Rooms with a view. has been a cultural phrase, a movie. People often want to live in a place with a view. I am not too sure how important it is to others, or to me but probably it’s nicer to have a view, than not have one. What view? The New York City skyline at night? The vistas of Colorado from the balconies of movie star mansions? The Alps? What’s your bag? What’s your view? To me, views are transitory. Here’s how I started to think about this.
On a mountaintop decades ago, on a foot patrol in South Korea, I tarried for moment and looked at the vast landscape panning out around me, which even included parts of North Korea. My military police sergeant, the one and only Thomas Gaston, (more about him later) asked,
“Whatcha doing, Hochheim?”
“Just lookin’ at the scenery, Sarge,” I answered.
“Yea well…ya can’t fuck the scenery. Let’s go,” he said.
Can’t fuck the scenery. I guess not. Maybe you can only date it? In Gaston’s crude, street smart, Washington D.C. slum lingo, he summed up the situation, as he so often did. No matter how good the vista looks, you can’t “love” it too much. Gaston had a way with life and words. He was a poet and he did not know it. Views are nice, but that ain’t real, real life, huh? Ain’t real important without the important parts of your life in order first. Your ducks in a row. Your bidness squared away. The right moment at the right time with the right person provides the magic of life, and it don’t matter where that is really, but location helps. Location is just the icing on the cake, unless you are opening a pizzeria. Lots of people have committed suicide in the world’s most beautiful places.
Me? I’m a monk at heart. If left completely to my own devices, there is no telling what rooms I would have and where they would be. I only appear to be civilized. I agree with the American Indians who would laugh, “White Man – he think he can OWN land. HA!” Apparently, Indians only dated the landscape and understand the transitory nature of land ownership in the big picture.
We never really own land, do we? Really? We just squat. Transitory. Still we part-and-parcel it off and pay exorbitant fees and then taxes to possess the truly un-possess-able. Unpossess-able because we…”we can’t take it with us,” in the end to the Happy Hunting Ground. We own our soul. We own our memories. We don’t own “Lot 47,” for any kind of eternity. We don’t even own our own grave site indefinitely. In Australia, if you don’t pay the rent, they’ll dig you up and put someone else in. They do that in most big cities in the U.S. too, they just don’t advertise it.
As I pass through a myriad of hotel rooms around the planet each year, I rarely think about my early years. Thank goodness. But randomly, ticked by a dream, or abstract thought, I recall my youth in the 1950s just outside New York City. It was a sad, confined youth I would say. Early on, I grew up in what would be called a tenement building. An upstairs, apartment with no separate rooms. Just an open space with a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. Families were expected to open their living room couch into a bed, you know a hide-a-bed. My parents slept on one. I can’t recall where exactly I slept; except for a vague thought it might have been on a small folding bed in the living room. Many grew up like this, and Yours Truly would also follow suit. Like father, like son.
The city view from the windows wasn’t pleasant. An old movie theater, embedded into other tenement buildings across a one-lane, one-way street flashed its lights like a scene from detective, noir movie. Our apartment building burned in a Christmas fire in 1957, and was later reconstructed and refurbished. Homeless, we moved into another similar place, but on the Hudson River this time. The burned out building became, through the subsequent years, the cramped, housing for Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrants who flooded into the area. I suspect that edifice it is still there to this day, providing the poor with a simple shelter, as depressing now as it was then. As it is. I’d hate going back to look. So I won’t.
Eventually, my factory worker father amassed some money and bought a small house. But there were also few, defined rooms in this place. My new designated “room” was actually a bay window area off of the living room. (Back in the living room again!) It was no bigger than a closet found in the newer houses of today. Just a place to slip in a small bed and maybe a book shelf. Such was my life. As I grew older, my dad rigged up some sliding doors for this inventive “room,” so I might have a modicum of privacy. Hollow core, track doors they shifted on their tracks as the heat rose through the clanging, cold radiators. The sound made me think of a ghost in the basement hitting the pipes with a hammer. I rarely closed those doors. At that point why bother? So even as a gangly teen over 6 foot tall, I remained curled up in this bay window, closet-room. And there I spent my childhood and teenage life. Any wonder why I left on a motorcycle as soon as I could?
Despite my recollections in the here and now, I have no real complaints about this. I rarely think about it, really. I know a lot of kids must share a room with a sibling. Me? I had a bay window. It was a “room” with a view of sorts. The view of a shitty, urban street of crappy houses and cars on a steep hill. And, the occasional rat busy with dashing from sewer to sewer.
I do think this hanging on a window-ledge in my early life lead to a certain restlessness, a sense of rootlessness. After all, I am still stomping around the planet and think nothing of it. I enjoy decent hotel room views…unless they are too costly. A monk wouldn’t need such an expensive view. A monk has his own “views” that he holds inside the walls of his own soul..
Perhaps someday I too will have a house with a great, grand, vista view, but I would prefer the cities in these panoramas far enough away to be a few that consists of mere twinkles. I’ve already seen enough cities close up at night through oily windowpanes.
Perhaps–if not? That’s okay too, because, like Gaston said, “you can’t fuck the scenery, Hochheim.” Who knew Gaston was, in his own way, as wise as a monk?