The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, "All is flux, nothing stays still." And indeed, change is the truest driving force and is completely inevitable. And since it is inevitable, I am, of course, terrified by it. I do not deal well with change. I think most people have problems with it, but my reactions to it always seemed especially over-the-top. Over the years, I have learned to cope with change more gracefully, but I still do not embrace it in a way that perhaps I ought to.
Last week when Ma and I were driving back to Mahwah from Ridgewood, we drove past the old Friendly's on Franklin Tpk… and it was gone. Torn down. That Friendly's was there from the time I was very young. In fact, I have no recollection of it ever not being there.
I passed the news along to Kate and Wendy, both of whom grew up with me in Mahwah. Pablo used to work there when we were teenagers, and in fact, managed to get us kicked out of there when I was 18. Kate remembered how she and her sister would take their lunch money and go there for ice cream after school. Wendy recounted the cold greasy food, the lousy service, and the endless weekends we spent at the take-out window.
Colson Whitehead wrote in his short essay "City Limits" from Colossus of New York: "Go back to your old haunts in your old neighborhoods and what do you find: they remain and have disappeared. . . . We can never make proper good-byes. It was your last ride in a Checker cab, and you had no warning. It was the last time you were going to have Lake Tung Ting shrimp in that kinda shady Chinese place and you had no idea. If you had known, perhaps you would have stepped behind the counter and shaken everyone's hand, pulled out the camera and issued posing instructions."
"City Limits" is a beautiful essay. It manages to suppose that everyone living in New York is living in an entirely different city than the person next to them because what makes up a city to a person is a collection of places and apartments that are constantly changing. But more significantly, it is about an individual's relationship with the city.
What many people don't realize is that we suburbanites feel similarly about our hometowns. In fact, I don't even think I realized it until two weeks ago, driving through Mahwah, seeing new houses built, a 7-11 on the Ridge, where there had been nothing but woods when I was in high school. And no Friendly's. "There's a new gelato place," Mom said, in her little helpful voice. I clucked my tongue with disgust. Gelato. Could you see pimple-faced 14 year-olds hanging out at the local gelato place?
Mahwah is entirely different from when my parents left Jane Street in Manhattan over thirty years ago, and it is entirely different from the town I grew up in. That change is inevitable, I suppose, as new people leave the city and arrive in bucolic Mahwah to raise a brood. And they want their gelato. Their kids will grow up with an entirely different Mahwah than my Mahwah. The best I can do is remember that town I grew up in, and create my own new town, wherever I move to next.
So, I throw up my hometown to the universe and the inevitability of change. But I do humbly hope that I will never wind up like Martin Blank, on the phone with my shrink saying "I'm standing where my, uh, living room was and it's not here because my house is gone and it's an Ultimart!" Please, oh, please.