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Emotional Hegira

Leaving California: 1) Running Away

If I were to explain to myself, or anyone else for that matter, why I’m leaving California, I’d have to explain what I’ve been doing in California. Which implies I’d have to explain why I came to California in the first place. But then, isn’t that the same as why I left New York? Which is related to why I returned to New York. And perhaps why I left New York the first time for Chicago. But it can on and on forever like that, no? OK, maybe not forever, but at least a lifetime’s worth, right?

This is how books never get written.

First, I came to California. Sounds like a simple and logical place to start, right? Wrong. I didn’t come to California. I left New York. Here we go again.

Let’s get one thing clear: I like California. I can’t remember how many trips I made here in the course of some 20-odd years. Twenty, perhaps. Some for as short as a week, true, but some for as long as month, or two, or three, even. Some were for business–thank you, expense accounts– but all had at least some aspect of relaxation to them. (I won’t go as far as to say “pleasure.”)

California. Like most Americans, perhaps the world, I see the name itself covered in golden sparkles, a place of magic, and beauty, and good-living, and boundless opportunity. The American Dream, artfully located on the choicest piece of real estate. (Do people still think that way? Or am I too much a child of the ’60’s? Perhaps the less romantic fly in, spend an hour on today’s freeways, North or South, and rush back to Ohio wondering, “What was I thinking?”)

California is a wonderful place to visit, but I’d never want to live here. Or so I thought. In fact, when a certain psychic friend predicted, some years ago, that I’d find myself living in the Bay Area (even coming within a month of pinpointing the move), I laughed. No, honestly: I shrieked. “San Francisco? Never! Besides, the idea of a middle-aged gay man moving to San Francisco is pretty pathetic.”

But she was right. That is how things unfolded.

And maybe I was right, too.

Still, I was so desperate to get out of New York at that point, I would have hitchhiked to hell if the right truck driver had stopped.

I came to California because I had lost my passion. Not the passion for a beautiful man; there had been plenty of beautiful men, and plenty of lost passion of that sort. They came and went, came and went, came and came again, and went. The last beautiful man came and went, and came and went, and again, and came even to California. But I sent him packing.

No, it wasn’t passion for my hometown that I lost, either. I loved New York, its constant movement, its constant opportunities, its ever-changing familiarity. I could put up with the growing hardness of the city. Even with the knowledge that New York is, as Jay, the first of those beautiful men, used to say, “a great city for the very young and the very rich.” Even with the creeping realization that I was, and would never be, either.

Nor do I think it was passion for my work I lost. I loved the change I was making in the world; I was a revered elder statesman and even had the testimonials to prove it (was that a sign or what?). “You realize, of course,” said my long-time colleague Steph over dinner before she disappeared from the scene, “that you and I are fossils. And no one really wants the fossils anymore.” The dwindling bank account was stone silent.

I gave away my books, to a fledgling community library.

I gave away the contents of my apartment, to whomever wanted the junk.

I gave away my famous fucking Rolodex.

I burned my papers.

I kept the pictures of the beautiful men.

“Just reassure me of something,” says my old friend Peg. “Tell me you’re not just running away.”


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