My hideout. In Asheville we lived next door to a working dahlia farm. It had once been an orchard. Quite a few fruit trees survived. An old apple tree overhung the east end of our back yard, not far from where Mom took that photo of me and my dad, me with my Goldwater bumper sticker. It dropped hundreds of green apples on our lawn every year. I've never liked apples, and no one was interested in eating those apples anyway. Even the birds and insects were blasé. I loved to run over them with the power mower my brother never had. They made such a satisfying sound. I couldn't really hear it but I could feel it in my hands, the vibration traveling up from the blade. My goal was to obliterate each apple. I usually just got one or two flat sides. Across the street from us there was a big wooded lot. Those woods were my hideout. If I felt the need to be comforted by nature I walked across the street and hung out with the fairies. One day my hideout was gone, the trees cut down helter skelter, stacked like jackstraws. I went over and explored the wreckage, walking along tree trunks at all angles, hopping from one to another. That reminded me of swamp walking. But soon a house invaded that lot. In my memory that dahlia farm was huge. I double checked that via Google Maps, and it was no bigger than three lots. Minute for a farm, big by suburban standards. Back then, we lived on the outer edge of suburbia. Just east of the dahlia farm you were in the country, fields and woods. Now the hillside where I once listened to snow falling on leaves has been invaded by the pricey cul-de-sac homes at the end of McTindal Circle.
Sugar. The dahlia farmers were a couple and her sister. They bred new varieties for sale, and they were good at it. They had avid collectors eager to buy. That's how they were able to fend off the suburbs. I liked visiting them. I think they liked having me there. But I was a fat eleven year old hyped up from a candy habit. I loved to hear myself talk. I didn't pay attention to what they said except to use it as a springboard to launch into yammering on about something I'd done, seen, or imagined. One day my self absorption got to one of the women. She looked at me and said Well I guess you're just one of those boys who's been everywhere and done everything. It was a moment of spontaneous meditation. For that instant I grasped how my self absorption felt to other people. I ran home with my tail between my legs, blushing furiously. I wish I could say that it made a difference, but I recovered fast. I stayed self absorbed until one day more than 50 years later I discovered I could not stand being around self absorbed people. I still eat lots of sugar but now I dance it off.