I was just thinking about how much has changed in the last six years or so. Once upon a time, when I got that constricted feeling in my chest that said “if you stick around the house one more second you’ll explode” I’d go down to a bar. Not because I had a drinking problem really, but because that’s where all my friends were.
Most of my friends were musicians. There was something about the serious ones, the ones who burned inside. It reminded me that feeling was a good thing, and that it’s okay to be down as long as you try to turn it into something. But I was also friends with a lot of bartenders and waitresses, because like myself, they were spectators of an ever-changing freak-show. I only know a few people here in Arkansas, and chances are if I walked into a bar I might find someone I could talk to, but I don’t go out much anymore.
I went to Walmart. I needed light bulbs. They’ve been burning out all over the house. It’s the price of reading in every room. As I watched the employees scraping the floor around the endcap displays, and wheeling pallet-jacks around the aisles, I thought about the picture I must present to the casual reader of my blog. Let’s get one thing out in the open. For most of my life, I’ve been a shlep. Shlep this here, move it there, and answering an endless stream of questions: “Oh, that’s over on aisle five.”
When I got to Arkansas, I became a different kind of shlep. I shlepped business cards and other printing jobs over a hundred mile route each day. Then I graduated to button pusher. I sat at a processing machine, churning out 3,000 to 5,000 photographic prints a day. I think that’s part of what forced a change. It was so boring that I would put a book on the table beside me and read.
The job is history, but the reading isn’t. Now, when I want to run into someone I know I go to a bookstore. I ran into three people I knew tonight at Barnes and Noble. Now the topic of conversation is likely to be Hopkins and Yeats, rather than Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Most of the people I know here have no clue how weird that makes me feel.
Light reading is no longer Trouser Press and Spin, it’s I.A. Richard’s Philosophy of Rhetoric and Genette’s Narrative Discourse. What, me an academic? How the fuck did that happen. I must have got slammed too hard in the pit.
Okay, so I’ve always been a closet literature reader. It just took the exciting and thrilling sights of Arkansas to bring me out of the closet. Okay, I’m out now.
After-hours party philosophy and the encrustations of the ages carry similar weight though. There are some lessons that only life can teach you. However, once you’ve learned them, it’s good to get back to the books. My main desire was that if I had to say “may I help you” all the time, it would be to direct them towards something good to read, rather than drain-cleaner for their backed-up sink.