Things That Go Bump in the Night

Photo courtesy Google Maps (Street View)

I lived in the same house from the time I was seven years old until I was 35.  That is, except for a year and a half in high school when we were upstate (and even then we came “home” on weekends), four years away in college and three years away in law school.  I was a regular homing pigeon who found work in my hometown and always returned to the familiarity of my parents’ residence until I started a new job in New England and moved to a ratty apartment in Connecticut.

It’s been twenty years since I last turned into the driveway of the old home place, but I can still close my eyes, climb the front steps and mentally tour every room.  There’s the entryway that we called “the landing” and the seven steps up to where we did most of our living and the seven steps down to the family room, the spare bedroom, the laundry room and the steel-paneled door to the garage.  Even blindfolded, I could find the slatted door to the boiler room and the closet where we kept the vacuum cleaner and my mother’s mink coat and the sliding glass doors out to the deck and the little storage closet under the stairs that always smelled like mothballs and the alcove occupied by the rake and the spade and the lawn sprinkler.

My mother claims that she could return to the New York City neighborhood where she grew up and would still be able to navigate every nook and cranny for many blocks around her old apartment building, which still stands at the corner of Grand Avenue and West 181st Street.  She ran those streets with her girlfriends all through junior high and high school.  Some things, she says, you never forget.

For years, I’ve heard people say “it’s like riding a bicycle, it comes right back to you” to refer to something you haven’t done for a long time but mentally know like the back of your hand.  Does this apply to places as well as to actions?

By sharp contrast to my childhood and young adulthood, since my wife and I have been married we have moved around a bit.  We have hopscotched about this wonderful map of California and, a month ago, moved to our fourth residence.

I have long believed that we can get used to almost anything.  Whatever surroundings we find ourselves in, they soon take on the aura of the familiar.  The litmus test, however, is when you wake up in the middle of the night in a darkened room.  For a split second, you wonder where you are.  For just that moment, hanging in the interstices between sleep and wakefulness, I might be back in Massachusetts, out in the desert, in the north end of Fresno or even, depending on the depth of the dream from which I am just emerging, in my childhood bedroom on Rockland Parkway, one house from the corner of Alexander Avenue.

And when I haul myself out of bed and attempt to navigate my way to the bathroom, chances are good that I’ll bang my thigh or my hand against one of the pieces of furniture I encounter on my route.  I am improving in this regard; after more than four weeks here, I pretty much have the lay of the land down.  But not like the back of my hand, not like riding a bicycle (something, incidentally, that I never learned to do).  I still have to think about it for a moment, particularly when I’m not wearing my specs and I’m still clearing the cobwebs out of my brain.

Now that I’ve come close to reaching a comfortable level of familiarity, my wife decided to rearrange our bedroom today.  The new layout is much more functional and I love the way it looks.  But in the deepest recesses of the night, I know I will once again experience that slight moment of confusion before I remember just how this tune goes.

I know it’ll be a while until my surroundings become second nature to me and I am truly able to call the parsonage home.  Until then, don’t be scared of things that go bump in the night.

More than likely, it will just be me.


NaBloPoMo November 2013

Postcard from Another Life


Oh boy, this is going to be a tough post to write.  ‘Tis a bitter pill, my bloggy friends.

Many of you know that I was laid off from my job at the end of September.  The end of a job is a little like a death in the family.  Our work is a large part of our identities, and when we lose it, we lose a part of ourselves.  In this case, the “family member” (employer) had been mortally ill (broke) for some time.  We all had a pretty good idea that the layoffs were a-comin’, although we tried not to talk about it while we hoped in our hearts that some miracle would make its appearance to save us.  Half of my staff took the axe in mid-August and I had my turn at the guillotine about six weeks later.

Like any death, knowing that it is just a matter of time does not make it any easier once the day finally arrives.  The period of mourning always begins with shock and disbelief, eventually sliding through the phases of acceptance and moving on.

And then there are the family and friends who seek to console you.  They are so well-meaning, and in the name of consolation, the platitudes fly like snowflakes in January.  The appropriate response is to smile wanly and express your appreciation while you wonder what the hell you’re going to do now.

It is easy to criticize this attitude as being entirely too dramatic.  Losing a job is more like a bad breakup than a death, you say.  Perhaps this is so.  Family members can never be replaced, but you can always find another job.  Except that most of my employees have been unable to do so.  When you live in this economy in a remote town in the middle of the desert with the nearest small city being a hundred miles away, there is not much work close at hand.  Working likely means commuting three hours per day or else relocating, i.e., selling your house (good luck), uprooting your children and moving away from the place where you grew up and the family who serve as your support network.  Unemployment, here we come.  And when that runs out, God only knows.  Maybe you can get a part-time job at minimum wage at the K-Mart or at Del Taco or the new dollar store that just opened at the west end of town.

We were among the lucky ones.  We had nothing holding us in the desert and we were able to kick over the traces and move in with family 600 miles away.

So you try to put it behind you.  You try to forget about the people and the places.  You can’t help looking back on the good times you had, but you try not to dwell on it.  Time to lick your wounds and check out the other fish in the sea.

We start the healing process by removing the numbers from our smart phones:  The lady who sells tortillas down by the freeway, the place that services your car, your doctor, your dentist, your landlord, the supermarket, the guy who fixes your air conditioning when it breaks down in July, the people who mow your lawn and the ones who deliver water.  You’ve moved to another part of the state and this is your chance to start over.  You never have to think about these people again.

Then it happens.  You get a post card in the mail.  And it’s like a message in a bottle, a reminder of the life you’ve left behind, a bad dream.

In this case, the post card was from my former boss.  One side featured a lovely photo of a sunset bearing the label “San Diego.”  Since we just came off of a holiday weekend, I suppose that the boss had a three or four day mini-vacation at the beach.

So thank you for thinking of me, boss.  You say you hope that we are relatively settled in up north.  You say you hope that we keep in touch.


How should I respond to this?  Should I ignore the gesture?  Should I write back, and if so, what should I say?  If I were to respond, I suppose my own post card would go something like this:

Dear Boss,

 I know this whole thing wasn’t your fault.  I know the layoff was a money-saving measure dictated by upper management and that you had no control over it.  But I also know that we made a 1,200+ mile round trip the week after my layoff because I was invited to interview for another management position at a different location.  And that you were one of the three on the interview panel.  And that you pretended that I was Joe Schmoe who you’d never met before even though I worked my butt off for you for the past three years.  And that the only reaction I could get from you was the barest hint of a nod when I stared directly into your eyes.  I know that you were only doing your job, doing what is expected of you.  After all, you have your own job to protect.  But I guess you and your cronies decided that you’d be better off getting rid of me for good.  I know this because I received a computer-generated form email informing me that I was not selected for the position.  Cold, really cold.  And now you send me a card to say that you hope we are settled in the place to which we were forced to move.  Not to be rude or anything, but I think you have a hell of a nerve.

Were you motivated by guilt?  Do you feel bad about what happened to me and to my employees?  Do you want us to like you anyway and say “hey, forgive and forget, let bygones be bygones?”  What’s that? I’m being unnecessarily cruel?  You’re just trying to be kind? I am sorry, but I think it’s a little late for that.  We have already removed all those numbers from our phones, including yours.  We have moved on, just as I know you would want us to.  So please do not contact us further.  We have a new life now and you are just a bad reminder of the harrowing escapades that you have put us through.  Oh, and by the way, we honestly wish you best of luck in all your future endeavors.


Your former employee