Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Larry McMurtry quote on the wall above my desk: "The fact that, for twenty-six or twenty-seven days each month, I lead an intense life as an antiquarian bookman -- on the sorting floor all day, unboxing, pricing, sorting, and responding to the public's endless curiosity about Lonesome Dove--in part explains the brevity and intensity of my drives. I don't want to be gone from the bookshop long, but three or four days on the road, just looking and moving, isn't long. Working with books always relaxes me, but the books bring people, and people are a mixed bag; there comes a point at which I want to be away, drive somewhere, see some sky--"

So, on the road south for a few days, accompanied by Mr. Pynchon, Mr. Lovecraft, and the usual collection of anywhere-from-the-mid-70s-to-early-00s tunes, an unearthly mix of soul, funk, disco, yacht rock, & Britpop, all but guaranteed to drive unsuspecting passengers round the bend. "How many different versions of Green Earrings are there, anyway?" Well, the studio track on The Royal Scam; the live track on Alive in America; the acoustic version on the Marian McPartland radio show; the 3 different 2006 shows supplied by Internet penpals and burned straight to CD....Passengers run screaming like extras in Burroughs' Nova Trilogy: "Godsake don't let it take me alive!"

Forty-eight hours on the road through grey November rain, the blower on the dashboard sweeping warm air across my face. The smell of rain, the low fields along the Skagit inundated with water. Flooded pastures, and occasionally an unhappy-looking horse or cow. Offramps: gas stations, motels, diners whose decor and menus haven't visibly changed since 1965. Chicken-fried steak, a scoop of chalk-white mashed potato, mixed frozen vegetables, "salad" composed of iceberg lettuce, dressing (ranch; Thousand Island), and croutons. A stoneware mug of hot but watery coffee. Lemon pie, a wedge cut from a bigger pie in the reflecting case behind the counter, or an individually plated portion covered with cling wrap. The motion of the waitress' arm absurdly birdlike as she removes the wrap from the plate, an "unthought gesture" beautiful in its own way.

Lake Washington's floating bridges, Stephen Morrissey or the Smiths somehow appropriate for the sensation of taking flight over water. The oncoming traffic with its headlights on. The tidal slough in Everett by the freeway; the logs stacked beside the sawmill; yellow folklifts trundling to and fro under the lumber yard's big, bright lights. Thrift-store interiors, the in-house stereo system inevitably playing the Electric Light Orchestra, Fleetwood Mac, Toto, or Foreigner. Fellow booksellers, most glad to see me. Leaning on the end of the big wooden counter at Magus Books while my purchases are tallied, trading gossip and watching one of the staff buy a stack of recent trade fiction from the last scout of the day. Outside, darkness and rain, a few UW students hurrying past. The UW Bookstore bright and quiet like Spielberg's mother ship. Down a block, in the alley by the Allegro Cafe, a restless queue for the food bank, men and women in dark clothes. No umbrellas, heads bowed against the torrential rain, some with pack sacks or shoulder bags: ripped, patched, soaked through. Inside the cafe, just out of sight of the line-up, students on their laptops: term papers, IM chat, Internet poker. The screens' light reflected in the cafe's big windows, which in turn reflect the wind and rain outside.

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