September 23, 2007
I was 48 when I moved back to Fairhope from New York City. I remember the feeling of exhilaration I had -- it was like having a chance to start over from where I had begun! I was fond of saying I was looking forward to my second 50 years, at the same time hoping I would know better than to make the same mistakes as I had made in the first.
I'm 17 years into my second 50 now. It's like being 17 again, having stumbled a time or two, having achieved a thing or two, and deciding, just as I did when I was very young, that New York was where I'd rather be than anywhere in the world. I've watched Fairhope itself change before my eyes from a sleepy village on the verge of growth to the upscale, socially-upwardly-mobile (and maybe that "mobile" should be capitalized) enclave it now unabashedly is. It has lost all but a trace of its reformist heritage; it has replaced the bohemians with the artistically pretentious. One or two real artists live here, but they are surrounded by self-congratulatory arrivistes who proclaim the ambience of Fairhope to be elegant and beautiful.
I have really lived in this town. My best friends are affluent enough to take long trips and some have second homes in other parts of the country. But I lived here. I committed myself to the betterment of the community by founding an artistic venture (the ill-fated Jubilee Fish Theatre), joining in an effort at historical preservation (defeated), participating in community theatre (hardly my finest hour), and working to shore up the unique school that was one of Fairhope's original, earth-shaking visionary institutions. I wrote a book of stories of the Fairhope I remembered from the 1950's.
All the while I have grown increasingly despairing of conveying the message to the newcomers who have taken over the town -- the message, "Okay, you love it here. Then don't remove its reason for being." To my right and my left the cottages have been demolished and replaced by oversized, empty houses, void of charm and even life. Most are owned by empty nesters whose dream, apparently, is to run a hotel for grandchildren -- or perhaps to impress each other. I don't know. I don't get a whole lot from these people, but they seem to view Fairhope as a generic little town upon which they can impose their own image of Norman Rockwell's America. They do not care to know that there was something real here before they came to replace it with the phony.
I wrote a post a few months ago about the way time was whizzing by as I prepare to depart for the Northeast. I used the word "whizzing" and the search engines sent me a few (probably 11-year-old males) looking for information on "whizzing." I used the term in its old-fashioned comic book sense, that is to say, "speeding." Time has indeed sped by as I prepare for my next chapter, whether or not I use up the whole 50 years. I'll relocate to quaint Hoboken (don't laugh), which is a ten-minute commute to Manhattan, small enough to be manageable, and considerably cheaper than the Big Apple.
In two weeks the school will celebrate its Centennial with a reunion -- see the post below -- and before the end of the year I'll have organized my finances in order to make my move. It doesn't look as if there'll be buyers for the Captain's House, so I may try to rent it for a year or two, until the real estate market awakens here. I only hope I don't have to tear it down and sell the place as two vacant lots, but I'm considering that possibility. Nobody moving to Fairhope seems to want an old house, and there is plenty of new construction.
I have a good feeling about my next 50 years. I'm still in good physical condition and all the things I love most are in New York City. I have a few friends left there, and the city looks great. I like the vibe in Hoboken. It has a historical museum (and a very interesting history to boot), a yearly Italian Festival, lots of music, restaurants and night life. I don't expect to be hanging out in the bars, but it's fun knowing they're there (and I'll bet there are some great AA meetings!). And I'll be able to get into the city for matinees, street fairs, concerts, and movies that never come to this area. I may not even own a television set.
I'm going to sell off most of my furniture and rent a one bedroom apartment -- maybe a studio apartment for a time. I'll buy what fits, and what I need. I'll downsize; I'll have a couple of monster yard sales and give away most of my clothes.
I'm going to have a different life. I hope I don't make the same mistakes I did in the first 50 years.