Sunday, May 31, 2009

The owl of Minerva

Here comes dusk. The city's skyscraper shadows creep eastward toward the oblivious Atlantic. The clamor ebbs, drops down a key. I like havin the ocean nearby, makes me think I can sail away if I get a touch of Melville's spleen. It's Saturday evenin at BEA, time for drinkin, but I gotta go squeeze the lemon first.

On my way out of Javits I spy D. sittin by himself. For a second I imagine his head's on fire, but it's just the last of the sun in his red hair. He calls me over to chat. An ex-boss of mine slumps on the next bench over, pale and soggy, like someone who's just sweated out a fever. It's scary how old some of us have gotten.

D. tells me that things at his store are unwell. Personnel issues, lousy sales, lack of cash. "What was I thinkin? We expanded last spring and then got killed in the fall. It's time to
right-size the store, and get back to basics. Serve the customer who's makin an intentional purchase. It's healthier, in fact, it's what we shoulda been doin all along. Instead I got caught up in the bubble. Now I'm payin."

I start flappin my gills, "It's not just you.
What were we all thinkin? Hell, it's time to right-size the whole industry. Just like Lance and the gang are tryin to right-size the convention. Everybody needs to take their pruning shears and cut away the overgrowth. The process ain't pretty, but it's necessary. And it's happenin everywhere."

D. is a good man with strong convictions. We hug on parting -- there's been a whole lotta hugging goin on this year -- and promise to stay in touch. I hope he makes it. I hope all of his book-selling colleagues make it too.

I walk down 11th Avenue into Chelsea -- nothin on either side of the street except railroad yards and excavation pits. A coupla run-down warehouses someone started to raze or renovate before the market fell apart. Mayor Mike and the Free Market Boys were gonna build another little city here, complete with football stadium. Even wooed the Olympic Committee. Playin games to get the infrastructure fixed. I like it better as a dead zone. As long as they keep the rats under control.

The party's already started at the Half King. They're pourin Dogfish and Côtes du Rhône and slappin those big messy burgers down on the grill. It's noisy but tonight I can take it -- these are my friends, from near and far, and we're in this thing together. We know there's folk wisdom at the bottom of a pint. We just gotta find it and tell it. Cause this is our story.

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