I've been traveling for the last few weeks. I needed a break from the routine senseless repetition of events one imagines Real Life to be, the life everybody is rebelling against, from those angry white people flapping their gums out in the suburbs, bored out of their skulls, their gripes fodder for moronic punditry, to the bearded fanatics wielding automatic rifles and pipe bombs in souks overseas. I figured I'd better get a new routine, one based on moving fast and staying one step ahead of Papa Ennui and that messy biological self who gets old and aches. Is there anybody who wants to get old? Nobody in this culture, poot.
So I traveled, first to Texas, New Mexico and California, then to Florida. After a brief stopover in New Jersey, home of fat cats and addled donkeys, I headed over to Frankfurt for the Buchmesse, flew back, cleaned my underwear, then hopscotched out to Oakland where the NCIBA reenacted one of their conventions from days gone by. I capped it off with a day trip to Storrs, a university town nestled in the treed hills of northeastern Connecticut, crawling with Huskies pursuing degrees between basketball games. My arse was sore when it was all over, even with a couple of ounces of additional lard on it, and my legs were stiff. My sense of time had been knocked out of kilter -- I couldn't tell when I was supposed to eat or sleep or shite.
Most travel is a bore and a chore, especially now with barking TSA agents feeling you up and airlines charging four bucks for a sack of salted nuts. Dry mouth, bad breath, swollen joints, and a sense that there is no such place as home, that you are a stranger everywhere. You speak in monosyllables, uncertain whether anybody understands what you're saying, a cabbie in Frankfurt sporting the same accent as one in L. A. Your eyes itch and your bunched-up jeans chafe in the crotch. You read a couple of pages of a mediocre manuscript and think to yourself, it's true, publishing is impossible today. The signal to noise ratio is too damn low.
I remember standing on the deck of a shabby hotel in Daytona Beach. It's late and I've been drinking rotgut with a cluster of book people, watching the Atlantic churn under a pallid moon, checking out the horizon for ghosts. There are no ghosts, just as there are no tourists, only sex-crazed insects dying by the hundreds on the sliding screen doors. The effin place is like a morgue. We're busy sifting through each others' memories to see if we can pinpoint the moment that led us here, trying to hold ourselves upright against the effects of alcohol and the stiff salt breeze, having arrived at the tail end of the Age of Print, paradigms shifting all round us, technology pushing us past the brink of obsolescence to desuetude, poverty, and self-pity. Our expertise no longer needed, our ignorance growing day by day, we have nothing left but our late-night stories, half-remembered, half-invented, like a group of foreigners waiting for the last ferry to the other side.
Okay, I'm standing there with two authors and a sales rep. R. is trying to light a cigarette but the matches keep going out. Shite. He wants to go inside to the bar but the barmaid won't let him light up in there. She's a fiftyish blonde battle-axe built like a offensive tackle. Not for nothin he says, but this is what it's all about, isn't it, people on the hunt for a taste of immortality. He's talking about writing books. You want something to last after you're dead, he says, something your kids will remember you by. One of the authors is a survivalist with three children. The other has a complicated family background, made even more complicated by the book he's written. The ones back in Pennsylvania won't talk to me, he says. Neither author is mine, they belong to someone else, someone who had likely gone to bed long ago.
J. turns to me and says, you know, man, I've never been out this late with a dude as old as you. You feelin okay? I was feeling okay, but his comment brings me up short. Am I really that old? Maybe I shouldn't be hanging with the young turks, the thirty-somethings in their prime, the guys taking aim at immortality. Maybe I should be up in my room, dreaming of golden galleons sailing for someplace unknown. An explorer in my head, an armchair traveler at best. I've lived in cold climates for my whole life, poot, and now I find the heavy air in Florida oppressive.
It's funny. We all laugh at his comment and share a final cigarette. They ask me if I want to go across the street to some some kind of surf club that's open till four. I demur. Nah, I've got to get up in the morning. This was great, guys. I take one last look at the sea, then walk through the bright lobby to the elevators. Except for them, everyone is asleep.