After two-and-a-half years of self-imposed exile in the East Bay, my family and I are repatriating to Sonoma County – specifically to my hometown of Petaluma. For me, the move marks an interesting chapter in my ongoing autobiographical opus, which I’ll likely lead with an epigram cribbed from Simon and Garfunkel: “Homeward bound, I wish I ?wa-a-a-s ...” But now I a-a-a-m.
Thinking of home I realize I’ve never read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel, which might provide the psychic fortitude I might need when “going home.” Due to some karmic snafu – be it destiny or derailment – when trawling the shelves of Copperfield’s Books used department, I found Tom Wolfe instead. Suffice it to say, I drank the electric Kool-Aid and was soon spiraling headfirst into New Journalism. I’ve never recovered. Years later, a subsequent sidewalk meeting with George Plimpton in front of Elaine’s in NYC, only deepened my affinities and here I am still writing first-person columns in newspapers. Admittedly, this is neither New nor Journalism per se, but it pays the rent. Part of it.
I think I’ll finally read Look Homeward Angel sometime in May. I have to schedule my reading since, a) my interests are diverse and absorbing, which makes me simultaneously scattered and focused to the detriment of all else and, b) I’m an extremely slow reader. Like when, in 2004, I tried to read Joyce’s Ulysses in tandem with the centennial of Bloomsday (where my mother picked up my ridiculous name).
I purchased a fresh copy of the doorstop, went to some plug-‘n-play “Irish” pub in Santa Monica and proceeded to try and read the book in one fell swoop. Around the third pint of Guinness, it dawned on me that I was behaving like a pretentious idiot – again. I decided I could either drink or read and it seemed I was getting further with the drinking, which felt at least in the spirit of Ulysses. I have yet to finish either.
Given the move to my hometown, perhaps the Thomas Wolfe book I should read is You Can’t Go Home Again.
The lead character in Wolfe’s book is a writer whose roman à clef about his small town riles the locals such that he’s driven out and forced to embark on a mission to “find himself.” I once wrote a Petaluma book that took place in “Lumaville” and ends with the protagonist essentially burning down the town. The difference between my experience and that of Wolfe’s character is that no one noticed or cared in my case. This certainly makes life easier, though I do agree with the assessment that you can’t go home again, at least in the metaphysical sense.
As with anywhere one grows up – it’s a time, not a place. And I have no illusions about recapturing the folly and fury of my misspent youth. Nor do I have any desire. Or the brain cells to spare.
On Facebook, I posted the navel-gazing observation (is there anything else?), “I’m not sure which of us has changed more but, as they say, you can take the kid outta Petaluma but you can’t take the Petaluma outta the kid, without it really hurting.”
Gabe Joynt, a fellow I met in sixth grade, offered this sage reply: “Let me break it down for you using the common P-town algorithm: If you’ve left Petaluma, you’ve changed more than Petaluma. If you haven’t left Petaluma, Petaluma has changed more than you.”
That’s probably how I’ll begin the next Petaluma book I write.
Then, you know, wait for all my words to come back to me in shades of mediocrity ...