Dad always said if you jumped out one window of his shack of a home, you’d land in West Virginia; if you jumped out the other, Maryland.
I’m looking out the window of a Southwest Airline plane and am passing over what are boundaries of states… undetectable to the naked eye. Invisible property lines of this one’s farm and that one’s ranch. Somewhere over Colorado or Arizona, possibly New Mexico, it all looks the same. If I wasn’t from these parts–say, someone dropped me here as a surprise birthday trip from my native Pluto and told me to Wait! Wait! Don’t open your eyes yet!–I’d guess I was on the moon. The landscape is full with mountains, craters, and desert.
I was tense when we lifted off from Los Angeles. The usual anxiety surges when I have to get on a plane. Los Angeles. It’s just as bad as New York City–THE CITY, if you’re from the area, which I am. It was home for well over forty years–the suburbs east of NYC, a forty-five minute ride on the Long Island Railroad.
The house I grew up in was a one-mile walk from the train station. Along the way were hundreds of houses that looked just like mine, all of them shoved together on postage-stamp properties. When I was a child and made the walk, I would have passed a miniature model of the first Apollo spacecraft to land on the moon. It was built by the company that put my town on the map–Grumman Aerospace in Bethpage. Great minds were contemplating space travel, but my world back then revolved around my little town, specifically the three-block area I considered my personal playground.
As children growing up in the sixties, the only boundaries we knew of were those set by our parents. Otherwise, the neighborhood properties were one huge landscape over which we’d orchestrate elaborate nightly games of Chase. We scaled fences like midnight robbers and leaped over barrels and bushes like gazelles over the Serengeti. By day, we camped out almost daily at the Heilig house.
Mr. H was a fence guy. His backyard was piled high with metal and wood posts and poles–perfect for climbing up and down as if mountains. From the metal, he built an enormous, heavy-duty swing set that only rocked when four of us at a time would swing at the same cadence. With momentum full forward, we leaped into the air where only the wind could catch us and free-fell into the ground.
It wasn’t until I got older and rented properties, and later still, when I owned property that I regarded imaginary property lines as anything other than exactly that. Lines then became places of dispute among neighbors, something to point to when arguing about a messy berry tree, an unsightly outbuilding, an ambitious hole-digging dog.
Not until I owned a home did I realize the futility of lines. Marks on the ground can’t silence loud music, or barking dogs, or crying babies. Can’t diffuse the toxic fumes emanating from the rusted tailpipe of the ’57 Chevy idling in the neighbor’s driveway all morning. Can’t eradicate the stench from a sunken cesspool.
After owning several homes over the years, jointly and alone, I came to a point where I no longer needed to own. No longer saw the sense or value in it. My body and I wanted to roam, which is exactly what we did.
This trip–this flight from L.A.–is an effort to see everyone I can manage to see in New York in a two-week window. I’ve been north of L.A. three years. Unless you’ve been yourself, you might not realize that north of urban madness is Mother Earth with a permanent case of the mumps–mountains upon mountains on the surface of her skin, as far as the eye can see. As soon as I arrived here several years ago, I fell in love with northern L.A.
From my viewpoint in this plane, the mountains have disappeared and I’m now over the flatlands of America. Curiously, the endless flatlands of our fine country are as carved up as a suburban neighborhood. But these postage-stamp properties are fields populated with seeds or vegetation in varying shades of browns and greens. Here, where most would say there is a whole lotta nothing, there is nothing but conformity.
These days, I fight conformity. Just like a child’s first instinct, I won’t be told what to do, where to do it, how to live. I demand freedom–wide-open spaces where my heart and mind can breathe. So far, northern L.A. is delivering what I need. I wander over unbridled landscapes as if they were my first steps on the moon. Eyes full of wonder. Every step brand new. No lines. No limitations. All possibility.
– What false limits do you put upon yourself?
– Where in your life have you drawn your own limiting lines?
– Where have you allowed others to draw lines for you?
The world is your playground. Are you allowing yourself to live outside the lines?