were to come out of the house, laughing, her head thrown back in a guffaw, and I was to take her picture. I waited, until I saw a curtain pushed to the side and somebody looking at me from the upstairs floor.
Other houses are like trees, negotiating their position with the slope of the land. Some are perched up on the hill that rises along each side of the street. They seem secluded up there, like mountain cabins protected from the eyes and ears of curious people. One of these aloof establishments had a fence that girded it all the way to the street, and along the fence stood seven or eight mock-antique lanterns with fire burning inside, in the middle of the day. The house itself was farther from the street, with a roundabout before the entrance, and an artesian in the middle. The dark walls and black frames, and the overall dubious countenance of the place, reminded me of the location of the Hieros gamos fanatics in Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” I shivered, and walked on.
And in this parade of designs, there are some houses that keep a low profile, built below ground level in a sort of pit. You have to look down from the street to see them, as if gaping down from a bridge. One of these houses made me stop and look more closely. It was all wood, the blue-black color of overburnt cinders, and British red window frames, with wooden window covers opened to the side. It lay obscured by trees with full crowns, sunlight sprinkled over it as if through a strainer. This is where I would like to live, I thought. A dark house, a haven, a little tree burrow that leads to a subterranean passage, where badgers like me dwell and plan their lives.
Now, when I’ve nothing concrete to call home, I look at houses as I would at fossils in a museum, with little personal interest. They are objects of utility, no longer repositories for memories. My concern is now, where would I find a quiet place to write, to think, maybe at Starbucks, maybe the park, maybe our morgue-apartment that I’ve already killed with my dreary thoughts. Henry Miller writes: “It’s hard to know, when you’re in such a jam, which is worse – not having a place to sleep or not having a place to work. One can sleep almost anywhere, but one must have a place to work. Even if it’s not a masterpiece you’re doing. Even a bad novel requires a chair to sit on and a bit of privacy.” As for me, today I have both. Tomorrow, well, who knows?