Center of the Universe (26)
Home and away
It may be where the heart is, but it’s also where the history, judgment, anxiety, dependents, to-do lists, lawyers, deadly routines and distant cousins of the decedent are — I could feel them circling above, waiting their turn in the blackening sky, as the carbon-fiber widebody stepped through the last layer of rainy swirls, skimming the bay, skirting the Embassy Suites shores of Burlingame, to bounce precisely onto runway one. SFO. Home, if you want to call it that. Hoffman and me. Down from eight miles high and six weeks in the Low Countries.
Away, we managed to miss my birthday and Thanksgiving and Halloween and Election Day(!) and that moment when, rummaging through the back room of the Dominga Avenue house passed down from Joan’s grandma, Dave called out he couldn’t find his damn trumpet (“regular, not pocket,” per his dictated query to me).
Missed all that mishigas. And, yes, missed the comfort of knowing the rooms in the dark and the brands in the supermarket and the vulgate on the tongue. And, above all, missed Sorellas.
Which is the closest thing we have to home — since the aughts, when, after years of travel, home and away underwent in my mind some kind of merger, a hostile takeover that meant no place ever again felt fully exotic.
But home was always a portable thing. Moved around a lot when I was a kid. Sheboygan, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York. Summers in Memphis. Christmas in Tucson. Sent “away” to high school, Lakeville 06039. Moved around again — and back — when I grew. San Francisco, Detroit, New York, North Bennington, New York, West Palm, unincorporated Tiburon and, 20 minutes northwest, unreconstructed hippie Fairfax. Moved once more five years ago — to a studio near work in San Francisco, Monday-Friday — when I grew cranky and could no longer take the 23-mile morning slog from our beloved burb-that’s-not-a-burb. And, of course, think about moving again (and again and again) when I watch House Hunters International. Which I do far too often to be satisfied with staying put.
Home was always a fraught thing, too. The troubles at home — which began by mirroring the troubles in the streets of that earlier era of socio-politico-cultural dismay and then went beyond — are surely part of the reason I want to slip away when it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas. And why I call bah-humbug on all those cozy Facebook snaps of decked halls and tinseled trees. I hate the claustrophobia of cozy, the smugness of togetherness, the hypocrisy of oh-holy-night. I hate festive. For that matter, I hate family — when there’s no choice in the matter.
Not surprisingly, I’m a total hypocrite myself — I don’t hate my family, at least the nuclear one: bride, bambini, cat, Corgi, hermit crab. You might even say I love them. And once upon a time, when they were young and dumb, we celebrated Christmas and Hanukkah together. But in light of all the forced affection of the fourth quarter — the vaunted holiday spirit, as temporary as an underpaid seasonal worker in the Amazon warehouse gulag — you’ll never hear any of it from me. I hate that shit. Hate the Pilgrims. And hate the fucking elves. But I don’t doubt what the real problem is.
Because turkey-and-tinsel time — those last six weeks of the year I’ll always remember as indoor hunting season — were exactly when I wanted to be nowhere near home.
Sorellas is not that kind of home. For me, for starters, it’s voluntary. Not so, I’ll admit, for the sisters. And sometimes I laugh and wonder what they must think. Crazy shinehead stumbles in 13 or 14 years ago and imagines he’s part of the family. Then asks if he can write a story and cranks out thirty-thousand crazy words (so far). What’s next? Sometimes I tell the Korean-Brazilian sisters their Italian restaurant is the only thing keeping us Scotch-Irish Jews there — here — in a funkytown that’s fascinated us from the random day, four-thousand days back, when we got stuck on Drake behind the Fairfax Festival parade. And maybe it’s a pressure tactic, but it’s not a lie. I really think, love of Fairfax aside, if they went away — like the kids, Corgi, cat and crab did (but to very different destinations) — we would, too.
To San Francisco. To Amsterdam. To whatever’s on House Hunters tonight.
Which brings up all sorts of navigational questions. Like, what is home? And what is away?
We landed at SFO on Saturday afternoon to discover we hadn’t skipped Thanksgiving as much as we thought we had. Message bee-booped in from baby bro informing us he and his nuclear were in town from Boston to visit his med-student daughter, and what are we doing tonight?
Well, after six weeks away, we were going home. To Sorellas. And as much as I love my brother, that was non-negotiable.
I texted Soy to see if she had room for eight in the back room. I didn’t have to ask if she had room for ten or eleven, because I knew, after she called her parents and Gary, she’d do the math herself. And, sure enough, here comes Maria and here comes Kang. And Dave takes a seat to the left of Wendy and works the mouthpiece into his pocket trumpet. And John trundles in the back door — three trips — with the drums, which are stored in the shed in the parking lot with the dry goods. And Steve does a few warmup thumps on his bass. And Wendy strikes up the band. And Carol joins in on flute. And that amazing tenor sax dude joins in on tenor sax.
Heather pops the first few bottles of Nero, before delivering a platter of antipasto and another of spicy calamari. Soy stops by for hugs all around — while Sonia’s stuck in the kitchen and saves her hugs till later. And Gary’s stuck in Nevada City. And the spaghetti and seafood risotto and lasagna, the salmon with mango salsa, the eggplant parmesan and chicken Milanese, flow from Sonia’s artful hands and tiny hardworking kitchen. And the laughs flow. And conversation. And Charlotte’s boyfriend Ross, whose grandfather was a big macher of a rabbi, goes deep on world religions with Rev. Kang. And Maria wants to know from Roni all about Amsterdam. And Roni gives her a ceramic shoe pin that our Dutch friend Jan gave us. And between songs, Wendy sneaks over for a hug and says she missed us. And, between songs, I sneak over to Dave and say he’s sounding great. And Dave says: Hey, we gotta get on that project of the missing horn. And baby brother Lance yells to me across the crowded table, You know who’d really love being here? Sandy!
And somebody raises a glass and says: Saúde! Which we know from the Kangs is cheers in Portuguese. And nobody, I’m happy to report, says, Happy Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or, for that matter, happy birthday. But it was, all of it, anyway.