I never saw my hometown ’till I stayed away too long.
–“San Diego Serenade,” Tom Waits
This sort of sums up Lakehurst: Barrens, Blimps & Barons, a book I wrote and self-published about the tiny Pine Barrens town I spent years trying to leave.
That’s right. For most of my teen years, I wanted to get the hell out of that place.
So if I spent years trying to leave the town — and I jumped ship as soon as I could, fleeing at the age of 19 — why would I spend the time to write and publish a book about it?
Tom Waits nailed it in the above lyric from “San Diego Serenade,” featured on 1974’s The Heart of Saturday Night. There is something about leaving a place that allows you to look back on it with objectivity; to see the things about it you couldn’t see when you were immersed in it. Sort of like how a smoker doesn’t realize how much they smell of smoke until they quit smoking and begin to smell other smokers.
Which isn’t a very flattering analogy, I know, especially since I grew to love the town I left.
Yet the analogy is true all the same. Once I left that small town known mostly for the great big calamity featured on my book cover …
… I came to realize that the town was a lot more than the image on my cover. I realized it had a story, a story made up of unique people worth getting to know, and as an adult who had LEFT town that story began to fascinate me. I realized the town WASN’T lousy. In fact, it was pretty damn cool. That’s why I ended up writing a book about the place. I realized that my adolescent scorn for my own heritage was stupid.
This is not atypical. You recognize great things about people and places after you’ve left them, things you didn’t recognize before or things you were too immature to grasp at first, and before long you come to embrace them.
What teenager hasn’t thought, “I have to get the hell out of here!”? We all do. It is woven into our DNA. But somehow, years after leaving, I felt strongly enough to write a comic story about growing up in Lakehurst. It expanded from there, into newspaper stories and research and interviews and more.
The result was Lakehurst: Barrens, Blimps and Barons. I’m rather proud of it. I think it’s a pretty great book. Why not follow it on Facebook? It would be totally cool if you did.