I’m stuck in a big chain bookshop in Salem, New Hampshire, and thinking of how often I write my letters when I’m enjoying a rare moment of immobility. I needed to get my tires replaced, so I need to occupy myself for the next three hours while I wait. The mural in front of me features the grim visages of William Faulkner, John Steinbeck and T.S. Eliot, their oddly nailless hands occupied with holding cigarettes and raising cups of espresso. Here, the office phone doesn’t ring. There is nothing to distract me. I am face to face with these three men, with their pipes and demitasses.
You would think a bookstore would be a good place to find literary inspiration. But it seems I’m surrounded by people who are here for the bagels. My stomach is rumbling. I just dropped my paycheck on a set of Goodyears. Still, I’m thankful for a warm cup of coffee. I stare deeper into the faces of Faulkner, Steinbeck and Eliot, but they are cold and expressionless. Plastic. They don’t regard me with condemnation or warm-hearted encouragement. I imagine the thoughts in their heads have more to do with coffee and tobacco than the tangled paths of literary experience. Who knows? Maybe they are daydreaming of mermaid songs? I do not think they will sing to me.
No, I’m thinking about tires. I start coming up with brand names that accord with my spirit on this cold day: Badyears, Ashstones, Bridgefallens. Such thoughts get me in trouble for sounding too depressing. But where’s the fun in having fun? Nice is so boring. I wouldn’t even be writing this if my tire pressure warning light hadn’t menaced me into a detour to a border warehouse.
Shake it off, man. This is the holiday issue! Glue a smile to your face and get ready for cookies (can’t eat ’em, on a diet) and eggnog (can’t drink it, tired of punishing my liver) and … and …
Truth told, I’m excited about the holidays, and I don’t need to pretend. I’m excited because I have a beautiful wife, and a baby, and a toddler, and they will be excited, and that’s all that matters. My cynical sad sackery has nothing on a terrible two bursting with what and why questions. To her, the whole world is never-ending fireworks, a psychedelic mystery of doors opening onto other doors, as though all life is unending revelation. Throw a Christmas tree into the picture, and lights, and a bunch of goofy hats, and you have a child ready to explode with joy. A lesson to us all. Hang some tinsel from my beard and sign me up for revels.
The great part about gray days is that they leave you longing for warmth. You wouldn’t know the true gift of heat if you didn’t also know the wind and rain. And family matters more when you find yourself alone in the world with no company other than blank faces and blank pages staring back at you.
So I write. And sure enough, the hours pass, the wheels align, and the highway calls again.
Contact Doug at firstname.lastname@example.org