(I promise— it takes a while but this column eventually gets furry.)
About a month prior to this article’s release I suffered some serious heart troubles. Little permanent damage was done, and the timely high-tech treatment I received was so successful that I actually feel better now than I have for years. It wasn’t nearly as a big a deal as it sounds when spelled out here. But, I have to admit, such a life-event can get a man to thinking. Another major life event is also looming up close for me— in roughly twelve weeks I’ll retire at last from my much-disliked factory job and be able to write or do whatever else I please full-time. I’ve worked very hard for this for a very long time, and saved money when it would’ve been much easier to spend it. In fact, I’ve been counting down the weeks for almost two years. Between the two, well, for the last few days I’ve been downright philosophical.
As a result of my upcoming retirement, I’m also free for the first time ever to relocate anywhere I darned well please, so long as I can afford it. For months now I’ve been studying real estate sites and recalling my travels to various places. I’ve many good friends in Seattle and a couple other writers have offered to make me feel at home there artistically, but as beautiful as the place is it might as well be made of pure unaffordium so far as my budget is concerned. The same goes for the entire West Coast. I’ve actively driven around the St. Augustine, Florida area looking for a new home, and found the region in some ways enormously attractive. But I know very few people there and once again it’s far away from the center of everything. Tennessee River cabins with boat docks for frequent fishing trips—something else I enjoy— tend to be far too remote, and while I’m very fond of Texas on many levels and have good friends there I loathe the eternal flatness of the more populated regions and the shortage of really good angling opportunities.
Since my heart issues developed I’ve re-evaluated my priorities a little. While I for most part loathe even short visits in big cities, perhaps I ought to try to put up with annoying and costly urban life anyway in the interests of quick ambulance response times? A little web-searching revealed that most towns located on large rivers, nearby Nashville included, tend to have a very few small condominiums available downtown right on the water, with a beautiful view of the barge trains trooping by. They’re at least marginally affordable in towns that don’t carry outrageous real estate premiums like, say, Chicago. I found a promising example in Nashville that claimed to be a hundred and fifty feet from the water at a price I could afford. Well, I thought to myself. Perhaps this is worth looking at! The riverbank itself is a city park; I could fish from the bank there just as if I had a cabin on the shoreline out in the middle of nowhere— the Cumberland is one of the finest fishing waterways in the USA. Except during rush hour I’d have an incredible highway network at my disposal, and according to the sales materials I’d able to look practically right into the bridges of passing tugboats. What a deal, eh?
I drove up to look the neighborhood over last Friday night, and that was all it took to put the kibosh on the whole thing. It was difficult to get within blocks of my potential new home, and would continue to be difficult practically every Friday and Saturday night from then until eternity. For, not being at all a country and western fan, I’d forgotten entirely that the famous Second Avenue North, home to the very finest country-western themed music and bars in the universe, was just a block away from my would-be abode. The crowds were happy, peaceful and content as I steered my convertible between the horse-drawn taxis on a deliciously warm weekend evening. A large passenger-carrying riverboat— the Delta Queen, perhaps?— was anchored in the river’s channel busily shuttling her revelers back and forth to have a good time ashore. It was a great night— a perfect night, even. The stars shone and there were no visible drunks, just tourists half of whom smiled and waved at me as I eased slowly through the masses with the top down. They were nice people; well-dressed, well-mannered, massed humanity at its absolute best. And yet, even though I of course smiled and waved back and genuinely wished them all a pleasant evening I knew that I was forever an outsider here, someone who in ten thousand years would never fit in. So even before I located the condo I’d come to see I turned around and enjoyed a nice, peaceful drive home in the dark.
Why would I never fit in? Because no matter how hard I try, I’ll never, ever be able to socialize and enjoy the company of “ordinary” people who like to chat about the local sports teams and what happened at church last Sunday. I like them well enough and mean them no harm, but have almost nothing in common with them on so many levels that at times it’s frightening. Nor, to make things worse, will I ever come to to either love or even understand country music. I mean no disrespect for those who enjoy what I recognize as a vibrant, relevant and deeply-rooted art form— far from it! It’s just… Not for me. In fact, even though I find some bluegrass to be downright listenable I have to struggle to even remain in the room when modern-style country is played. It’s my anathema. Were I superhero, it’d be my kryptonite. And that makes Second Avenue North the central node of all kryptonite for me, the very last place on earth I’d ever want to go for pleasure or joy. Why pay premium prices for a home whose prime virtue is to be near that?
So, I got to thinking as I drove home— it’s about a forty minute drive there from downtown. Maybe the urban living concept could still be made to work, but in a different city? I fired up my trusty desktop and used another real estate program to search the affordable South’s navigable waterways for condos for sale along the shorelines. And I hit paydirt almost right away, too, in nearby Memphis on the banks of the Mississippi! Happily I began to click about…
…only to almost immediately note the presence of something else I’d forgotten— Beale Street, the Rhythm and Blues equivalent of Second Avenue North. Immediately I abandoned my search there. I’ve actually been to Beale Street at least once or perhaps twice— I forget which. It was an amazing spectacle, and the music was far more to my taste than in Nashville. But again, the very idea of trying to fit in there, of spending my time in the little cafes and blues clubs, even though they’re among the world’s finest, made my skin crawl. Who, after all, would I talk to there?
That’s when the truth of it all finally came crashing through. The place I really want to live doesn’t even come close to existing today, and probably never will. It’s a place where people talk about genetic engineering and make elaborate puns over breakfast and discuss interesting new strategy games over lunch. It’s where people are bright and creative in their own rights, as opposed to merely basking in the reflected glow of a handful of star performers, and people accept each other as they are instead of demanding mindless conformity. I want to live among furs, in short— to spend as many of the rest of my days as possible among my own kind, and the shorter those days grow the more important this becomes. I want to buy a riverfront condo in a furry neighborhood full of good humor and lighthearted art, with a riverboat out in the channel disgorging tourists come to see our little Mecca where we put our best and brightest on display.
I wouldn’t even mind the traffic jams!
But we as yet have no Mecca, of course. No neighborhood or even block to call our own. If anyone anywhere is operating a furry night club or selling furry art out of a brick-and-mortar storefront, it’s news to me. We’re too few, too scattered, too lacking in vision and commercial appeal (though in my mind we haven’t really tried very hard yet) to make something like Beale Street or Second Avenue North happen for ourselves yet. Perhaps we never shall; perhaps the internet will provide enough “furry immersion” to make most of us entirely happy. The science fiction fandom never generated a geographic center, at least so far as I know, and they’re much further along culturally than we are.
And yet… And yet…
I’m fifty-three, and though I’ve saved well and have a reasonable amount to spend I have no homeland to join in any meaningful sense of the word. I live as part of a fragmentary underculture, among but not one with a sea of smilingsports fans who don’t understand why I’m not as happy as they are. My life is gray, gray, gray save for the hours in which I write and those rare days when I’m able to attend a con and be among my own kind.
Surely others share my yearning for home?