I Go Hobo
Did you know the word hobo is short for homeward bound? Well, it’s one of the possible origins of the word, at any rate. Given the other options are “ho, boy!” and “ho, beau” I think I’ll stick with my original statment. Well, they say you can never go home again. It’s a wonderful cliché I decided to defy it last week. I went home to Washington, D.C., the scene of the crime from ages 3 to 11, and took a tour of the old neighborhood.
My family hasn’t lived in this house in years. The last time I saw it in person was probably 2004. Recently, I took a fantastic Improv for Writing Workshop (if you live in the LA area and can swing it, take this class. It’s incredible), and one of the exercises we did was to imagine a walk we used to take when we were kids. We drew maps of the walk, the things we saw at each step along the way, and then used the map as a jumping off point for writing scenes. So, in my mind, I’ve been down this street and around the corner just recently.
Last week, however, when my husband drove the rental car around the corner and I screamed,”Wait! This isn’t right!” My poor husband almost steered into the curb, thinking he’d made a wrong turn.
“No, the street is right, but they houses… They’re all… weird.”
It was as if someone had, I don’t know, squashed the street. The street was foreshortened, as if someone had squeezed both ends of the block like an accordion bending inward. There was my sweet little childhood home, the place I’d grown up in, smack dab in the middle, and I could hardly recognize it.
We parked the car and I walked the block, pointing out all of the things that I had mapped so recently in that workshop. But none of them were quite right. A hedge was missing here, the door was the wrong color there, and that tree—the big one out front where my brother and I poured a mixture of honey and cooking sherry to watch drunken ants and bees fight—it was tiny. It couldn’t possibly be the same tree. Someone must have changed it while I wasn’t watching. The surreal sense of omniscience Google maps had given me, allowing me to spy on my old neighborhoods from the heights of an invisible cloud had not prepared me for this.
Every stone was in its place. But it had changed. It was familiar, like the smell of chicken soup on the stove, but different. I wanted chicken and noodles. Somehow, this bowl had chicken and stars.
So maybe it’s true. You can return to a street address (unless a bulldozer and a city planner have something to say about it), but you just can’t go home again.