The Great Blizzard of 2004 is officially over and done with. The snow has stopped falling and the ice has started melting, and my mother and I emerged from our brick-veneered cave a few hours ago, blinking at the bright sunlight, out of the house at long last to dine at a restaurant–Applebee’s, to be specific–for the first time since we’d holed up on Tuesday night. (Actually, my brother and I had slithered north on an inch-thick sheet of ice to pick up a present on Friday morning, but we lied and told my mother that the ice had already melted, so it didn’t count.) Instead of attending the various family gatherings that were called on account of snow, I stayed home, opened presents, ate leftovers and various regional delicacies, answered e-mail, and watched movies.
The presents under the tree included two showstoppers, one funny, the other touching. My brother gave me a framed check for one dollar, drawn on the City of Smalltown, U.S.A., and representing his entire salary as a city councilman for 2004. (It was a souvenir of my having made the very first contribution to his campaign fund.) In return, the rest of the family chipped in to buy him a plane ticket to Washington, D.C., where he’ll watch me be sworn in as a member of the National Council on the Arts and spend a couple of days doing the town. My mother is no longer up to that kind of long-distance traveling, so he’ll be the Teachout family’s official representative at the ceremony. Needless to say, tears were shed by more than one person in the room when that package was opened.
Among the regional delicacies that I’ve consumed since the snow started falling were a foot-long stick of summer sausage and a half-pound of hickory-smoked cheese from Esicar’s Old Hickory Smokehouse, two robust foodstuffs not readily available on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I also bought and ate three GooGoo Clusters, the circular candy bar that is Nashville’s second most important contribution to American culture. So far the weather has stopped me from dining at Dexter Barbecue, but I’m hoping to gnaw on a rib or two before I hit the road.
I got an e-mail yesterday from my friend Laura, about whose wedding I posted last week. She saw what I wrote after she got back from her honeymoon in Branson, Missouri, and said she liked it (whew!). So, I gather, did a lot of other folks, including a reader of “About Last Night” who lives in Taiwan. It tickled me no end to know that my description of a small-town wedding in Missouri had been read and appreciated halfway around the world, and it also reminded me–as if I needed reminding–of how extraordinary an effect blogging has already had on the writing life.
I watched three films over the weekend that I hadn’t seen since their release, and one I’d never seen at all. My mother surprised me a few days ago by mentioned in passing that Mary Poppins was her favorite movie (who knew?), so we watched it on Christmas night, immediately following Miracle on 34th Street, which was new to me. I hadn’t seen Mary Poppins since my parents took me to a roadshow screening in Memphis in 1964, and was happily surprised by the effectiveness of the pre-digital animated effects (the songs are pretty damn good, too). We also watched Animal House, which my mother liked even more than Napoleon Dynamite. As for me, I hadn’t seen an uncut print of Animal House since my undergraduate days, and was delighted anew by all the clever little touches that time had wiped from my memory. (Remember how Fawn Lebowitz dies? In a kiln explosion.)
Best of all, though, was The Secret Lives of Dentists, which struck me as even better on a second viewing than when I saw it last winter, though I stand by what I wrote then:
Scarcely less impressive, and no less serious, is Alan Rudolph’s The Secret Lives of Dentists, an occasionally over-flamboyant but mostly straightforward study of the devastating effects of adultery on the marriage of two no-longer-young dentists (Campbell Scott and Hope Davis) so caught up in raising their children that they forget to love one another. Davis is shiveringly good as the guilty party, but Scott has the larger and more demanding part–nothing is harder than making an audience care about an emotionally inhibited character–and brings it off with self-effacing skill.
(The film to which I was comparing it, by the way, was Lost in Translation, and I wound up the review by commenting on American Splendor as well. What a month that was!)
Now, alas, the end of my stay is nigh. I have one day and night left, after which I fly back to Manhattan on Tuesday morning in order to greet Our Girl in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon, and I have to finish and file my “Second City” column for this Sunday’s Washington Post before I leave town. Naturally, I’ve been putting it off. I hate working in Smalltown. (Blogging isn’t work.) But I don’t dare procrastinate any longer, so I’m going to get up first thing in the morning–well, second thing–and do my duty.
When I leave, it’ll be with the usual mixed feelings. I have a million things to do in New York, and I’ll be more than ready to get back to my desk. I love my work–probably more than I should–and I love my friends with all my heart. I even love New York, though it took me long enough to admit it to myself. (I didn’t really make up my mind about New York until after 9/11.) It is the place of my real life, and increasingly of my memories as well. I won’t be surprised if I spend the rest of my days there, whereas it isn’t likely that I’ll ever again spend more than a week or two at a time in Smalltown. Yet this town, and this house, are what I think of when I think of home.
As I write these words, I’m listening to a record by a friend of mine, a Brazilian singer who lives in New York and became an American citizen earlier this year. Right now she’s in São Paulo visiting her family, and I know her heart is as cloven as mine. I asked her once what language she dreamed in. “English, mostly,” she said, “but with an accent.” So, too, do I dream in and of New York—but with an accent.
When do we acquire the grace to feel at home where we are? Do we ever? Or can we do no better than to make a home for our own children, who will grow up and do the same for their children? I wrote those words in 1991, a few years after I moved to New York. I still can’t answer any of the questions I asked back then, perhaps because I have no children for whom to make a home, and now wonder whether I ever will. More and more I find myself wondering, too, what home means, and where it is. Yet at least I know where it used to be. Not everyone knows half as much.