Friday, May 29, 2009

Crossing the river

Ech! What a wet skunk of a day! -- effin drizzle, sneaky wind. I grit my teeth, tighten my collar, and leave the useless umbrella in my bag. Remind myself to stay low to the ground. Why the hell did they put the Javits Center over here, by the river, where the breezes blow and the trains don't go? Feels like an effin construction site. I think to myself, I can do this. I ain't gonna let the crosstown traffic get me down.

The guys with hot-dog carts are huddled at the top of the 11th Avenue hump in front of the main entrance. I take one with mustard and kraut -- love that dirty water -- and inhale it. Lemme tell you, poot, walkin through this weather gives you an appetite.

Inside the hall, things are slow. People mill about. The union guys are setting up the booths. Seems like a lot less space this year. Probably best to keep it small, keep it simple. Those who cover the industry walk around like nurses responsible for keepin the patient's chart up-to-date. I attend one of the panels and the word "triage" is used twice. What is this, an effin field hospital?

I remember the night of September 11, 2001, tryin to get off the island of Manhattan. We made it to the ferry terminal -- the old one that stood by the Lincoln Tunnel vents -- not three hundred yards from here. The city was silent. The weather was exceptionally fine for early September, but no one cared about the weather. We answered some questions and had our clothes scrubbed of ash. The ferry finished its slow loading and carried us across the black river to Hoboken. There, at the train station, they'd set up a field hospital -- dozens and dozens of folding cots and piles of medical supplies. Hundreds of expectant personnel, professional and volunteer. Milling about, out in the open, under the clear night sky. And, of course, hardly a soul to treat.

That was a long time ago, in a different city. The lights came back on, the traffic picked up, the tourists over-ran downtown and midtown, and the city remade itself yet again. My buddy Cholly the pipefitter had loads of work -- what goes down, goes up, he said. Tell me, poot, is exuberance irrational after an event like that?

It is too quiet in Javits -- people are gray, subdued, under the weather. The air in the Buzz Panel room is hot and sticky and only two of the books being hawked hold interest for me. I think to myself,
triage indeed. Part of me is still tryin to accept that I am no longer who I was in this business. I've lost my identity. Now, here, amid a crowd of attentive booksellers and publishers, my weary brothers and sisters, I sit and close my eyes and listen to the buzz.

I guess I'm in the right place.

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