Plutonian Pinings


I find myself in my hometown—San Jose, California—for the first time in about two years. I am nostalgic for something that qualifies as nostalgia, but am left dissatisfied at the flatness of my surroundings.

The purpose of the trip is a long-overdue visit to the dentist. Since SF is only an hour away, I never bothered to change over from the man who's poked pointy instruments into my mouth as long as I've had teeth. Now, since my family no longer lives in San Jose, my dentist is one of the only reasons left to make the southbound drive.

Though it was only a silly dental checkup, I'd been excitedly anticipating this sweep through my old stomping grounds. These two years have constituted the longest span of my life that's passed without a San Jose visit, if only for a couple hours. It's amazing how many universes separate SF and SJ… more than just the 60 miles down the Californian freeway. Today, it's at least 15 degrees warmer in the Silicon Valley inlandness of SJ.

Endlessly sentimental, I intend to explore the long paved expenses of San Jose, appreciating the familiar foothill vistas and elevated shopping-plaza signs for their profound personal resonances… that is, if I can find any authentically familiar landmarks. This speedy east-west thoroughfare I'm on, after all, didn't open to traffic until after I had moved away to college. And the mall movie-theater marquee, its human-head-sized letters startlingly my responsibility to change during my first night ever of paid teen employment, gone… along with much of the mall itself, renamed, remodeled, reconfigured with that extra-super-manic fašade which characterizes this latter stage of postmodern 'Main Street'-style urban-village retail/residential land-reuse projects. What was left to take pictures of?

How many times can I cruise past my old middle school or the Egyptian museum (what, doesn't every town have one?), look listfully out my car window, sigh, and pine for total reconnection? To what ends? I didn't even like my youth that much… at least not as much as I like my life now.

My natal Pluto in the 4th beckons me to bask—to wallow, even, sometimes—in the weight of my roots, whether it be my intricate intertwinements with my parents or the geographic location it all went down. I'm drawn to dwelling in hyperconscious replayings of the past… to deliberately re-accentuate every formative moment and nauseous adolescent emotion with near-obsessive self-reflection. I can see why people build intricate memorials to their estranged loved ones or exhaustive web-based paeans to local amusement parks long ago razed in surrender to encroaching condo campuses.

Pluto, as we learned from last week's opposition to Venus, deepens our psychological relationship to—and complex entanglements with—whatever it influences. In the case of its natal placement in my 4th, I feel intensely (good, bad, ugly, uncategorized) about where I come from. It exerts a powerful influence over who I am on the most private emotional levels… though thankfully more consciously, the more sincerely I work on understanding how the pains and passions of my past have molded my psyche to what it is today.

Yet, Pluto also signifies the always-looming shadow of mortality, for everywhere we find the potent rhythms of life, we spy death sniffing along behind, tracking its delicious scent. I sense it here, too, in San Jose, tailgating me down the wide expressway, whispering to me over my shoulder, 'There's nothing left here.'

This is not the orchard-lined town of my childhood, where horses were stabled on the next block and shared the dusty creekside path I took to school. It was never this hot, this smoggy and paved-over. This is a new city, built on an industry that barely existed 30 years ago, a miraculous one, which makes my career possible (because you are reading this right now on some screen far far away) but probably poisoned my groundwater and scrambled my brainwaves along the way—computers. Here I am, clutching my umpteenth computer, hunting for the nearest wi-fi hot spot. My choices: Starbucks or Peet's. I choose the smaller chain with the better coffee.

Based alone on the developments I'd find at any given major intersection—Target, Home Depot, Borders, Old Navy—I'd concur with Pluto that there's nothing left here in San Jose… at least nothing that isn't also found in every other metroburban sprawl.

But there's more than that. On this trip, there were two short but rich visits with old family friends, women who were my neighbors from age two until I left home. These women were like family, as many neighbors are to each other in settings, like 1970s suburban California, where everyone's a transplant. Both have seen younger days and healthier bodies, yet are still the same warm loving spirits they've always been, recounting stories of my former spelling-bee glories and our past Thanksgivings together. How I love them.

So I come back, with this mysterious Plutonian undertow tugging on my heart, to look for something I'm not quite sure I'd know if I ever did find it. Does that guy with the tattoo ordering coffee look familiar, like from high school or something? (And is it true about that kid from around the corner being in rehab?) No parents' house in San Jose anymore. No friends either. No old stomping grounds. And each time, something else is gone.