Saturday, May 28, 2011

Schopenhauer or a Stetson?

As the days pass and no details are forthcoming of my pending sojourn in windy Washoe County, I'm still wondering what I should do in the meantime to my improvement, profit or moral edification. It feels like enforced retirement - good practice for the real thing, I suppose, but a bit unwelcome because so uncertain when my free time will end and my indenturement commence. Always waiting for the phone to ring, the ball to drop, the train to leave the station while I'm having a pint in the public.

There's no want of things a person might do to fill the days, but I have a limited range of interest and a fairly fixed idea of all the Things I'll Never Do (skateboarding), Things I'll Never Do Again (play Monopoly) and Things I Wouldn't Be Caught Dead Doing, which probably number in the millions. I don't mean to imply that just because I've never done a thing means I'd never do it. I've never worn a cowboy hat, but that's not to say I'd never wear one. I might . . .

. . . or I might not. (Depends on things like how big my nose gets.) But among the latter class of amusement, I can't see myself roaming city parks, public beaches, playgrounds, brownfields, spent nuclear fuel dumps and septic fields with a metal detector. It seems beneath notice, like scavenging or collecting discarded soda cans, except that in those particular instances one might accurately say that someone has to do it. It's a timid and grubbing form of adventure.
(Always wanted to be an explorer)

Amusements that require gasoline never much interested me. The fire roads hereabout are awash in exhaust fumes; the backcountry resonates with buzzy ATVs and dirt bikes. They rut the hiking trails, gouge the national forest, scarify the wildlife and generally extend the predations of those whose physical condition might, in a juster universe, forestall their mindless career. 

Wagering and games of chance hold no charm, although I'd rather gamble in a back alley than in a casino. I have a recurring dream in which I go to a casino by mistake, thinking it's a Budget Inn, find myself bound and duct-taped, forced to buy a ticket and sit through a musical act featuring Brenda Lee and Barry Manilow.

There would of course be domestic repercussions were I to beguile the time by asking other women out on dates. And, in the improbable and unsought event that I might win some aged heart, I could no longer feel that I had any stake in it.

No, the one safe thing I might undertake with any enjoyment is to pursue a bookish life. I can see myself haunting the dust-hazed aisles of a quaint bookshop, like the one where a tweedy Anthony Hopkins presided in "84 Charing Cross Lane."

Such a place is spacious, bright and elegant . . .

. . . the haunt of people themselves bright and elegant, perhaps slightly down at heel but still genteel, absent minded, perhaps pipe smokers, each quietly absorbed in some dog-eared edition of Schopenhauer or Joseph Scaliger.

"Egad - that had never occurred to me!"

The gentleman at the counter, I imagine, also looks much like Anthony Hopkins, and if I were to ask him for anything by Paracelsus, or for Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy," he would tell me in hushed tones exactly where I might find it on a shelf, rather than mentally riffle through his list of paperback romances to try and place the title.

 And whenever I left the shop, I imagine, I would always be delighted with my latest purchase and would always look as rapturously happy as this fellow:

 (Can't wait to get to a bathroom)

I'm certain such places must exist, because I've seen photographs of them and they appear in utterly plausible movies, and most of them seem to be situated along elegant pedestrian thoroughfares in lovely places.

But in actual life, all the bookstores I can find that advertise "used" or "rare" or "antiquarian" books are located in strip malls. The parking lot is empty, the windows are dark, the sign says "Open." The place always seems to be uninhabited, and it generally is, except occasionally for some lost soul who might be either reading or dozing, or just come in because they've missed the bus to rehab.

The shelves sag with the same unvarying assortment of used paperbacks - battered copies of "I'm OK, You're OK" or Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock" or . . . 

The place is bathed in a sinister silence. And sitting at the counter is, not the discreet and knowledgeable Anthony Hopkins in his English leather wingtips, but some photophobe, reading his annotated copy of "The Bourne Identity," who looks more like Rod Steiger in "The Pawnbroker." To enter would be to intrude upon the dust of ages, to desecrate the solitude of a tomb, perhaps startle the bibliophilic bat who presides over the stillness.

So I never go in. Maybe it's time to get me a Stetson and get out a bit more.

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