It’s still early evening, but the black winter sky makes it seem later. The temperature is unseasonably warm.
I’m driving to the club. Jimmy Buffett’s Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads anthology is in the CD player. The tropical tunes have been a pleasant diversion on a gray January day. Track 14 starts to play.
I Have Found Me a Home. I’ve always liked that song, the fourth on the B side of Buffett’s first major label album, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. I was barely old enough to walk when it was released and didn’t hear it for the first time until almost 20 years later, in the halcyon spring of ’91.
The album became one of my comforts during a prolonged bout of pneumonia a few months later. I still vividly remember listening to it – I Have Found Me a Home in particular – in my cassette player while eating oranges and reading John Dickson Carr, an author I also discovered that spring. There’s not much in my life Carr’s mysteries and Buffett’s music haven’t seen me through.
I walk into the club. Millicent smiles as she takes my coat and Borsalino and asks me how I am. I make a feeble reply. I should say more, but the words aren’t there. Not tonight.
I silently shake Emsworth’s hand as I pass him in the hall and clap Currie on the shoulder a few steps later, almost causing him to drop the drop glass of orange juice on his tray. I stop at the door to the lounge, nod to Baxter, and glance around the room.
At a table for four, Erika Emody, Abbott Jones, and Shelly Ann McDonald sit poring over several sheets of music. Nick Patterson and John Richardson are conversing two tables away. Lydia Poore sips the unspilled orange juice she’s just accepted from Currie.
Sherri Ross discusses plans for the third Birmingham Dance Walk on Feb. 2 with Jennifer Dome and Tanya and Zack Sylvan. Spencer Wyatt nods to me from across the room. Chloe Carstairs passes me in the doorway, waving to Clair McLafferty and Heather Milam as she moves to join them at the bar.
The house band plays Martin Denny as background music for the conversation. It’s in the middle of Scimitar, one of Denny’s best exotic instrumentals. I’m glad to see everyone enjoying themselves, but I’m not in the right frame of mind for the lounge scene.
I head upstairs to the library, which I’m grateful to find empty. I settle into the octopus chair. There’s something oddly comforting about the mollusk-shaped armchair, which is what I sorely need at the moment.
Even before I Have Found Me a Home started playing on my car stereo, I’d been thinking about the place I call home, the place to which I once applied Buffett’s lyrics, a place “there aren’t many reasons I would leave.” Eventually one presented itself, but I still go back there a few times a year, usually to find that not much has changed.
But after a recent visit there, I’m aware that now something has. Something big.
Not that I haven’t gone back home to major changes before. Since finding a new haven in the Magic City seven years ago, for example, almost half of my immediate family back home has died.
I’m still coping with those changes. This new situation, though, is similarly upsetting, albeit in a different way.
It’s as if a constant – a constant I’ve relied on and taken comfort in, a constant I was glad was there during an important phase of my personal development – is going away. And I’m afraid it will never be back. I’m afraid, as corny as this sounds, that it’s the end of an era.
Home will still be there, of course. Or will it? Might it already be gone, and I simply haven’t realized it? I stare at the carpet, considering the question, as Frank McCourt’s face appears in my memory.
“People ask me,” I remember the author saying, “’Where’s home?’ and I say, ‘I live in New York,’ as if I’ve been living out of a suitcase for most of my life. The truth is, I haven’t got a home. Or if I do, it’s the one I carry around with me inside my head.”
I don’t know how long I sit there visiting my mental home — talking with old friends, roaming old haunts, and reliving old times – but at some point I realize what’s really bothering me. I’m afraid of losing a tangible connection to my past. I don’t want to lose it. I want to fix the problem. I want to make everything right. And yet I know that I can’t.
Maybe, I tell myself, I understand McCourt’s words more now than when I heard them for the first time.
I turn around at the sound of a discreet cough. It’s Emsworth, standing a few paces away.
“Please pardon me for interrupting your reverie, sir, but I wanted to ask if you require anything.”
“No, Emsworth, thank you,” I say after a few seconds’ consideration.
“Very good, sir.” He moves to the door.
“Is the band still playing in the lounge?”
“It is indeed, sir.”