Friday, August 5, 2005

LIFE: Goin' back to Grass Valley

Hey, lookit me! I'm on vacation! My first "away game" blog post. We're down in the mystical land where I grew up, Nevada County, California, visiting my parents for the rest of the week. Today is my Dad's 65th birthday (!!) and we're waiting for my brother to show up and all head out to a celebratory lunch.

Mom and Dad gave us the sweet gift of a Peter-free night last night, so Avril and I hit the town, Grass Valley. We hit all the clubs, the tattoo parlors, then the Hell's Angels showed up and... OK, it was actually pretty mellow. We don't take advantage of friends' offers to baby-sit enough back home, so the idea of a leisurely toddler-free dinner and browsing through bookstores capped off by a long walk all sounded pretty decadent to us.

It's always strange to go back to your old home town, although I haven't lived in Grass Valley full time since 1990 it's the place where I spent 15 or so very formative years and basically where I think of when I think "home." The curious part is how much has changed and yet how little has changed at the same time -- we're right in the yuppie-fied population boom area east of Sacramento, where all the rich city folk move to retire to the country (and bring their city problems with them, but that's another post). Yet for every fancy development or multi-million Victorian remodeled home for sale, there's the same familiar beat-up gas station or cracked sidewalks or vacant lot full of adventure (how come that hasn't sold yet?) or old downtown library I spent way too much time in as a kid.

After dinner last night, Avril and I walked up to the hill to my old junior high, Lyman Gilmore, where I hadn't been in at least 7-8 years. I realized with a unique kind of shock that it's been nearly 20 years since I graduated Gilmore, in a hot and sweaty outdoor ceremony that seemed really fancy at age 14, where I had to wear a tie and surviving photos show a horribly unattractive mullet on my head. Nineteen years on from that 1986 May day, Lyman Gilmore's campus still looks almost exactly the same, right down to the gruesome institutional green-and-gray paint, the low-hanging outdoor walkways, the concrete "airplane" shape on the patio where we played. I could see the stairwells where we'd play incredibly ornate games of D&D, the asphalt where there was assorted humiliations, fast crushes and quick epiphanies.

I was there at Gilmore from 5th to 8th grade, ages 12 to nearly 15, which is an incredibly chaotic time in your life. I was scrawny, very short and geeky to the extreme then (hence the stairwell D&D games), yet for all the little awful moments there were some great ones, and I made friends then I still am close to today - I went from playing with Star Wars figures to learning about Depeche Mode, Flaming Carrot, Tom Waits and punk rock, from chasing girls around the playground to fierce crushes on impossibly cool skater-chicks. Weird times, definitely, but unforgettable. I started to feel formed then, for lack of a better word. By summer 1986, I started to shed some geekiness, by freshman year of high school, I'd kissed my first girl out in the heat and stink of exhaust where we lined up for school buses after class, by junior year I'd shot up to 6' 2" and even had a girlfriend or two, by senior year I knew what I wanted to do was write and create and I was ready for the bold adventures of a college on the other side of the country.

But a part of me was always that Gilmore geek, and it's a place that's imprinted on me - every little bush, the wing numbers, the spot on the steps where we all hung out imagining how cool we'd be. Twenty freaking years ago, good lord. Now I'm 33, have a kid and a wife and realize you'll never be as cool as you think you'll turn out, but I guess I did all right. Nostalgia. Man, it creeps up on you, doesn't it?

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