Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Nostalgia - Embarcadero - San Francisco

You only get flashbacks if you've been in a war, or a traumatic event, or done a lot of drugs supposedly, but I still get them just the same, every day. I turn a street corner from Mission and suddenly I'm in Minneapolis. The fountain on the interior of the Marriot looks just like the one from the Courtyard hotel across the parking lot from that awful steak joint, and I didn't have to pack my bags or buy a ticket or use that foul steakhouse restroom to get here. Yet here I am the same, standing at a midnight parking lot waiting for the Milwaukee bus. I recover, which is good because I don't want to go to Milwaukee today, and move on and then a few blocks later I've stumbled into Vancouver, agog at all that glittery glass and gulls swishing between the skyscrapers, and my lack of attention has made me trip on the curb and I fall swiftly to New York, the gum-strew pavements, the harried passersby, the stench.

Since I've been back in San Francisco I've been to Chicago, Montreal, Boston, South Dakota, even Geneva, Switzerland and Rome, and I never even left the city. I didn't even want to go. I've been thinking about something else, my mind wandering on lunch, or laundry, or the myriad chores of an unspontaneous life, and had a block of Cleveland fall on top of me. Where am I? When am I? Is this even my life I'm flashing back into? These tweed pants mine? These leather shoes?

I've come to a novel time - novel for myself - that my principal joy should be nostalgia and reflection on the life I have spent rather than the one I am spending, even now measuring it away by teaspoons for the comfort of a gas range and a place to sleep. I feel old. Age has nothing to do with age. After most days of work I just want to find a warm spot to wrap myself in a blanket and fall asleep to the radio.

There is now more of my life behind me than there ever was before, and each day the amount increases. I get a little wistful over that. Not that those days are gone, but their certainty. All those days already planned out and mapped. No additional choices have to be made for them. Each worry unjustified. Each fear unfounded. And they all turned out well. There was always a meal and a bed at the end of each. None of them resulted in the death of their narrator. Sometimes I wish I could have them over, if only for the comfort of knowing the conclusion even as I lived them. All I can get is a pleasant reverie, letting my mind wander back over trails in Vermont, sunrises over lakes in Maine, and really good cups of coffee. Nostalgia is a quiet revenge on mortality. Now on the rough days, the days of bleary adult self-seriousness, every action metered out, I roll the tape back, open the book to the chapters I best like. I may be in an office on a pier under a bridge, but I'm somewhere else too. Off in New England, most likely, breaking sticks for a fire as the frogs start to croak.

I am grateful I don't have to live any of those days over again in the body. Especially the ones I got right. I don't think I could do as good a job the second time.