This life. Sometimes it feels as though I've been staring into the sun, blinded as I am by happenstance, standing on the beach, my back to the Daytona sprawl, turning into a pillar of salt. Everything here is wet and salty, held under the spell of the fuming Atlantic. Pelicans, gulls, sanderlings are in their element amid the sea wrack and human trash, not us. Behind me the pawn shops, pizzerias, nightclubs, gas stations. After the fresh-faced hedonists depart, the grid is garish and shabby and very empty. No one gives a shite when the traffic light turns from red to green.
The cars parked on the hard beach sand can't go on. Their owners walk another hundred feet down to water's edge and stare east. At their feet, dark weeds and jellyfish, the occasional shell. Beyond the horizon a big storm churns, causing dangerous currents up and down the coast. This life is provisional. It's all about biology but even so I can't stop trying to make sense of it.
I cross the dark parking lot. Puddles, broken palm fronds. An old man in an electric wheel-chair crosses the street and heads down Seabreeze. I hasten to the hotel entrance. The lobby has been dolled up but the joint has seen better days. In my room, the air-conditioner rattles. I wash my face at the sink and the hot water faucet comes off in my hand. The towels are thin. Back downstairs, the pool deck is covered with insects hunkered down against the wind. Inside at the bar, a couple of soft-spoken book travelers watch the Miami-Pitt game and talk about the good old days, the days before e-books and online selling, when the fraternity of sales reps was big enough to fill a bar this size five times over.
Different place, different time. Yessir, but you're still expected to make a living. It sure doesn't get any easier. They talk about Stuart Woods and Pat Conroy, about bookstores long gone, about getting together in Atlanta, Charlotte, Mobile, Jekyll Island. Hell, they still talk about order fulfillment and shipping problems, how hard it is sometimes to get books out of the warehouse. This life is in their blood. Mine too.
I have the feeling I'm being watched but it passes after another beer. I'm reading a book proposal about a guy who gets out of prison and tries to adjust to real life. His tone is self-justificatory, aggrieved. I'm a victim, my family are victims. It's a sad and repulsive proposal: prison destroyed whatever this guy had inside him. It turned him into jelly and then it turned him into a preacher. Now all that's left for him is the effin self-help circuit, with its crybaby TV redemptions. Let somebody else publish it and publicize it. Let somebody else pander. It's time to hit the hay. Listening to these two sales reps out of the corner of my ear has made me unaccountably happy. You lead the best life you can, amid the people you love, with respect and dignity. This life.