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Parker's Place

A Writer Gets to See the World, From Home

July 14, 1994|T. JEFFERSON PARKER | T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

Last night I dreamed that one of my living heroes, writer Thomas McGuane, called me out of the blue to say he loved my work and to offer me a job teaching with him in the prestigious writing program at the University of Missouri. Even dreaming, I knew this situation to be preposterous because Mr. McGuane lives in Montana, has probably never read a word I've written, and not only does not teach but is an unapologetic critic of writing programs everywhere. Still, I was agog that Mr. McGuane had called, and told him I was interested in the job just so we could keep talking for a while.

We made plans for me to visit him, tour the campus and hammer out the specifics of my contract. Seconds later, in that wonderful fast forward of dreams, I was right there on the campus, walking around with Mr. McGuane (he asked me to call him Tom) and so elevated by his company that I neglected to tell him I had no intention at all of taking the job.

On the opening day of the term I was still here in Orange County, doing my usual, not having notified McGuane nor anybody at the University of Missouri that I wouldn't be there. In one of those little codas you get at the end of a dream, I looked back on the episode, feeling wonderful about developing a relationship with the great McGuane, hoping he'd invite me bird hunting this fall, and quite happy to have gotten out of a job that sounded kind of tedious.

I was jolted from this dream about 5 a.m., which is when the Times delivery person comes up my driveway and the dogs explode into a frenzy of mock alarm--barking, shrieking, stampeding around the deck--until the paper hits the ground, after which they hustle back to their doghouses for a quick five-hour nap before rising, bleary-eyed and groaning, to greet the day.

Back in bed, I got to thinking about the Missouri job, and if McGuane would ever talk to me again for standing him up like that. More importantly, I started to ponder the larger meaning of the dream, which was this: Jeff, you are free to do just about anything in the world you want; you can live anywhere you choose; you can pursue any interests you might have because you are a widower without children and gainfully employed in work that can be done just about anywhere on Earth or, for that matter, in a space station.

I immediately began thinking about places I might like to live.

First I thought about Aspen, Colo., because I visited there 20 years ago and thought it was really great. I pictured myself ripping down the slopes on a snowboard, hurtling through the invigorating alpine air and flying through an open window only to land directly in the study of my rustic, snow-covered cabin and begin another chapter.

Now, I can't ski, let alone snowboard, and to be honest, I hate snow except in pictures, so the fantasy began to lose its luster pretty quickly. Friends and People magazine have informed me over the years about the terrible decline of the place and I seriously wondered whether I should leave California to live with so many self-obsessed loonies from Hollywood.

Next was Key West, a place I visited about six years ago and thought was cool. I pictured myself in the town of Earnest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Wallace Stevens, Phil Caputo and, of course Thomas McGuane. I would drink where they drank, fish where they fished, eat where they ate and just generally inhale the robust literary breeze that blows across this tiny island in the stream.

Then I thought about all the tourists--the place makes Laguna Beach at festival time look deserted--the punishing heat and humidity, and the fact that Jimmy Buffett's for-profit smile seems to be all over the town. It also bothered me immensely that the place has no supply of fresh water (it has to be trucked down A1A from points north) and that, according to some kind of study done years ago, Floridians have the lowest IQs in the republic.

Next I thought about moving to Los Angeles. There I would be, smack-dab in the middle of the city that spawned the great detective fiction of Raymond Chandler, surrounded by those mean streets he wrote about, immersed in a city synonymous with the California Dream. The Lakers. The Dodgers. Malibu, downtown, Chinatown, Beverly Hills, Watts. Hollywood and Vine; Florence and Normandie. Dylan, Jack, Warren and Annette. Yes, a metropolitan giant in every sense of the word: size, influence, populousness, vitality.

But why would I want to live there when I live an hour away by car and still avoid the place like the plague? Why not just mount excursions into the city, enjoying what it has to offer, then escape back to the (slightly) cleaner air, (barely) diminished congestion and (minimally) more affordable rent to be found right here in Orange County? Still figuring in the McGuane factor, I recalled that the only time I actually met the man outside a dream was in Los Angeles, to which I'd driven from Laguna Beach.

I pondered Paris, which I find romantic; Fiji, which I find beautiful; Costa Rica, which I find exciting; Northern California, which I find relaxing; New York, which I find terrifying; New Orleans, which I find inspiring; Washington, D.C., which I find fascinating, and Paradise Valley, Mont., which I've never found at all but is where Thomas McGuane is supposed to live.

Finally I just gave up, feeling as dazed by limitless possibilities as a Russian expatriate in his first Price Club. I realized that in order to move I'd have to pack, fill out change-of-address forms and find a new dentist. If I moved, I'd have to say goodby to the odd county I grew up in, have buried loved ones in, have adored and despised, inhabited and been inhabited by for almost an entire lifetime.

Stick it out for a while, I told myself. Home is where you launch your dreams.

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