Probably about 10 years ago, I saw a notice at the site for Here, a tiny independent magazine founded by Neil deMause, asking people to "post their place"—to write, in other words, about wherever they were or where they'd been. This was back when the Web was still a new, young thing, and such invitations were still surprising and fun. No one was thinking about being discovered off of the site or of driving traffic to their blog or whatever.
I was living with someone at the time in a 1-bedroom railroad apartment in Soho, and my desk was there in the living room. I remember feeling agitated, probably because the relationship wasn't going so great and hadn't been for a long while, and so I sat down and typed up a piece on the first thing I thought I might be able to write about: Orlando.
I just reread the post, and it sure does sound agitated. I can see that my feelings about Orlando (and, I suppose, other things) were not nearly worked out. It's angry, which is okay, but it's an unfocused kind of angry. Yet it was honest at the time. And there are parts of it that I like and that I still agree with. So here it is again, just as it originally appeared here, in Here: http://www.heremagazine.com/postyourplace/
We lived in subdivisions my entire 16 years in Orlando. The first was called Bel Air East. At the time, I did not know what Bel Air was. I did not know it was a fancy town in California. I knew only that that was the name mounted in large cursive letters on the two low, stuccoed walls that flanked the entrance to the neighborhood. The walls were a powdery gray color, and the letters were a faded, chalky blue. But the house was new—the whole neighborhood was—and this was a tremendous point of pride for my father. We’d moved to Orlando from Long Island, New York, where we lived in a ranch-style house with real wooden shingles and a blacktop driveway that my mother carefully re-tarred once a year. We had trees, a large front lawn, and woods behind the house. In Long Island, there was no sign on our neighborhood to announce where we were, and I can’t say such signs ever made sense to me when I first encountered them in Florida. But we’d had to leave New York. Had some financial problems and were trying to start over again. Turn over a new leaf, was the cliche my parents repeated to inquisitive relatives.
So if we had to start from scratch, at least we could start with a new house that had a living room and den and a room for my brother and one for me. This was the rationale. But our three-bedroom post in Bel Air was far from rational. The neighbors next door took their mediocre cinderblock and faux-stone house and reveled in the mediocrity. They made a crude bedroom out of the garage, everything handmade and jerry-rigged. They discarded trash on their crabgrass lawn. Their bug-eyed mutt minced her way around our cul de sac, her exhausted teats nearly dragging the sidewalk as she chased after nothing in particular. The neighbor on the other side of us happily brought out his shotgun whenever his temper raged, and this was often. His daughter, lumpy and disconsolate, worried the one nerve this fellow had left after the war (from the looks and sound of him, in his tank-top undershirt and his Jack Daniels-tinged Southern accent, you’d think it was the Civil), after his wife left them, after he wound up in the faux luxury of East Orlando. And then there was us, with our precise ways, our immaculately groomed lawn, the skinny sapling the developer had planted in our front yard secured with stakes and wire and our resolve never to make the word y’all a part of our vocabulary.