This Place Where I Grew Up.

Today, for no reason other than the fact it struck me as a place to go, I decided to venture back to the neighborhood where I grew up.

This wasn’t really an entirely planned thing, a symbolic journey, or anything of that nature. I just happen to walk for a few hours on Sundays, to give my knees a break from running so they’re good to go the other six days of the week. And I’d walked through so many areas around here—neighborhoods, parks, woods, the reservoir—that I decided I needed a change of scenery.

So, childhood it was. Back to the place where I grew up.

It’s weird driving somewhere you haven’t been in a very long time—almost 15 years, in this case—by memory alone. You begin by navigating the past, and you happen upon some alien landscape in the process. What used to be a thicket is now a Walgreen’s, and you’re no longer so sure where the creekbed may call home.

As I drove south on 79th Street and prepared to make my right turn onto Sunnyside Road, I wasn’t fully confident I was indeed headed in the correct direction. There were some familiar signs, but there was also life—business, traffic, asphalt—where it never used to be.

My memory proved correct, though, as I wound my back toward 75th Street (beat-up stretch it is) and toward the entrance of my old neighborhood.

I easily found my way toward the cul-de-sac where our home was, and decided to park there, as it is a fairly central location for walking the neighborhood.

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I don’t know exactly what I expected, and I’m not sure exactly how you go about painting the scene of what time does to this very specific, defined notion of the past. It’s not a novel idea—many of you have already experienced it—but getting out of my car, and looking around, everything just looked off.

Normally, when you see a house, and you have no attachment to that house, your reaction is: that house is blue, that house has white shutters, that house has plastic siding, a bay window, etc. When you return somewhere decades later, though, your reaction to these details is different. That house is wrong. That house should be blue. That house shouldn’t have those cracks in its siding.

You don’t account for the fact, I suppose, that time doesn’t pause when you pack up your bags and put the front door in your rear view. Different lives occupy those houses. Things change.

This house I once knew so well just looked so different. So empty. Thirsting for my dogs in the back yard and the clatter of my roller blades catching the edges of the driveway.

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Of course, my old place fared better than most.

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I spent as much time in that house as my own. And somebody went and effectively turned it into an old, splintering barn.

I sent these photos to my friend who grew up in this house. He said he wouldn’t have even recognized it had it not been for the mailbox next door.

Time, a few coats of paint and some regrettable exterior design choices. It’s funny what the years can mask.

I found the neighborhood particularly peculiar now, though, because of its stunning variance, not just street-to-street, but house-to-house. This wasn’t one of these new developments where you pick your choice from five models and kiss creativity goodbye. No, there was a great variety in home design, albeit most neglected through the years.

So, visiting now, there were both surprisingly gorgeous homes, well-rooted into mature lots…

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And there were homes with batting cages in the backyard.

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Really, there was a distinct negligent vibe in general. If I’m being honest about it: a white trash affair. And I feel that’s not entirely assumptive on my part, based on one foray through my old stomping grounds, because I did happen upon a game of lawn darts, featuring in no certain order: shirtless man with Confederate flag tattoo on back, shirtless man drunkenly swaying in street and painting gromwells with his chew-spit, more OCC gear than I have ever before seen in one place clinging to those who chose to wear clothes that day, and a sixth-grader with a cigarette tucked behind his ear.

(I was too much of a wimp to take pictures of any of those things. Those of you who have encountered rednecks know the difference between fun-loving and salt-of-the-earth rednecks, and these guys might actually shoot me rednecks. This contingent appeared to be the latter sort.)

But perhaps most notably—and I waver on whether this is the most or least surprising element of this trip—there was the same house with the same flood of angel-themed lawn decor, occupied by the same batshit crazy lady who appeared to be north of 90 all those years ago.

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(She was working in her lawn, and at whatever improbable age she occupies, she still scares me just as much as she did when I was 8, so stealth photography mode activated!)

In terms of aging, the neighborhood’s transition from its adolescence into the reality of the rest of its days, I found the mailboxes and street signs largely said it all.

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And, of course, nature’s reclamation—a return to some vegetative state. Undone by some curious combination of negligence and shotgun landscaping.

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And of course, there are the ghosts. Those little memories that still haunt the sensory, visible on to you. The intangible, phantom landscaping that can never be cut down, painted over or buried in the climbing ivy.

Because when I look at this house, I don’t see the house itself.

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I see one of those ridiculous, bulky home movie camcorders, a tube of stage blood, a fake butcher knife and my grade school insistence on directing a new slasher movie every weekend. My greatest accomplishment, of course, was Weekend for Eight, which we only had five to cast with, and ended when one of our young stars ran into a wall, said “shit” on camera, and insisted we record over it so he wouldn’t get in trouble.

(Side note: I haven’t kept a ton of things from my childhood, but of all things I have kept, my screenplays are by far my most treasured. They are equally obviously-10-year-old-boy-minded, and stunningly predictive of so many Hollywood trends to follow…)

Similarly, when I look at this house…

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I see a bully, some older kid who was much bigger than me and just an absolute dick. I actually ended up seeing him at a high school party, well after I moved away, where he was the awkward senior hanging out with sophomores. He spent a good half-hour bragging to all the girls about how he used to beat me up (I don’t even remember that happening, but whatever) all those years ago, and the extent of their unimpression was actually painfully tangible.

He died, I guess, a few years back. I don’t know how. I wonder if those people you eternalize as assholes ever really redeemed themselves along the way, and if it will have ever really mattered in your individual timeline if they did anyway.

In the end, I guess, there’s no way to really talk about time without sounding like some try-hard philosophy student, looking for some logic to measure the distance between moments so we can better understand being or having been.

So, I just have photos. Which, similarly, offer no professional standards or anything beyond personal significance.

Unloading some bonus photos…

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Amazing how many sights I saw exactly like this. Some sort of nice-looking Mustang or Corvette in the driveway, and “realtor’s worst nightmare” smack dab in the middle of the front yard. In this case, a Corvette in the driveway, and some sort of makeshift sand pit, tire swing and hammock area welcoming you in to the humble abode.

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“We’ll drive you to drink.” — Indy Joy Rides

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House was falling apart, but damn if that mailbox wasn’t spiffy.

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My old elementary school, just a couple blocks away.

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A lot really hadn’t changed at this elementary school through the years. Same basketball goals, as far as I can tell. Same US and Indiana maps painted in the parking lots, which were probably used for some activity I can’t quite remember.

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But the playground had changed (read: they must have demolished the old one to create this), and that honestly made me sad.

As a kid, you remember so many things about the playground. It was your escape from long division. It was where you cleared, like, a million feet from the swing at the top of your jump. It was where Matt lost his grip on the glider and fractured his head on the opposite platform. It was where the neighborhood teenagers would sneak over to smoke, and kids would do weird kid things like pick up all the butts from the woodchips and stack them in the playhouse underneath the slide so they could pretend to sell them later.

Now, it’s just so…reduced. Some minimalist, by-the-numbers, unimaginative steel construction clearly designed to keep all kids visible at all times.

(But then, I guess, it’s more the lack of digital transparency that should worry the adults these days…)

Overall, it’s not as if I had some epiphanous moment or gleaned some greater truth to share, so no real poetic ending to offer here. Just some picture, some moments, and the weeds climbing through the cracks in the sidewalk that tell a story between now and then.