Back from California, having flown into the clear, cold night. From a mile up, the lights of northern New Jersey, glittering like a bejeweled corpse. Home. I have left here and come back again, to myself, and my other self, the one I barely know, hidden even from the familiar household gods, perhaps I brought that one back as well. The woman next to me has finally shut off her in-flight TV and prepared herself to land. She sighs, she stretches, she massages her left leg, she takes a tube of Aveeno Ultra-Calming Moisturizer out of her bag and rubs it into her hands, then her cheeks, forehead and chin. How can I take myself seriously when the rest of the world won't? To the east, the fabled city of my youth lies up against the black waters of Raritan Bay, then the dark face of its harbor. One of those twinkling lights out there belongs to Lady Liberty. The wind is out of the north. After being with so many people for four days, I feel relief and a great emptiness. Along with a stubborn unwillingness to be drawn back into the swim just for the sake of it.
The plane shudders as the landing gear extends into place. Outside, the air pushes against us and holds us up for a little longer. There are so few of us, we who came together in California, within earshot of San Jose International Airport, let loose from our daily routine, properly unhinged, ready to do the intense work of listening to each other, we who "affirmed" -- that effin word so badly abused by two-bit telegenic gurus and snake-oil salesmen, hey Rube, we're all about affirmation -- we "affirmed" that we would stay the course, embracing the new but warily, and would continue to do what we do best, the thing we know how to do: we would sell books to those who wanted and needed them, thereby continuing to build a community of book people in the American desert. We told ourselves, we know how to do this, and listened to each other's stories. The listening was its own reward, as the stories came together into the one big narrative, the deathless myth of the independent bookseller.
The world is beautiful despite all the evidence of our senses, big fierce animals are rare and prone to extinction, in the end the tortoise beats the hare, what's good for small business is good for the country, the tide is turning, the changing demography is in our favor, people trump technology every time.
How many times have I flown northward into Newark, coming in just above the tank farm, skirting Staten Island, the ceaseless Turnpike traffic snaking under the plane from left to right, off toward Ikea and the insect-like cranes perched along the seaport berths? How many times have I come back, resolved to carry some newly acquired joy into the near corners of my life? I'm on the Pulaski Skyway in the back of a cab driven by one Renaud Pierre, a gray-haired Haitian gent. Yessir, tis very cold tonight. Back into the swim for the hell of it. The poet said, humankind cannot bear very much reality. That's a load of shite. We can bear more of it than is good for us. It's happiness that causes us grief. I was happy to be with my friends, together out in anonymous California, let loose from our daily cares, happy for a spell.
The city looms up ahead. I'm trying to remember where I parked the effin car. It occurs to me yet again that our car culture is doomed. Tell me, poot, how long do you think I'm gonna be able to hold onto this joy?