Friday, June 09, 2006

Same Time Next Year

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During the last half of the 1950’s, I went on many Point Arena High School trips to other schools in our northern California area – Mendocino, Fort Bragg, Laytonville, Anderson Valley (Booneville), Leggett Valley, Hopland, Willits, and others – and we often went up Highway 1 past the Heritage House south of Mendocino. For some reason, I started noticing the Heritage House each time we drove by. I noticed the guests there seemed to dress very nicely. Their cars looked expensive. In fact, they looked, and I imagined, talked and acted differently than my family, friends, and the people I knew. This cognition of things I knew nothing about was probably a result of movie watching. Anything and everything I knew about rich people I learned at the movies. I never met any of them, or at least never knew it if I did.

One thing I was sure of, and ignorance can lead a person to be sure of many things, is that they lived and acted differently than we ordinary folk. As our bus passed, and passed, and passed the Heritage House many times over my four-year high school adventure, I tried to imagine myself staying at the Heritage House. My first reaction was fear – what does it cost? And where am I going to get that kind of money? My next reaction was also of fear. How do I act, what do I say, to people who are so different? I bet they would know I’m a phony before I even open my mouth and prove it. But then after the waves of fear passed, I would think – “I bet I would really enjoy it. What an adventure! To find so much new almost right in my back yard. It’s like living next to a foreign country!” My curiosity and sense of adventure would overcome my fear of penury and social awkwardness.

Years later, after Alice and I met and married, I started to be more relaxed around wealthy people, because I slowly came to the realization that Alice and I were actually able to live very comfortably on our combined incomes. We were kind of, sort of, well off ourselves. That still didn’t make me feel “to the manor born,” but I became relaxed about confronting dinner checks for over $100 for just the two of us, and hotel bills for a one-night stay that I used to think would buy a full week.

However, I confessed my latent uneasiness to Alice, and as an example, how I used to feel like the kid at the candy store window when I passed the Heritage House and wondered how the other half lived. Actually, how the other five percent lived.

Alice’s gift for my 57th birthday, July 18, 1999, was a two-night stay at the Heritage House in the room named “Same Time.” It shared a cabin with another room named “Next Year.” In 1978 the cabin had been featured in “Same Time Next Year,” a movie starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn.

Of all the wonderful (and expensive) cabins at the Heritage House, “Same Time” and “Next Year” were the closest to the ocean in the most beautiful setting. Alice had heard the longing from my youth, and had arranged for me not only to see how the other half lived, but to experience it in the premier spot on the premises.

Almost as an afterthought, an anticlimax, I realized that I still didn’t feel like I belonged, but I did feel comfortable and did feel a true sense of adventure and enjoyment. And then I also realized that I was probably enjoying the Heritage House more than any other guests, because I was the one feeling the strongest emotions just by being there. The kid who never thought he would be inside the Heritage House was inside and experiencing a special feeling that possibly no other visitor felt; a feeling of happiness, maybe of accomplishment, but still experiencing the strangeness of it. I knew then that I would never feel like I belonged in the Heritage Houses of the world, but I knew Alice and I would be going to many of them and that I would enjoy being a “stranger in a strange land.” I would never be one of the jaded and blasé, never asking: “Is that all there is?”

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