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 Hey ... youíre never gonna believe where I am right now.

I knew I was ready to do this about a month and a half ago. I was trolling aimlessly through Washington Square Park, half jotting notes to myself, half wasting time that could have been used looking for a goddamn job, when some Midwestern-looking guy with gaudy sunglasses nervously creeped up to me.

ďIím sorry, could you tell me where I could find Sixth Avenue?Ē

When you live in New York, you are constantly being asked for directions, oftentimes by people who actually live here. And when you live in Greenwich Village like me, it doubles, because the streets are a morass of nonsensical angles and curves, intersecting with one another again and again with nothing resembling human logic. Most New Yorkers, lost themselves, give the wrong directions; one associate of mine, just to be a bastard, answers, ďtwo blocks up, two blocks overĒ every time heís asked. That seems kind of mean to me.

Anyway, I told him he needed to go to West Third Street, hang a right and heíd run right into it. He thanked me and went on his way, arguing with his wife, I-told-you-so, all the way. I lit a cigarette and didnít give it a momentís thought.

And then I did. Wow. For the first time since I moved to New York, I gave someone directions, correctly, without hesitation. He wanted to know where to go, and I, the guy who lives here, told him. I showed up in New York on January 8, 2000, and as much as I love it, and as comfortable as I feel living there, I never really felt like I belonged. I was just a visitor, renting some space for a while, until the city kicked me out for a lack of anything worthwhile to contribute.

But suddenly, I felt warm and whole. Iíve made many friends in New York, and my place in the whole structure is secure. I wake up everyday and cheer that Iím lucky enough to live there. After four restless years in four different cities, I found my home.

So, to celebrate my revelation of finding out that I was, at last, where I was meant to be ... I left.

Thatís right, folks. I write to you from, of all places, my hometown of Mattoon, Illinois, in my cousin Dennyís small house on the outskirts of town, where I will be spending the next month and a half. I will be returning to New York on December 28.

The main reason for this sabbatical is something Iíve been keeping from you for a while, mainly because Iím embarrassed about it. Iím working on a book, based on these relentlessly silly columns. Now, until I sat down to write a book, I didnít realize how ... big books were. I mean, theyíre huge. Itís a wonder any books are ever written at all. You can sit and write for hours, saying everything you have to say and then some, and then you check the word count and youíre at 11 pages. Forget making sure your bookís good; itís hard enough to finish.

The primary subject of the book - other than me, of course - is my sweet little hometown, and it just seemed logical to polish it off in the place from which it all sprung. Itís quiet quiet quiet here, no hustle, bustle and fussle (a word, right?) of the big city. Just me, sitting alone in front of a computer, bothering no one, not being bothered.

Solitude. Itís a writerís dream, really; two months alone, focusing only on the work.

The second reason Iím home: my family. Not everyoneís family can stomach the oldest son suddenly deciding to return home from New York City for two months, with no money and no job (a factor in this whole trip that canít be underestimated; no rent for two months, cigarettes that cost three bucks a pack, occasional home-cooked meals, cheap whores), just to complete some phantom book that no one will read anyway. (Actual quote from Mom: ďHonestly, Will, I find your life too boring to read about. You think people will buy a book?Ē)

But my family took me in, didnít question, just hollered at me to make sure to finish so the whole trip wouldnít be a waste.

The real reason, however, book and being home for the holidays aside ... I just needed a breather. As all of you know, it hasnít been the most pleasant few months for our anti-hero. It was time for a battery recharge. Here, Iím with my people, the ones drinking Pabst, complaining about the Illini and doing little more on a Friday night than cruising down country roads with a six-pack, or two, or three.

The place has changed a bit, Iíve noticed. My favorite pizza place has gone out of business. There are strange people living in my childhood home. Some man named Nichols is running for country coroner and has signs everywhere. (How competitive, exactly, can a race for coroner be, I wonder.) Nobody seems to want to go to the prom with me.

And thatís where I am. There is nothing to do here, no worthwhile bars, no parks in which to frolic, no movie theater within 10 miles. Hell, I donít even have a car. Like Thoreau, Iíve simplified. No distractions; just the work. And silence.

Iíll be back to New York soon, but this is where I am, back where I started, where many friends figured Iíd end up anyway. In a month-and-a-half, Iíll be back home. But for now, itís comfortable here. The sun is shining, Iíve got a dinner date with Mom and Dad, and the high school football team has a game Friday night. Itís good to be back. Mattoon boy returns home. Calm, relaxation, a pristine atmosphere for creative stimulation. I have found a place to hide, in the place I was hiding from.

Yep, I give myself a week before I go completely fucking crazy.



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