October 03, 2009

That's What the Simple Folk Do

This rain reminds me of the Northeast, an old-fashioned all-day soak with no lightning-and-thunder drama, no floods, no power outages. I’m letting cars pass me –- this is new –- and somehow through ignorance I end up in the thick traffic to the Austin City Limits Music Festival. But I smile, it’s a Saturday of no plans. Wet couples and small groups, mostly in their twenties and thirties, walk straggly-haired across the bridge over the Colorado, and it surprises me how many of the young women are wearing skirts or dresses; it reminds me of when we went back to Ann Arbor in 1976 and found that, during the three-year interval since graduation, coeds had started putting on makeup and wearing skirts again.

I’m going shopping –- strange. So this is how people spend their Saturdays! I’m buying gifts for my hosts for my forthcoming foreign stay: two children’s Texas Longhorns T-shirts in burnt orange, and two gospel CDs, one of black music and one of white. (That’s America.) Do they have a CD player at their home? I’m betting yes; after all, they’re not in the bush. Then I drive from bookstore to bookstore looking for a copy of the Constance Garnett translation of Crime and Punishment -– the Roman Polanski uproar has made me want to reread it, but I doubt if Roman’s going to find redemption in the arms of a saintly whore in the end –- and the third store I try has one used copy, with decent-size print no less.

Four o’clock and I haven’t eaten since breakfast -– this is new too -- so I swing by the Cajun saloon-restaurant, imagining fried oysters. The small parking lot is full as always but a space opens right at the front door, and I start toward it, but by the time I begin guiding my slow turn there’s a big beer-bellied man standing in the way, slurping from a 32-ounce Styrofoam of soda pop. I wait for him to see me -– he doesn’t move –- he’s standing smack between the white lines -- I extend my arm to show I want to get through -- he slurps, doesn’t move. He’s wearing a purple LSU T-shirt: this bar’s the Louisiana sports headquarters of Austin and today’s game day, the place is packed with his type. I wait, he slurps. Shaking my head, I go into reverse and, before pulling away, draw up beside him and roll down my window and say with a smile, “Thanks, you’re a prince.” How I’ve mellowed! As I’m driving away it dawns on me he’s not absolutely being a prick, he’s saving the space for a friend. I can identify, which makes it -- does it? -- all right.

To the fancy supermarket in the heavy rain -– plastic bags today, not paper! –- and I nosh on free samples to tide me over till home. I skip the pears and the avocados, they’re hard as rocks despite the loyal service workers slicing them into quarter-moons and the customers accepting them without a qualm -– I pick up a container of the house gumbo which is really good, and German bread to dip in it. And a large coconut macaroon half-draped in chocolate: “I think this is the best thing in the store!” the cashier says to me. One must remember they’re not flirting, they’re just being friendly.

After the gumbo I have coffee and take a nap, the perfect wakeup routine because when the nap’s over the coffee’s just taking effect, and start Philip K. Dick’s In Milton Lumky Territory -– how is it I’ve been reading him for thirty-five years and haven’t gotten to all his books yet? I’ve got two rental movies for this evening, and best of all, I’ve had time to write something of my own, even if it’s only this.

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