Home Is Where You Hang Your Hat


One Christmas I found a man living under the Washington Street Overpass just off the I- 5 Freeway in San Diego. He had built a house out of cardboard boxes. Sort of a backyard playhouse. Like a backyard playhouse it kept him out of the dew and chill of that early Christmas morning.

The man under the bridge was a symbol or our time. Societies orphan. Surviving on genetic primordial instincts he foraged the all American meal from the trash bin at McDonalds, the all American restaurant. An occasional bath came courtesy of the sprinkler system on the I-5 Freeway.

Some would say he was homeless. But was he? Home, after all, is a state of mind. A touchstone. The current locator. The last digit in the internal zip code. A place we go when we can’t go anyplace else. A place where we keep our “stuff.”

Home is also a legal entity. A domicile. A castle? O. J. Simpson leaves home and the cops scale the wall. Illegal search and seizure? Invasion of privacy? Had O.J. lived under the Washington Street Overpass would the same rules have applied? Would the verdict have been different?

What is home? Our first home is our father’s body. Our second home our mother’s body. Our final home is our own body.  Then there’s the home of brick and mortar, wood and glass. A depository of “stuff.” The place where our “things” reside. Among them the memories and comings and goings of the people in our lives.

We have all moved from home to home. Sometimes we move up, sometimes we move down. We pack up all our “stuff” and we move it to a new home. The boxes contain the pictures and the memories—our stuff placed in a sort of cardboard box limbo until it arrives at our new home. We take it out. We put it away. We ‘re home.

The Washington Street Overpass man had his touchstone. His place to go when he couldn’t go anyplace else. And he had his stuff. A shopping cart filled with the cast off debris of others. One man’s trash is indeed another mans treasure.

But ultimately home is a sense of community. A sense of where we are and who we are. It transcends and stands apart from the brick and mortar, wood and glass. The boxes of “stuff.” This was the real tragedy of the man living under the Washington Street Overpass. He had lost his sense of community. His community had lost its sense of him.

He was a symbol of our time. My father used to say, “Home is where you hang your hat.” Now I know what he meant. Home is that place inside your head. That bright cave under your hat. That sense of belonging. Like the man under the Washington Street Overpass, it’s the place you go when you can’t go anyplace else.




Category: Essays

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