Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Looking west, dreaming east

When I was growing up, my family would rent a house at Rehoboth, or, later, Bethany Beach, Delaware, where we'd stay for a week. Among many distinct memories are the seemingly endless white-knuckle crossing of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (I wouldn't dare look over the edge), trips in the evenings to the bright-lights boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, the roar of the infinitely dark ocean sounding ancient and mysterious, and one idle, humid afternoon when my older brother Phil stood with me at the shore, pointed at the horizon, and said, "That way is England."

This was quite literally music to my ears, as I peered into the glare at the vanishing point of ocean and sky and heard "Please Please Me" or "Ticket To Ride" or whatever Beatles tune I'd been obsessing over that week. Catnip to my imagination, this lesson in geography sent me, and I'd stare and stare across the ocean and imagine that if I took a straight line (somehow) I'd end up in Liverpool, or London, the mythic end of golden voyage for this budding Anglophile. I imagined double-decker busses and Big Ben, heard that accent under imagined gray skies turning blue and back again. Turns out that my brother was ill-informed, of course, as a straight line due east from the Delaware would've landed me somewhere in southern Portugal, a place about which I had no interest, and certainly no rockin' fantasies. My brother might've been pulling a fast one on me (quite likely), but in any event I was unaware of any geographic inaccuracies. For me, over an immense, unfathomably big ocean, England lay just beyond my reach.


I recently returned from a week in Venice, California, visiting family, where I stood at the shoreline and gazed westward—at what, I couldn't have told you precisely. Google Maps informed me later, yet I was struck by what little conjuring was stirring in me as I looked. If I grew up in southern California, visited the beach, and lost myself in contemplating the horizon, I wonder what I have dreamed about? What music or culture or fantasies of the vast, golden Pacific would've possessed me inside my limited perspective and vivid imagination? Chinese food? M*A*S*H? Hula girls? Here's my point: I left Maryland for good when I was twenty-two, and have lived in northern Illinois for over twenty-five years now, yet I still feel—in my bones, in my DNA, and in my dreams—like an Eastern Seaboard guy. When I look across the ocean, any ocean, I can only hear and smell the Mersey.

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