To the City and Back Again
I lived with my parents–in the same small town, on the same street, in the same house–for twenty years. To me, packing up and moving away was just something that happened in movies and during the 70’s. This misconception likely stemmed from two unconnected points in time: my mom showing me all the different houses she used to live in as a kid, and me watching Andy’s family move away on Toy Story.
But finally, the time came and I moved away to the city. The feeling I had then was indescribable: standing on the balcony of our very first apartment with my girlfriend (now my wife), smoking a cigarette, listening to the sounds of the city. We thought moving to the big city was the right thing for us to do since I would be closer to the University, and she would be closer to work. Cost alone should have told us otherwise, but you live and you learn.
One night, we were sitting on the couch watching Lost and eating Cheeseburger Mac, and we heard somebody yelling outside our apartment. Our dog started doing his usual “berf-berf-berf” that he does to indicate danger, and we listened carefully. Whoever it was, they were seriously pissed off. A door slammed shut, two more voices joined the screaming-match, louder now than before (the scene sounded much like the background noise to a World-star Hip-hop video). Something glass broke–maybe a potted plant or a outside-table–and I could tell that two of them had started fighting and throwing each other around right outside our front door.
Were we supposed to call the cops? I didn’t even have my copy of How to be a Good Neighbor: A Book of Next-door Methods and Procedures with me at the time! Part of me wanted to go outside and see if everything was okay, but I knew better than to get involved. So, we did what any self-respecting person would do: we turned the TV off and turned off all the lights and just sat in the living room for a while waiting for things to calm down. Eventually, I saw the red and blue lights of a police car reflecting off the glass outside. Phew.
At some point after that, we decided we weren’t ready for city-life and agreed to move back to the suburbs for a while.
The place we moved to was just outside of city limits, where all the hermits and trash-burners live. I saw one of our neighbors sitting outside in a lawn chair, aiming a shotgun at a gopher hole. He had a huge yard, and it was full of tunnels and holes. After a minute or two, he’d shoot and then wait while the echo bounced off the trees. Every once in a while he’d stand up and move the chair to another hole and do it all over again. Day after day I’d see him out there doing the same thing. When he killed a gopher, he’d pick it up, examine it closely, and then bury it in its own hole.
I think of that neighbor quite often, even now, several years later. I see him sitting out there in his yard, that shiny, bald head glistening in the sun, his gun pointed at a hole in the ground. Does he know he lives in my mind as a metaphor?