The sun was shining off the snow and I was lonely so I drove down the hill to Burger King. It's not food, it's shite, but I needed to be around people like me, overweight and white, dressed cheaply, a little bit lost, driving around Sussex County in our dirty little cars, passing the occasional dairy farm -- "look at the cows!" -- and ubiquitous strip centers with their bagel shops and liquor stores. Some of them come from the ski resort on Breakneck Road, slopes for cheapskates and people like me who can't afford Vermont or the Adirondacks, let alone Colorado, Utah, Tahoe. Beggars can't be choosers -- we've got to make do with the thousand-foot hills of northwest New Jersey. Hey, just because we're overweight doesn't mean we're well-fed.
It's a three day weekend and I've run out of dope. Ian Buruma reviewed the Bernard-Henri Lévy - Michel Houellebecq thing in the Times Book Review. A waste of effin ink, the book and the review both. The whole issue is stale. There's such a surfeit of sensitive, competent writers composing short stories these days -- look at the cover: Toibin, Baxter, Pearlman -- how can anyone expect to keep up with their work, or their careers? How hard does one have to work to stave off the boredom? Characters live lives of quiet desperation, people are strange, sadness spreads like a stain on Aunt Lou's white tablecloth. Yawn. I prefer the effin Burger King, where I can watch some sullen kid mop the wet floor like a robot, trying to keep it clean. It's a losing cause on a day when everybody's wearing boots, having traipsed through the dirty snow to get their Whoppers and fries. The dirty little rat-faced git behind the counter taking orders looks like Houellebecq. There you have it: rodents and frogs, every one of them an incipient short story.
Down the street at the Inn they're serving eggs benedict for brunch, with mimosas and bloody marys. The eggs are stiffer than the drinks but the floors are clean. I prefer the flourescent lights and plastic seats at Burger King to the faux wood paneling and Naugehyde booths at the Inn. It's easy enough to figure out where the Inn's denizens stand on Obamacare and gun control. Funny to think that they have a holiday because of Martin Luther King. I listen to the conversation waiting for one of the patrons to break out of their assigned role, stop stuffing his face, and say something original. I hear nothing but clichés, slogans, the silly shite heard on TV. Come to Burger King, poot, celebrate the Age of the Individual. Just think: all those choices!
Earlier this morning in the woods I watched a pileated woodpecker hammer at the topmost segment of an old, bare oak. Black-capped chickadees fooled around in a small pine below. The air was sharp, the temperature around fifteen degrees, the sky overhead clear as a bell. You can see a long way in the winter, but neither the birds nor the view could assuage my loneliness. I thought of Robinson Jeffers high above the Pacific in his Hawk Tower. I could never live like that, with the big country behind my back, forsaking human fellowship for the company of animals, rocks, trees, surf. I watch the traffic out on Route 94 through the big Burger King windows. People going places. The piped-in music features Willie Nelson, Van Morrison, two aging musicians trapped in Burger King too, singing their lonely lyrics.
Sam Spade wanders into an Edward Hopper painting and the weekend pundits pronounce the scene emblematic of the American Dream. It's funny -- I used to pay attention to their columns. No more. The opinion pages are even more boring than the book review. I pick up my Coke and toast the family two tables over -- here's to competence, eating together, taking a half hour off the road. A thirtyish couple and their two young daughters enjoying their fast food, dressed in their cheap winter coats, laughing and talking about skating. Apparently, there's some kind of competition coming up. The girls' eyes sparkle. Behind them the kid is still mopping the floor. A horn blares in the line outside leading up to the drive-in window. No high tragic thoughts here. Just the ordinary human interest in human things -- games, relationships, bodily functions. Civilization. These are my people, poot, I suspect they're gonna march out of here and have themselves a good day, out where the sun is shining off the snow.