03 September 2007


Today was a day for familial duty, a day that lead us back to our old stomping grounds, the place my children were born, a place where I never felt I could breathe.

The spouse and I were both under 30 years old when we moved to that affluent and very Republican part of Los Angeles county. The choice wasn't exactly ours, and is a story probably best left untold because even this many years out, the memory is enough to send me in the general direction of apoplexy.

And so it was today, driving up the winding hill road that shimmered with the heat haze of the 106 degree temperature, under a pure blue and unforgiving sky, I was relieved to realize that the area no longer has the patina of "home," but is simply a place I recognize, a place that I visit occasionally. Still, I couldn't help but smile at the memory of my younger self angrily tromping up and down this steep road on foot, singing "some will sell their dreams for small desires or lose the race to rats" in a hissing undertone.

Most of the denizens of the area reviled the spouse and I because we were 10 or more years younger than everyone else. Our school and career choices allowed us to be where we were, but 20-somethings with such income were suspect. That we worked in fields of knowledge rather than those pushing financial paper or real estate did not help. Worse, our friends were in a huff because we'd both chosen business over academia, or essentially, eating over genteel poverty.

Conform or be cast out. I've never conformed well, and here I'd traded in high school non-conformity for adult non-conformity.

To the outside world, we are largely quiet, boring, and possibly, slightly weird. In a home, we want a home, not a showplace, and we are more concerned with the safety and security of our neighborhood than we are with its address. I believe in upholding community standards, but I also like personal privacy. To that end, I am a political creature, for sure, but because I don't want to be pigeonholed, I don't belong to a political party, which sent the older folks in Affluent Suburb, Southern California, bonkers. She's not a Democrat! She's not a Republican! She's not Independent! They marveled over my designation in the voter roster: declines to declare. "Communist," whispered one old geezer.

(Most assuredly not. Nor am I Green or Libertarian. I vote every election without the benefit of anyone's advice. When I am angry, I write in the cat. When I am very angry, I write in the dead cat).

But there we were, too young, too different, with our very good address that we were really more embarrassed over than pleased about. Not everyone one thinks this way about a very good address, including the engineer of our house ownership in AffSub, who tried to steer us toward turning the unengaging little ranch house into something other than what it was: a pig's ear. I was so deeply annoyed with this person that I painted the living room and dining room walls wild shades of pink and blue, thinking it would be a suitable and not terribly subtle method of retaliation. Sadly, this was praised as a bold interior decorating choice, and before we knew it, everyone else was doing it too. I so wish I was kidding.

One of the most dreadful features of what the spouse would come to call the Half-Million Dollar Tarpaper Shack was its septic tank. I was expected to spend money on bold decorating choices, but spend money on something practical like fixing the elderly septic tank? NEIN! Not at least until a very, very rainy Christmas Eve when I had a house full of guests and the damned thing decided to burble over into the street.

The houses up on that mesa had originally been built as starter homes for junior engineer types at the NASA lab down the road. They were tossed up with rather careless California Ranch abandon in the late 1950s, and were pretty poorly built. When the Santa Anas howled, they howled straight through the house. When the earth shook, as it frequently did in the days we lived up there, the house shimmied like Gypsy Rose Lee.

I've never lived in a house that seemed angry, though, as this one did. No matter what we did to try to improve the place (and lord, there was a lot of improvement to be done), it was miserable and you could almost see it sulking. It knew what it was, and it didn't like it. Good address or no.

I don't miss that poor, sad house with the good address. Although it's taken a long time for this neighborhood an hour south to acquire the patina of home; although our neighbors are still older than we are and, I suspect, good-humoredly and bemusedly shake their heads over us; although we are still quiet, boring and possibly, slightly weird, I can breathe here. No subdivision with a gate and a good address for me; I like my quirky piece of Republican county where I can run free in the hills and where most people are so busy conforming that no one really cares that I decline to declare.

Go listen to some good music: "Subdivisions" from the album Signals by Rush.