I usually chip away at my vacation time piecemeal, with sporadic mental health days and extended weekends. But those can only take you so far, and I decided recently it was time to schedule a big honking vacation. I hadn’t left the state of California since December 2009! So I finally made plans to fly back to western New York to visit my parents for a few days.
When my dad picked me up at the Buffalo airport last Monday, I had to wrack my brain to remember the last time I’d been home in the summer. Turns out it was the August of 1998! I’d forgotten how lush, green, and beautiful western New York summers can be.
I grew up in Fredonia, which is south of Buffalo a few minutes’ drive from Lake Erie. As hometowns go, it’s really a pretty good one, a modest little liberal arts college town with a decent school system, four distinct seasons, legendary lake effect snows, and the best chicken wings in the universe. In retrospect, it’s clear to me that in light of its small size, I grew up with a disproportionate number of creative, talented, interesting people. I had some intensely cool friends as a kid, and the place was conducive to artistic ambition and quirky, oddball personalities.I was lucky to grow up there.
Not that I knew that at the time, unfortunately! And like any card-carrying Gen X slacker, I acquired a lot of “baggage” in Fredonia. When cruising its streets now, I can’t go five minutes without passing some landmark of my past, memory-triggers of the version of me that lived there, a version that I look back on as kind of an entitled, self-absorbed, sullen, disaffected jackass. Oh, I know I had good qualities too, and it wasn’t an awful life by any stretch of the imagination. But I grew up with a pretty unhealthy view of myself, and going home I often have to fight against a weird kind of emotional reversion, like I’m involuntarily devolving to match the over-familiar surroundings.
This trip was particularly nostalgic, as part of the reason I headed home was to clear off the bookshelves in my old bedroom. We all kind of felt I should let my parents reclaim their turf before I turn forty! Anyway, this task involved thumbing through and boxing up the paperbacks and science fiction magazines and comic books I amassed in the first two decades of my life, but also unearthed a lot of forgotten errata, such as:
- Baseball trophies (bet you didn’t know I was an all-star shortstop in Little League!)
- Horrible concept art for my superhero teams “The Raiders,” “Energy Infinite,” and “Spy Syndicate.” These of course include graph-paper blueprints of each team’s headquarters, all of which included a “Soundproof Music Room” — yeah, it’s not enough that my characters had superpowers, they were also awesome musicians!
- Hastily scribbled setlists from my old high school garage band, The Hoo-Ha’s, reminding me that we covered the following bands: U2, REM, The Cure, Pink Floyd, The Clash, The Police, The Smiths, and yes, Echo and the Bunnymen. (Boy, has my musical taste mutated since then.)
- Boxes full of handwritten and clumsily typed SF stories, mostly of the “White Guys in Space” variety. Particularly priceless are the manilla envelopes that hold these manuscripts, which are labeled Various High School Blatherings, Miscellaneous Bullshit, and my personal favorite, Completed, Bad Stories.
I’m happy to report that spelunking through this personal history wasn’t only painless, but came with lots of surprised laughing. I think the new me is a little healthier than the old one.
I kind of stealthed in and out of town unannounced, this visit. I used to make more of an effort to get in touch with old friends when I went back, but I’m so out of touch lately I’m not even sure who’s there, and anyway the time ended up passing a lot faster than I expected. All in all, it was a very relaxing break — the airports were considerably less insane than the Xmas crowds I’m used to, and it was great to kick back at home with my mom and dad, who fed me like a king with awesome home-cooked meals.
I’m back in LA now, trying to get back in the groove of things and resume my regularly scheduled writing productivity. But I’m hoping it won’t take so long, next time, to arrange another summer visit home!
Completed, Bad Stories would be a good name for a career retrospective collection!
(Rereading that, it sounds bad. Not a retrospective of *your* stories. Just in general.)
LOL! Oh, I could fill multiple volumes, believe me…