I have lived where I live for a very long time. Embarrassingly long, I sometimes think. I am in a way surprised that you find me still here. (By my watch, I should have been living in Paris five years already.) Children have grown up and gone away to college and dropped out of college, Seinfeld was launched and decommissioned, country-rock has been revived seven times, and there have been three presidents — four, if you count George W. Bush — since I have lived where I live now. I have lived here now longer than I lived with my parents, in which first very long time I learned countless clever things — how to roll over, sit up, speak, ride a bike, do arithmetic, eat with a spoon and in many other ways to convincingly imitate a human being. (You should see me in my little red cap and green vest.) I grew from an unformed little blob who knew nothing at all into a big strapping blob with a high school diploma. In the long time I have lived where I live now my development has not been so apparently spectacular, though I like to think that I have improved in certain subtle ways. I like to think I am still making progress.
I like to think that.
Yet here I am again, walking to Larchmont. Strictly speaking, I am making progress: I start out at home, and I end up at Larchmont. But how many times have I taken this walk? Hundreds, certainly. Thousands? It’s not impossible. If I add trips by car and by bike — I begin to be frightened. Winter, spring, summer, fall, by light of day and dark of night and light of day, point A to point B to point A to point B to point A. I am moving, but I am in another, occasionally disturbing sense standing still.
“Habit is a great deadener,” said Vladimir not exactly to Estragon (who was asleep) as they waited for Godot; and when, at 16, I read those words, I vowed to live a life of improvisation and change. No hanging around by a dead tree for me! That dude is not going to show. Of course if you last at all in the world, habit creeps in, and not merely from entropy or moral failing or lack of vigilance, but because wherever you find yourself, there are not just things you have to do, but things you prefer to do. I like going to Larchmont, where there is coffee and lunch and a bookstore and a post office and good-looking foot traffic, and the way between here and there runs pleasantly through curving streets flush with green and lined with pretty houses I could never afford to live in but am not too bitter to appreciate. There are birds and squirrels and flowers — all that shit.
It‘s the longest-lived of my several route-routines, but it isn’t the first: There were seven years of following Hatteras Avenue past the wall of honeysuckle vines and the witch‘s house to Rhoda Street Elementary, another six years hiking cornfield-flanked Balboa Boulevard to junior high and high school. (Combined they are still not a patch on the Larchmont Years.) Driving the freeway back over Cahuenga Pass from the Valley I oft marvel at how often the wheel of life has brought me to exactly the same . . . pass — from infant excursions to Grandma’s house, through teenage bus rides to hang around Hollywood Boulevard, and on to a couple of adult decades of trips back from where I grew up to where I live now — and I don‘t know whether to be appalled or impressed.
Impressed, when I consider that various parade of previous selves, and how long a short life actually may be. Appalled, when I consider how many fucking times I have done these same fucking things. Habit, you great deadener, you. I would think that by now there would not be a square inch unknown to me between here and Larchmont, no shrub or flagstone I could not count an old friend, no sidewalk love-inscription I could not recite by heart; but no. Most of the time I shuttle along in a fog. Whole houses, huge houses, houses that long predate even my ancient presence in this neighborhood, will suddenly rear up as absolute strangers. Now, where did that come from? It’s alarming how much of my time here has been spent wrapped up inside my head, distracted, unconscious. It‘s true that inattention, when carefully practiced, has its upside: When I get a new record, for instance, I tend to only half listen to it, if that, so as — this is my theory, at any rate — not to use it up too fast. In this way I am still surprised by records I have owned for 30 years. (I just recently discovered that there’s a piano solo in “Heartbreak Hotel.” Hands up, people who knew that.) It‘s a kind of delayed gratification. (The trick being not to delay it until you’re, you know, past all gratification.) But this is stupid ultimately, like not getting healthy now so you won‘t miss feeling good when you’re old — which is another thing I suspect I‘m guilty of.
Glass half empty? Glass half full? I am some third sort of person who stares hard at the glass and can’t quite work it out. Is it some sort of Zen trick? There are places in my neighborhood where I qualify as a regular, where I get that regular‘s nod when I walk in, and I don’t know whether to be flattered or ashamed, to feel like an insider — a person with a place to be — or a loser: a person with no other place to be.
But here I am, and in any case, it‘s good to take a walk, even for the thousandth time, even when it’s the streets of Paris I should rightfully have been walking these last five years, if there were any justice in the world. Sometimes the glass is half empty and sometimes it‘s half full and sometimes it’s both at once. Because if I can manage to see the world in a grain of sand, or a well-kept lawn, or a happy little squirrel crossing the street on that telephone line there, the way Blake says I‘m supposed to — and, unpredictably, I occasionally can — one place is as good as another. There’s always something new to see. I move through the world and the world moves through me.
The Earth revolves around the revolving sun, the galaxies pirouette in the inky empyrean: Stillness is an illusion. But so is progress. You are moving even when you‘re not, and wherever you seem to go, you’re going in circles. I have been here a long time, but here is different now. Is it time to go, or have I already gone?