My Apologies to Kerouac

Odometer Readings


1000 miles (Woodville, Wisconsin):

The car was working well. The smell of newness was still noticeable but the most memorable feature was that the car was already mine. I had gotten past the novelty of buying new cars twenty years ago when I purchased my first car off the showroom three days after I graduated. After the second new car when I realized that I was always going to buy new cars and I stopped dwelling on this issue. I wasn’t patting myself on the back even though growing up, I had only ridden in a few new cars and that impact from my past was not lost of me. It wasn't that big of a deal except as part of my internal conversations.

New cars meant something substantial; not exactly success but it certainly wasn’t failure. It gave me peace of mind that everything that would go on in this car would be my business and no prior owners soiling the car with any fast food, fun or fruit loops. All I knew as I drove past Woodville, Wisconsin is that I didn’t have any concerns about the car’s performance or what people thought of me. I don’t add to the thought process of being a poor kid that made a decision once that it was only going to be new cars for me. It just worked out that way and I decided that pattern deserved a few moments of analysis, even though it was backwards.

A car is used to signify many things. Once one starts to really think, all the effort the automotive industry puts into image advertising is embarrassing. A car should get you where you want to go, safely with a minimum of distraction. We certainly don’t need music or background images of good-looking happy people. I hope we have evolved to some extent away from the beautiful babe seeing the USA in her Chevrolet. For some reason, we began to attach self-esteem and sexual prowess to your choices of transportation. I know sex sells but to use it to buy a vehicle seems to be a bit troubling. The color choices, options and the opportunity to spout some opinion from a bumper sticker makes cars an extension of you, an unfortunate extension, but one nonetheless. Cars are just cars but it us who make them more than they’re worth.

Woodville, Wisconsin is approximately a hundred miles from St. Paul and once you drive by there, there is no need for bathroom breaks or gasoline. Things should be slotted in and you should be already planning for your first steps once you arrive at your destination. Woodville looks like every other small city in America when you go screaming by it at dusk on a major highway. People are going about their business, eating dinner or thinking whatever people in Woodville think about in the late afternoon. I drove through with no recognition of Woodville and viewed it only as the next town in a long line of next towns. The first exit appeared, I drove without hesitation and I believe that a second exit appeared but I continued on my plan to zip by and get home. I continued and passed Woodville like it was literally going out of style.

Woodville likely has a High School called Woodville High and its mascot very likely embraces a lumberjack theme. Woodville no doubt has some hated rivals and luckily, they are probably located nearby. The students and alumni were happy that there are numerous opportunities for the Woodville teams to vanquish these rivals, and at least once a season they gave it their collective all. People are proud of Woodville and if they stay in the town, attend Woodville events and don’t think twice about it. Things likely make a lot of sense in Woodville and there are numerous cities throughout the World that would love Woodville’s approach to life. I doubt if Beirut High School spends the day plotting the next time they play the pesky punks from Lebanon Tech and I doubt if Tripoli Academy or Hue Senior High spend their weekends toilet papering the new cheerleaders houses. They probably would keep the toilet paper and call it a night. Allah Akbar.

People don’t think about anything that peaceful as high school athletics in the Mideast and there isn’t much chance I am going to be driving through Beirut anytime soon. But the car was running well. I was comfortable and bladder management was well in hard and most important, I was making good time. Woodville appeared and disappeared quickly and we continued. One thousand miles on the car deserved some recognition and I am confident that the Lumberjacks would be happy to know that their life gave me a signpost and a time to reflect. Hell, that is why they are here.

2000 (Dentist)

My teeth are like everyone’s teeth. They are checked on a regular basis and the entire process is extremely annoying to me. I have nothing but respect for dental hygiene but I hate the Dentist Office. I hate the smells, I hate the chairs, I hate the desperation and I hate people putting fingers in my mouth. The teeth are looked at quickly and I am out within an hour with a new toothbrush and the impending dread of the next appointment in six months.

As a child, going to the Dentist was traumatic. A dentist with fingers like plump, hairy bratwursts busily drilling holes in my head is the most vivid memory of my childhood. I kind of remember the Moon landing but I can tell you all about Dr. Sawyer's office and where everything was to this day. Dr. Sawyer was a middle-aged DDS in a small Minnesota town. He made good money and if anything was remotely challenging, he would likely refer the patient to an Oral Surgeon from Rochester and he would be able to concentrate on filling non-challenging cavities, answering surveys, looking down blouses and getting his tennis game scheduled at a regular time.

He would use new balls each time he played and would magnanimously leave them on the court for teenage tennis urchins. He started this charity by swatting them over to our courts with a generous wave of the hand, non-verbally saying "you can have these balls, I don’t like to use them more than once." However, that strategy failed as we always, always, swatted them back without arm waves or non-verbals. He eventually discontinued that strategy and eventually placed them back in the can, capped it and left it in the court. Sometimes we took them and sometimes we left them for the next group of players but we never gave his the satisfaction of seeing us take them. He was a lunch time player and had a regular game with some other pillars of the community. They always played doubles and were on the court for no longer than 30 minutes. They did seem to love the game and I always thought it probably was good for him to get out at lunch and blow the dental stink off of him.

This was the time of the introduction of the ultimate weapon, the Wilson T-2000. This racket was the first metal production model of any merit and it gave the owner almost super-human power. Along with the power, it also left a majority of players with no accuracy and general surprise each time they successfully returned a volley. The racket slightly proceeded the stupid headband/sweatband phase that many tennis players eagerly embraced as well. The early 1970’s collided for the Doctor and he was always seen in the same get-up. Dr. Sawyer would be out on the court with that stupid headband on his skull, making him already large head appear like tannish, sweating Saturn while he over swung shot after shot with the freakishly powerful racket. He had no touch to his shots, no subtle beauty to any part of his game. This trait must of come from his Dental practice where he approached his job with the skill of a conductor, railroad notwithstanding. As a youth, I envied his metal racket but realized that it was a heavy price to pay. He went to school, took endless shit from his Medical School friends, put up with countless toxic substances, exposed himself to thousands of x-rays and this is how he ends up: a profitable dental practice, a small town audience of punk tennis players and the forehand of a undernourished girl.

My opinion of preventative dental efforts was one of grudging respect and even though I hate it, I go dutifully every six months and actually do floss. Today’s methods still suck but as alternative to dentures or a now-gloved bratwurst finger of Dr. Sawyer, I will take today’s well-lit Dental Offices anytime. The gagging is still there along with the ongoing fantasy of a five minute visit but things get slightly better as I get older. It sucks slightly less that a year ago and I have determined I will live. I might not ever get over the feeling of doom when a drop of sweat goes from the nape of my neck to the crack of my ass but it sure beats having Dr. Sawyer stick his hairy paws in my mouth. And he still likely has a noontime tennis match and only new tennis balls in his trunk.

3000 (My Tennis Match)

Tennis is the sport for life. Although the racket materials have changed significantly in the last decade, the game remains the same. Good shots win points, fundamentals reduce unforced errors and if you hit the ball where they are not, you can win more than you lose. Of all the sports you start out with as a youngster, adults remain only involved with golf and tennis. Middle-aged men do not play football or baseball but are content with those two sports. The inherently simplicity of the games also attracts middle-aged men: put the ball in the cup or don’t let the ball bounce twice.

Some tennis improvements are wonderful: the optic yellow ball and the introduction of synthetic gut were inspiring. The fashions finally calmed down, the oversized head made most hacks passable players, the tie-breaker saved time and with the exception of this frantic serve and volley nonsense, the advances have allowed the game to grow old gracefully and compliment the game as best it could. The demographics of the sport continually change and the game will enjoy far many rebirths than cycles of deterioration. It is a sport for life and as you get older, you enjoy the lob far more than you could ever imagine when you were nineteen.

There are many more tennis courts, of significantly higher quality, these days and the elimination of asphalt courts is a far greater benefit that the corresponding loss of grass and clay courts. The roughest thing today is a chain link net but considering the net is even there is a great leap forward. Asphalt courts were the worst sporting surface to play tennis and for awhile in the late 1960’s, that is all you had if you lived in a small town. The asphalt heaved into cracked, smelled like crap, ruined the balls, would be wet for days after a rain and if you fell, you had the reminder for months. The lines deteriorated quickly and since the people who made the roads made the courts, quality control for the final product was troubling. The theory was that they had extra asphalt lying around and it might as well be put to use by laying it down on tennis courts. A poorly prepared court is such a pain in the ass that it is not even worth playing on them. The new surfaces are infinitely better, a pleasure to play on, even if you play like an old man.

Today’s tennis heroes are rarely Americans with cool sounding names; they are usually European with ever cooler-sound names and far better hair. The players seem to enjoy the beauty of the game with everything speeded up at least twice of what it was ten years ago. Instead of slowing the game down with artificial obstacles (a court made out of pudding, Nerf® tennis balls, doubles teams that must include monkeys), we have to step back and be amazed at the current combination of awesome strength and frightening speed. The days of long sleeve white shirts and gentlemanly manners have moved over to the lightening fast game of today’s tennis studs.

I started to play tennis because it was fun. Chicks dug playing tennis, I wasn’t running up and down a field for no reason and no one hit me that often. You could play with a wide variety of people, and when the game was done, you started again and everything was even again. I continued to play tennis because it remained fun. The opponents I face are usually better than I, which leaves me humbled, but I enjoy the challenge of keeping a more talented player engaged in the match. My preferred match is not best two out of three sets but an on-going series of games that are not tallied and scored only within each game. One can talk, get the cardiovascular system moving around and you have a few moments of satisfaction followed by a few moments of disappointment and finishing up with a future yet to be decided. It is a lot like life but you get to wear cool tennis shoes and still scope the chicks. I would like to see Mr. Shot-putter keep up his love of his sport when he is in his mid-forties.

4000 (Home Again)

When the day is over, the most natural instinct is to go back home to recover, rest and recharge. Clichéd alliteration aside, the home should be a safe area that allows all the inhabitants a chance to collect their thoughts as well as possessions while looking out the window and wonder what the neighbors are doing.

For the first time since I began to acquire stuff, all my stuff was finally collected in one place. No more issues with stuff at the folks and stuff at my old roommates and stuff at my Uncles. Today, all my stuff is accounted for in one place and it is now time to start giving things away. The total weight of my stuff troubles me as I have grown tired of moving it and I have begun to make a conscious effort to streamline my possessions and give things to charities at an accelerated rate. I realize that many of my possessions are just clutter and I haven’t taken the time to wear/touch/play/use the item in several years, I shouldn’t deserve to keep them. There is a calming beauty is wearing out an item, using something for it’s intended purpose until it is used up. Nothing is sadder than someone or something fails to do its intended purpose. Throwing stuff away or placing it on the shelf in effect does the same thing: it is not going to be used.

As the years go by, the accumulation of stuff in a house or apartment is mind numbing. Each day to bring in something and every other day you take something out. Over the years, the stuff coming in wins and the stuff going out barely escapes. All of a sudden you are surrounded with barely used merchandise that is placed anywhere there is an open space. A junk drawer becomes a junk room; a three-stall garage is barely big enough for two cars and excuses regarding the molded plastic mountain of children toys become less credible as the last one graduates from college. Stuff surrounds you and it creeps into everything you do. Croquet mallets, lawn furniture, catalogs, pieces of carpet and books seem to take up space and the only thing to do is to move. And start again.

A person collects all their treasures and the piles of personal treasures make up the foundation of your home. Of course, all houses around the world have the same things: pictures of children and loved ones, toys and lots of stuff that successfully avoid definition. While this is going on, the world’s collection of teenage daughters scream and dance and generate waves of sound and emotion while the world’s fathers go around turning off lights and wishing just to have a cup of coffee and read the paper, in peace and quiet. Sociologists that study this stuff would come to find that all people collect the same things and the unused jogging tramp in France is just the same as the used rowing machine in Georgia. The lawn bowling kit from England sees exactly the same amount of actions as the volleyball net in Brazil. It is a world full of good intentions and our idiocy knows no color or creed. We’re all goofy and continually convincing ourselves that the three large cement blocks will be coming in handy some day. The ten feet of speaker wire and the DIY manuals aren’t taking up that much space and finally, don’t even think about tossing out the National Geographics. They stack so nice.

It is comforting to be immersed in your stuff because, of course, it is yours. It is a record of your desires and needs for that last decade or so and you remain the undeniable expert on a very esoteric subject: you. When you have a moment, you go down memory lane and see the clothes not worn, books not read, dusty exercise equipment and lots and lots of paper. Correspondence from all over, articles and magazines that you have every intention of really reading, a litany of instruction manuals, warranty cards, work documents and of course, your somewhat random collection of financial records. You have almost made yourself invulnerable to an audit, as you know that you can barely read this crap and it is your crap. An auditor would likely slit both their wrists than wade into that morass of trash to find an additional five hundred bucks of income. Life is too short and you have way too much crap. It is truly a beautiful world.

5000 (Work)

It appears that ones life is divided roughly into three parts: work, sleep and play. The three worlds can overlap as I have slept at work, worked while I slept and of course, played in my sleep. Regardless of the gray areas, three main areas remain and I can certainly live with the order. Work, as many people know, has never been my top priority. I enjoy what I do and I hope to continue to do so as I get even older. But other than my first jobs in fast food and one failed attempt at an equity play in database marketing, my gigs have all been fun. I don’t know if the jobs were inherently fun to being with or my efforts to make them fun were successful, but I do appreciate the enjoyable gig.

I could work in sanitation, insurance, door to door sales, food preparation or cable TV customer service. I could wait tables, check in luggage, stamp out metal things or something where the opportunity to crack wise would be challenging at best. I need to comment ad nauseum about things I find fascinating, things I think about and things that I see coming. Some industries are better suited for a rolling commentary that others; outdoor work (bugs, cruel weather) or assembly lines (standing, 30 minute lunch hours) are not the best place to work on my stand-up and I haven’t even started on my attention-span deficit syndrome.

Work is work and I go there and through my efforts, things are better than they were and some stuff gets fixed. There are days when things don’t seem to be better and my desire for closure gets in the way of my station in life. There are also days when I think if I was a painter or a forest ranger, you could see freshly painted walls or happy campers. And you know you put in a good day. However, what I currently do has caused, on occasion, that I wouldn’t know true closure if it walked up to me and bit me on my ass.

When I explain what I do to my Uncle, he looks at me quizzically. When I explain that I work in climate-controlled conditions and rarely lift anything heavier than a cup of coffee, he looks at me like I am the luckiest dope in the world. He has worked for almost eighty years, starting several businesses, including liquor stores and trucking, fought in a war, partied like a seaman and still puts in a legitimate part-time job. He has had to endure the challenge of being his own boss and he can shake down a P&L with one hand tied behind his back. His financial acumen is likely more impressive that a recent Big 4 (5?) hire, whose sanitary perceptive to the real world in laughable, as his net profit dollars went to feeding his family and paying his bills.

One of the strange things I have found with my years of employment is that the hardest I ever worked was my first jobs. In fact, things get progressively easier because I don’t have to take out the garbage or mop out a bathroom. There are times I grumble when I am called on to help diddle the laser printer switch as part of an overall remedy but if I had also clean out a french fry pit at the same time, I would likely grumble more.

If you lose your job, and you will sometime, it knocks you momentarily for a loop. What you do is irrevocably tied to your self-worth and self-esteem. When you are unemployed (and that does suck…a lot), you find yourself wondering if you will ever get another job and looking out the window quietly envious of all the people going to work. Neighborhoods and city streets are odd places in the non-lunch hours spanning 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the only people you see are sales representatives in the mid-sized non-horrible company car and soccer moms scurrying around doing errands before the kids are out of school. Oh, and you sitting in the window pondering your next move.

Socializing with people from work is a fascinating exercise in the bizarre. There you are, in a place with a group of people that you barely know, and the only official thing you have in common is that the same ever-changing company hired you all. When you are young, you foolishly socialize far more with your peers and end up doing something stupid and having to see them everyday. As you get older, you maintain a cordial but arm’s length friendship because you have seen too many of them come and go to grow attached. These people also see you at your apparent best: you prepare to go to work after eight hours of sleep, by usually wearing clean clothes and following rules you would never imagine following at home. So, people that see and interact with you more than your loved ones, are people that you rarely deal with except for the usual chit-chat and copy machine bon mots. The irony is not lost of me and the socialization allure usually dissipates after an office romance that went south or you being called on to terminate some old sweet lady’s job because of a downtrend in the business. It remains a beautiful world.

 6000 (Flying to Atlanta)

I hate the freaking airport.

The car turned 6000 just as I drove into the airport for a quick trip to Atlanta. The glamour of air travel has been tarnished significantly in the last five years as more and more people are traveling by air. Granted, it is faster than driving and more exciting that a bus, but airplane travel generally sucks. It sucks at many levels and the genus of this issue can be tracked to overbooked airlines, over packed travelers, dubious time schedules, overworked and underpaid crew members and a general cynical public. Oh, and the food. I used to think it was a cool and hip place: people jetting here and there with the world at their well-shined feet. However, today the airport reminds me of the numerous bus depots I had frequented as a youth.

The bus depots of the 1960's are roughly equivalent to the airports of this decade and considering the abuse the air-traveling public puts up with today, the bus depots must be on the other side of hell or the best kept secret since the artist community in Wanamingo. The thought of having to travel today, on a moderately tight schedule, is enough to make me try to convince the flight attendant to crack the bar open at 8 am.

The chance at adventure, the fear of the unknown and the opportunity to see and experience things outside my mundane world still sticks with me but the surrounding noise of inconvenience makes these positives ever harder to enjoy. I used to have to go to the airport a lot in my formative years and always enjoyed the overall vibe of slightly controlled excitement. My trip was pretty uneventful as I try not only to take the path less traveled, but also take the plane less crowded. Over the years I have developed a half a dozen traveling tips which makes my trips about one-third less annoying than the standard traveler. But for the most part, I won’t share them with anyone. But I will give you a hint as they involve my two top annoyances: the stupidity of people and the mind-numbing overcrowding.

Finally, things can go from bad to apocalyptically bad as amateur travelers make up a majority of the flying public. They take an inordinate amount of time getting settled: they need pillows, they need blankets, they need the stews for a series of petty tasks and they need you to cooperate to get them comfortable. Grasping their ticket envelope, jammed packed with every piece of correspondence remotely related to their life; they sit there and demand all the attention and all the resources of the ground crew to provide them with a non-horrible flight. Then, when the flight is over, they waddle their asses at the speed of glaciers up and down the aisle gathering up their dozens of crappy carry-on bags that they secretly stashed throughout the plane. They stashed this stuff all over the plane because they boarded early because they needed extra assistance due to the fact they are idiots. My, I am cranky.

The airport I am leaving from is under construction. The airport that I will fly into will also be under construction. The airports that I will fly into the next time will also be under construction and the whole thing never ends. I have landed in cities that I haven't been in five years and they are still under construction. I have landed in cities that have a brand new airport and they are under construction and I know cities I have never heard of are currently planning new construction. They have the cute little workman hatted graphic thanking me for my patience but they have no parking. They have signs with explanations with exclamations but other than the alliteration, I still endure.

I have been to the airport hundreds and hundreds of times and each time I begin the adventure, I hope for the best. Within minutes of entering the confines, I am amazed at the mass of humanity that is stuffed into this building and everyone is going someplace as fast as they can scoot. The days of going to an airport, parking less than a mile from the gate, waiting in line for less than 15 minutes and having the plane take off on time is, I fear, gone forever. The glamour of air travel is no more and it is lucky that I actually like Atlanta. The irony has not been lost on me.

7000 (Cleaning My Car)

It’s time. The car needs to be cleaned and I do it without a lot of enthusiasm. I like when the car is clean and free of clutter but the anxiety will begin to build all over again. I wash it and I wax it and I clean up all the little bits of food and personal debris that seems to collect in the nooks and crannies of the car and I realize what kind of slob I really am. Once the car was cleaned, I dutifully inventoried my trash and found scraps of paper, receipts, pens, a pulverized fortune cookie and an impressive amount of change. I started to think that I certainly couldn’t be the world’s sloppiest human being and I began to make a few calculations.

There are six billion people in the world and I am estimating there are five hundred million automobiles currently in existence. The number of cars wasn’t arrived at too scientifically but it seemed like a nice round number. If I conservatively estimate the average amount of garbage in each car at a half of a pound, this results in a total amount pile of car crap at two hundred and fifty million pounds. Continuing with my mathematical assumptions, two hundred and fifty million pounds extrapolates into one hundred and twenty-five thousand tons of fuzz, french fries, receipts, coins and encrusted bits of forgotten food.

If I continue my estimations, and figure out that approximately fifteen hundred tons of debris would completely fill a standard floor of an office building, the total amount of little bits of trash would completely fill up the Empire State Building. Try to image an eighty-six floor building, roughly one city block long and one city block wide, jammed to the rafters with candy wrappers, clumps of dirt and that fuzzy patina of crud that seems to collect within the recesses of car interiors. Also, if I allowed to estimate the amount of money within each car at fifty cents, the estimated worth of the car crap would be slightly under one half of a billion dollars. I assume that the poor countries would have no money and the rich countries probably average ten bucks per car, but I am just putting a pen to paper.

I also would like to think that my car trash isn’t much different that my counterparts in other countries. Everyone has a map that isn’t folded correctly, everyone has several pens in a variety of working order and everyone had food. The French probably ironically ignore pommes frites for baguettes crumbs while the Aussie’s likely have several licked-clean jars of Vegemite rolling around in the trunk. The Russians probably have the cleanest cars due to the brutal truth of their need of the bits of food to make supper. And finally, the Cubans have archeological layers of crap dating back to the mid-1950’s when Havana rocked. The years of continued use of their car combining with the stellar performance of communist rule likely show layers of value that increase as your dig down into the seats. It is tough wading through your own debris, much less seeing and feeling what Grandpa had for lunch during the Bay of Pigs.

In light of my revelations, my container full of crap didn’t seem too troubling. My attention was drawn to the fortune cookie, still in its protective wrapper, but I wasn’t too interested in the surviving orts. I was curious about the fortune so I unsealed the packet, picked through the crumbs and read the fortune: it declared that "You will be honored by someone you respect." I thought that was an interesting call because, as a rule, I don’t get much recognition and secondly, there aren’t a lot of people I respect. That is a bad combination for someone who wants to believe their cookie and eat it too.

8000 (Twins Game)

I have said it before and I will say it again, but baseball is like church: many attend but few understand. I was lucky to attend a game in which the resurgent Minnesota Twins defeated the hated New York Yankees. It was a nice spring evening to attend a game indoors with cool temperatures and an impending rainstorm on the horizon. I decided to skip a conventional dinner as I prefer to eat at the game. The food is good at the ballpark because there are no healthy choices. No one goes to the ballpark in search of a salad with the dressing on the side. You eat cooked tubes of hot dog meat, cooked tubes of bratwurst meat, peanuts and frosty malts. The only thing that I still don’t see are Cracker Jacks. We sing about them and I see them available for purchase, but no one eats them. I have always found that very strange. However, as usual, I digress.

I do not like indoor baseball and I loathe artificial turf but I am glad to be out of the elements. The Twins, as implied before, are coming into their own and the game was one good thing after another. We got down at an appropriate time and got a parking spot close to the stadium. We purchased a few seats, for less than face value, from a professional ticket broker working the corner, and found ourselves in foul ball heaven. I am forty-four years old and I have been attending regular games across the country for the last thirty-five years. In total, I have been to approximately three hundred games and only once did I have a good chance at a foul ball.

The game was late in the season and I was twenty-five rows up from the field between home and first. Both teams were sending up legions of right-handed hitters and the sections nearby were cascading with foul balls. All of a sudden, a foul was hit towards my general direction and I locked onto its flight. Looping towards me, I instinctively cupped my bare hands together to gather in the ball. Two things at this time surprised me: One, the velocity of the ball and Two: the rotation. The ball hit me square in the hands with an amazing combination of speed and spin and it unceremoniously bounced out and down about five steps into the waiting arms of some undeserving lout. My ego was the most bruised and I quickly sat down, staring at my hands.

The rules for foul ball catching are simple: play the rebound and bring your glove. Rarely, if ever, a person can snag a ball out the air without an error. Most people, myself included, are surprised at the shock of the ball hitting your hands. It is harder than you think and the opportunity to embarrass yourself in front of a few thousand strangers make it doubly hard. Finally, the more time you have to think about it, the more likely you will screw up. If instincts are able to take over, you stand a moderately good chance to grab the ball without a lot of theatrics. Take for example, a looping foul ball (see description above) that arcs high above your head and begins its downward path directly at you. You have about five seconds to think about all the times you wished you grabbed a foul ball and the troublesome admission you have accepted that you would push over a line of orphans and widowed grandmothers just to get a chance at a baseball.

Hope springs eternal and the boys of summer are looking good. I find pleasure and solitude at a ball game because there is always a possibility of something fantastic happening: a no-no, a bench-clearing brawl, examples of chin music, a banjo hitter, someone hitting a cycle, a balk, a walk that haunts or a suicide squeeze. Each batter has the opportunity; anytime he is up there, to hit a homerun or to strike out. The wide spectrum of possibilities makes for an exciting time.

9000 (The Bookstore)

The other place that brings me peace of mind is the bookstore. A place where a collection of ideas are there just for the taking. No one is badgering me for a sale and a place where you can take as much time as you wish to ponder a potential purchase. Many things today are not as good as years gone by, but the advent of the new, modern bookstore makes today’s innovation worth merit. Today’s bookstore has more titles, more selections, more room and thankfully, more comfy chairs than bookstores of past years. You can go into a bookstore, order a cup of strong coffee, browse your backside off and spend the whole afternoon puttering between European History and an impressive collection of Faulkner. I sometimes regret not being at Age of Entitlement, pre-war Berlin or Woodstock, but I don’t regret living in a society that is full of comfortable bookstores.

I don’t have a favorite bookstore: big chains or local owners are both wonderful. What I like are the places to go and find nooks to read in. I like to pull out a novel of some favorite writer or a writer I have been meaning to read and find myself a place off the beaten track. Once I begin to read, I am transported out of the store and directly into the story. The older works are especially pleasurable because their stories still stand up to today. If I read a book that is eighty years old and I am mesmerized by the author, it reaffirms the power of the well-written word. I am sad for my generations’ version of pulp fiction, complete with shiny covers and bodice-ripping text. The cookie-cutter approach to today’s literature insults me; especially when best selling author’s continue to write to the lowest common denominator and the public laps it up. There is one author, with the tired use of the alphabet in her titles, that makes me wonder what she will do once her completes her twenty-sixth book.

These days it is harder not to judge a book by its cover. The bright covers, complete with eye-popping graphics, make every book seem to be the next best thing. The jackets are drunk with mutual log rolling, making the assessment of each book almost impossible. Finally, the sheer volume of reading material makes for an ever-growing haystack to find the good stuff that today’s authors must be writing. In a large store, you have to have all the books available, not just the good ones. The growing collection of dummy books and the bargain books make for well-intentioned clutter, but clutter nonetheless.

Bookstores are my favorite indoor destination. I get excited as I walk in because of the building excitement of any treasure hunt. Maybe this is the day that I find a book that I have been hunting down or a book that I recently read about in the literary section of a newspaper. Reviews of books get my attention and if the opportunity to discover a new author or a subject that has long held my interest pops its literary head up, so much the better.

I don’t think I would like working in a bookstore because I find my visits there very personal. I don’t care to help someone find some stupid gardening book, especially if all they have to go on is a partial title (they think) or the author’s first name (they think) or a combination of both. I would stare at them with a look of disdain and tell them to come back when they generated enough brainpower to at least determine one piece of the puzzle. I realize that I wouldn’t make a good sales clerk so at least I got that going for me.

Back to Short Stories