Sometimes I wake up with just the most profound homesickness. And the homesickness is always for the same handful of places:
1. New Orleans, Uptown, Maple Street, Spring 1989
2. Billings, Montana, some restaurant within walking distance of the Best Western Ponderosa Inn, Spring 1989
3. Perks Coffee Shop on Perkins Road, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in late afternoon during a thunderstorm, mid-1990s
4. New Orleans. No specific spot. Just New Orleans in general.
I'm not sure why I get so homesick for these places. I don't particularly want to go back to any of them. I don't feel particularly sad that I'm not there now. I just have this overwhelming sense of longing in me, and that sense is accompanied with traces of the sounds, smells, and feel of those specific places and times. It's the oddest thing.
The first three--uptown New Orleans, Billings, and Perks on Perkins--are all places where I did a lot of writing. A LOT of writing. They are also places where I felt most acutely a sense of possibility. They were also what I call "in-between" times--more-or-less transitional periods of my life.
In New Orleans in Spring 1989, as I took a class on the History of Jazz, I had my first real taste of freedom and subsequent self discovery. I spent a lot of time on Maple Street uptown, writing and working on my Duke Ellington term paper at PJ's, then walking to Maple Street Bookstore, then to some little hippie/head shop where they sold cool jewelry and crazy gypsy skirts.
In Billings, I was just an overnight guest at the Best Western; the next morning, I would go to Yellowstone National Park, where I'd been hired to work at Grant Village for the summer. Freedom again, particularly for a sheltered 19-year-old who'd just completed a tumultuous freshman year of college.
Perks on Perkins was my favorite place to study and write when I was in grad school. In the afternoons in spring and summer, we'd get these horrendous thunderstorms, and the doors to the coffee shop would be open, and the smell of rain on the pavement would combine with the smell of coffee brewing. Perkins Road would always flood when it rained, so I'd be happily "stuck" there for at least a few hours, reading and writing, while the water drained.
The fourth place I listed is New Orleans in general. I don't know why I get this New-Orleans nostalgia so much. I've been there a million times, but I've only actually lived there twice; I was too young to remember the first time (two months as an newborn while waiting to be adopted), and I was miserable the second time (first semester of my freshman year at Tulane). But there are days that I wake up with such a longing for New Orleans. No matter what I think or do for the rest of the day, New Orleans with its heavy humid air and stinky trash smell just keeps creeping back into my thoughts, and I'm overcome with longing for a home that was never really home.
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