American Restless

Wherever You Go, Longing for Somewhere Else

I cried in the frozen foods aisle last night.

I lived with my parents in Cincinnati for two years while I finished my master’s degree and could not wait to leave. This is not to say I don’t respect and love my parents, both fine people in their own rights, or that I don’t love and respect Cincinnati, the Bengals not withstanding. However, when you and nearly everyone you know has grown up within a fifteen-mile radius of where their great-great-grandparents first stepped off the flatboat, at some point you begin to seek out other, less bowling-alley-intensive vistas.

I was in Florida working for NASA within four months of graduation. People schlep school buses and Radio Shack warrantees for entire lifetimes to move to Florida, and there I was, pushing open beach umbrellas at the age of twenty-five.

And intensely wishing I were somewhere else.

College. Here in Florida I missed college. I stood in the air freshener section of a Wal-Mart for twenty minutes inhaling the scent of the Glade Stick-Up that the previous tenant of my freshman dorm room had used. What a great smell. (I used to spritz my entire room with Lysol for the sole purpose of combating that smell.) Man, that was the day. No opening up your car door only to have the remnants of the last tropical storm cascade over your suede sandals back in Indiana .

And then I began to miss� Cincinnati? Cincinnati had hills. Had roads with character. Roads around here don’t drain worth a damn and it’s been�what, four months now since I’ve hugged my mother?

And that is why, in Publix, in the frozen food aisle, I came upon a locals-only brand of Cincinnati chili, lifted it out of the freezer case, and cried all over my weekly supply of Nutty Bars.

For all this, I have no doubt that after approximately five minutes in Indiana or Cincinnati I’d be reaching for the Kleenex: “There’s no sand here. Remember tracking sand (with the smell of dead fish) all over the kitchen? That was great.”

Why can’t I just sit still? Few of us truly can. If you tell me that you don’t occasionally stare at the ceiling as the radio alarm blares obnoxiousness and wonder if there’s anything out there better than this, you are lying.

It is profoundly American, the restless and yearning heart. Our culture pre-programs us with wanderlust and greener grass syndrome, dripped into our DNA by cheap airfare to Vegas and the dead-weight fear of settling when a dream job photo-shooting Hot Firemen of 2003 calendars is right around the corner. If we didn’t like the idea of the pick-up-and-go, we’d all still be crammed along the Eastern seaboard, the world dropping off somewhere along Pennsylvania.

Yet it is the closed heart that gives itself entirely to one person, one place. When separated from those places that seem one zip code away from heaven, we don’t so much miss buildings and trees as the security and peaceful soul we found there.

And that is why, even in the act of fulfilling a lifetime dream working with the space program while living one block from the seashore, I scowl at palm trees for not being pine trees. I’ve a feeling that even if NASA gave me the ultimate celestial job assignment, I’d be staring out the window clutching a Puffs tissue: “Oh, man, you guys, Earth! Remember gravity? Wasn’t that great?”