My Hometown

You expect nothing to change. Your mental movie says one thing, but reality is something else.

We started the day in New Canaan. At the Philip Johnson Glass House, which I studied in college but had never been to before. I recommend the tour, in this case led by the type of woman who doesn’t exist in California, at least not L.A., an upper-crust WASP with an edge, who kept telling us not to ask questions about the future while we were still in the past, i.e. don’t ask about the swimming pool outside the house while we were still in it. But she implored us to quiz her, and therein lay the conundrum.

As for Philip Johnson…

He was rich. Never underestimate the power of money. He created a weekend empire where he entertained his buddies, it was an endless salon. Andy Warhol was the only friend allowed to stay over, and the Velvet Underground played, and it’s hard to believe this happened just half an hour away, but that’s the way it used to be, before the internet, people had privacy, you could not truly peer into their lives, they certainly weren’t tweeting, and there was no TMZ to track their every move. In other words, Edie Sedgwick was yesteryear’s Kim Kardashian, and you had no idea who she was until they wrote a book about her, meanwhile, she blew her money in pursuit of fame, she didn’t make any.

And then we went to Pepe’s Pizza. I know, I know, we should have gone to the original in New Haven, but my mother is handicapped and parking there is challenging whereas in Fairfield you can walk right in.

For the white clam pizza. Now that’s something you’ve never had, that’s something unique to the east coast. And a tomato pie with sausage, mushrooms and anchovies. We never ate plain pizza as kids, we always loaded it up. And Bridgeport/Fairfield is laden with great pizza to the point where Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s are a non-factor, you can’t sell dressed bread in the land of the real thing. And what separates east coast pizza from the rest is the crust, if you don’t want to eat it it’s not done right. It’s firm, it’s crunchy, it’s tasty. But Pepe’s is the apotheosis. The pizza is thin and you just cannot stop eating it.

And then we drove through the old neighborhood.

Someone is living in our house, even though it’s got the same address. That’s a head-spinner unto itself, there was a girl peering out of the living room window, but I can only guess as to what transpires where I spent my formative years, with a sticky, smelly septic tank before there were sewers.

And the truth is the houses seem closer together, although not smaller. I walked to school, every day, I can remember on two fingers the number of times my mother picked me up, not even during the hurricane when we were sent home early. And it seemed a longer trudge than it does now.

And on our street the houses look the same.

But on Barry Scott Drive, every edifice has been enlarged. I remembered everybody who lived in each domicile, the Romes, the Westons, the Gallaghers, those people with the first built-in pool. But now all those families are gone.

And you used to be able to toboggan from our house to the street three backyards away. But now neighbors have erected fences, out of wood in this case, but the new thing in this area is plastic fences. Which rarely fake you out, you know they’re not wood. Whereas if you had a wall in the fifties and sixties you were ostracized, we kids roamed the neighborhood, from one yard to another, yes, there were a couple we knew to stay off of, but we ruled, back before letting your kid out of your sight was a crime.

And the cut-through from Fairfield Woods through the neighborhood was still there, that’s where I went to elementary school, and junior high. I remember riding my bike home through the houses.

But where we played kickball with Mr. Conley?

It’s now a parking lot.

My first grade classroom, right next to my kindergarten?

It’s still there, but they’ve built a giant addition to a school that was pretty big to begin with.

And the hill where I first donned skis? It’s gone, turned into a parking lot, and the chain-link fence that marked the boundary between the schoolyard and the houses is obscured by foliage.

That’s the big surprise, along with the late model cars in the driveway. There’s so much greenery, you just can’t see what you used to, whereas the neighborhood was open and carefree, now it resembles an arboretum on steroids.

But that’s what happens in fifty years.

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