The pretender.

When I come home to Kansas City — “home” — it’s back to a house my mother bought, post-divorce, long after I went off to college; I sleep in a king-size bed that my back has to adjust to on every visit, in a room painted the color of an oxidized penny. It’s beautiful and familiarly foreign but still manages, somehow, to offer a sense of belonging.

It’s mine. More mine than anyone else’s, anyway. The same silk flowers and unplugged clock/radio welcome me upon arrival. I picked the scent of the reed diffuser on the bureau. My beat-up blue Samsonite sits on the luggage rack with needlepoint straps to match the heavy taupe curtains, a halo of dirty clothes and cast-off shoes strewn around it. No one else sleeps in this room; no one even comes in when I’m home.

On Friday night, Congress passed a stopgap measure to keep the government running — whatever that means — followed by torrential downpours and Cocoa Puffs–size hail drumming on the roof. There’s something about the rain on this roof, like music. Like a steel drum on the gutters.

When I woke up Saturday morning, sun fought its way around the blinds and into the room. A beautiful spring day, perfect for a jog…only the sunshine belied the above-normal temperatures and abnormal humidity for early April.

But I was already laced up and ready to run, so I set off. Pressed play on my iPod, queued up to the anthem to the life of a suburban drone, Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender.” The sidewalks were slick with fallen petals from magnolia trees battered by the storm the night before; the street in front of one house was lined with cars and SUVs driven by garage salers clamoring for one man’s trash and a nice glass of 50-cent limeade.

Where the ads take aim and lay their claim to the heart and the soul of the spender.

Every home was buzzing with activity: lawnmowers humming, men cleaning gutters, crews at work on the stone façade of a new construction. Children finding their footing on skateboards and bicycles after a long winter, aging women watering fragile spring blooms in newly dug planters, dogs languishing and panting on stoops in the suddenly-sticky air.

In this neighborhood I call home, the streets between Roe Avenue and Mission Road are in alphabetical order. Granada. Fontana. El Monte. Delmar. Catalina. Buena Vista. I had to Google the “A” street: Alhambra. It’s the only one I consistently can’t remember.

I passed houses in various states of completion and disarray, looked at the cars parked outside and flowers planted around the foundation, and saw homeowners doing their chores outside or enjoying the first heady preview of summer, so many of them my age or just a bit older. Everyone smiled; everyone waved.
I can’t imagine owning a home, or a dog, or being married, or navigating a double-wide stroller along the streets I so nimbly jogged through — okay, panted and stumbled through — on Saturday. I’d sometimes like to think, in my urbane, urban existence, that I’m above the lives these people have made for themselves.

That my train commute and restaurant meals and diverse group of friends — who happen to eschew the suburban lifestyle themselves — and fingertip access to my beautiful city make me somehow better.

Who am I?

 

I could say that I’m just different, but I’m really not even that different.
That I don’t struggle to make my next car or mortgage payment, that I’m not part of a book club, that I’ve abandoned my timeline for those adult milestones like marriage and having children… I am this place, even if I’ve chosen not to live it. I grew up here, and something as small as one simple choice turned me away from it.

And really? That I live in a big city doesn’t make me any different.

I’m gonna be a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender.

In a tiny apartment, far from the shade of the freeway…but when the morning light comes streaming in, I get up and do it again.

Amen.

I wound my way through the neighborhood, which is less cookie-cutter the more I look at it, listening to my iPod, not sure whether to feel heartbroken or hopeful. There’s this cynicism and veiled dejection in this song’s lyrics and tone — and my personal association with it — but the music is so gorgeous. This simple piano melody, Jackson Browne’s bell-clear voice, a frantic heartbeat of drums behind it all. You want to hope that if the person in the song just believes a little harder, he’ll actually get to the point where he really is just happy. Content. Getting up and doing it again because he wants it, not because it’s all he has left.

Are you there?
Say a prayer for the pretender.
Who started out so young and strong…
Only to surrender.

You hope it because he’s you.

I leave here with a sense of agitated peace, that I’m not so different from all of this, that I belong — or, you know, don’t — just as much as anyone.

I’ve been aware of the time passing by.
They say in the end, it’s the blink of an eye.
And when the morning light comes streaming in, you’ll get up and do it again.

I never realized I took time to think when I was out running.

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9 Responses to “The pretender.”

  1. Amy de la Fuente Says:

    I think we all feel like pretenders every now and then, depending on where we are physically or in life. At times you feel so comfortable, like your favorite pair of jeans, and then there are times when you look fabulous in a fantastic dress or killer heels, but it doesn’t feel like you.
    Just embrace who you are right now, because sometimes the people who followed the path that everyone did are not as happy as they seem. Age does not seem so important anymore. I remember as a youngster that 40 seemed so old. Now it is like the new 30. Live your present life with few regrets, because some people don’t even live their lives, they just show up every day without experiencing it. And you, Paige Worthy are experiencing it!

  2. Joel Says:

    I’ve found that the most hardcore city elitists are the suburban transplants, which is ironic on many levels. City vs. Suburb elite-ness drives me crazy. I love visiting the city, and love living in the suburbs (depends on the suburb, of course). A quick Metra ride or shot down I94 and I’m there. Amazingly I still have culture, world knowledge, and class. I just need a garage to fix things in and a yard. The inefficient use of space, dependence on cars, etc. inherent in suburb living is definitely not ideal or Euro/metro/hip/trendy but it doesn’t make me more or less of a person. If all a person has to hang their hat on is where they live, then that’s another issue entirely for that individual. Moving somewhere, even if moving there makes you learn all the public transportation tips and tricks, inside info, lingo, etc. does not make anyone more of a person than they were before.

    • paigeworthy Says:

      I know you’re an exception, Joel, but there IS a suburban mentality that
      there’s no world beyond that particular subdivision or the parking lot.
      However, I also know people who are so above it all that they won’t even go
      to Evanston or Oak Park, and I’m completely over them, too.

      I would also argue that moving somewhere CAN make you more of a person, if
      it got you out of a complacent routine and challenged you to be a better
      person.

    • Just a lurker Says:

      I’m still a city dweller, but I couldn’t agree more with this. You don’t magically become a sophisticated, intelligent, cultured person upon receiving a 606– zip code.

      For whatever reason, I also find a lot of the most hardcore city elitists are single folk in their twenties who eventually end up getting hitched and moving back to it when kids come along. They end up looking pretty silly for being so judge-y about it.

      I don’t know why we feel the need to put down the choices of others, yet it still happens constantly. Go figure.

  3. James Says:

    The Pretender is actually more sad than you can imagine. He can’t even remember what happiness is. Jackson Browne released this album following his wife’s suicide. Other tracks on the album are pretty painful as well: “Here Come Those Tears Again” and “Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate” come to mind. Within a year, he followed the album up with a single “Running on Empty”; a song which I also attribute to his emotional state. Certainly “The Pretender” and “Running on Empty” are a couple of my faves, and I remember distinctly relating to them during my senior year of college.

    Excellent entry, Paige. FYI – I drove by your old place in Astoria last week a little bit by accident. I’ve been commuting from Omaha to NYC for the past couple weeks, but I’ll be in KC for Easter. Maybe the family and I will plan a trip over to Chicago this summer and we can get together.

  4. Double Jogging Stroller Says:

    This is cool! And so interested! Are u have more posts like this? Please tell me, thanks

  5. Andy Limpic Says:

    I appreciate your Jackson Browne acumen.

    Also, with regard to the last line of your post: Did you never realize that you took time to think when you were out running… on empty?

  6. Kyle Rohde Says:

    I love this post because it’s so honest and because I can imagine the struggles you’ve had with all of that. Beautifully written as usual too.

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