Nancy Lemann

       Now, when you move around as much as I do, it’s a wonder you don’t become mentally deranged, but a certain derangement of the mind comes into play when you consider all the different houses you have lived in. I moved to San Diego a year and a half ago, and since then we have lived in three different houses.
       You pine for your other houses. You reminisce about them. You compare them incessantly with each other.
       The most exciting thing about my first house was the misfit neighbor. His house looked as if it were inhabited by ax murderers. His phone constantly rang at 2 in the morning. He had a demented barking dog.
       When I first moved there, the street was filled constantly with children who played all day and night, but after a week their houses were all boarded up, and it was deserted. This was unnerving, but I was told they were all on vacation.
       Only the crazed misfit next door remained behind, hacking away at the canyon with his golf club and grunting.
       My office was in the garage overlooking a canyon. Canyons are weird. Coyotes howl in the canyon at night. My friend saw a coyote come up from the canyon once. It looks like a rangy, haunted, berserk sort of wolfhound.
       As for the misfit next door, whose unintelligible screams punctured half the afternoons in my office, as long as he wasn’t dangerous I didn’t really mind; it’s only that he was the type of person of whom, after he suddenly comes out with a gun one day and murders everyone on the block, everyone interviewed for the newspaper says, “He was always a problem.”
       Then I moved to my next house. The bedroom had French doors to the two gigantic palms that lined the entrance. It was in a shady hamlet that had an air of dark, dreaming rest, unusual in this barbaric climate, with its relentless sun. The house had a grace about it. It had a great air of grace. Plain white walls, wood floors: a California bungalow. An incredibly handsome 80-year-old man lived next-door with his dog. The mismatched couple on the other side had exciting quarrels and drunken brawls. There was a view of the other California bungalows in the hamlet, and down the hill of the lights on the Mediterranean-like coast. I pine for it all.
       It is my low human nature to pine always for the thing just past.
       In my new house I am often in my bed, first because I was nine months pregnant (plus a hypochondriac) and now because I am nursing a new baby. The view looks out on an exotic boulevard of proud palms. I could be in the British Empire, posted to Malaysia. It is an exotic view. From my office you can see the harbor, which looks like Monte Carlo’s.
       Is it home? Which house is home? For Rent is my motto. Just renting, just passing through.