Sunday, September 11, 2011


with Hurricane Irene

Twelve days, post-Irene, we received back our phone service and returned to our home life of fetching mail and bookshop orders the old-fashioned way — wait & see.

This ended twelve days of road travel and finding curious ways of getting out of this river valley clobbered about by the Irene flood. The road is looking better — we now have two miles down river from the covered bridge that is part normal and part one-lane and be courteous to your neighbor also on the road. But UPS still won't come down.

I can remember this vivid portrait the day after the storm when we came back from searching on bicycles what had happened to this region, only to find half the valley neighbors caught on a river bed ragged left road, all-a-tangle and gossip, cars, trucks, ATVs, those on-foot and now we join on bicycles, trying to get through a bottle neck.

Service trucks to repair things couldn't even begin to get down, so first the neighbors had to rebuild parts of this road and pack it down with their determination at either having a town habit of getting-to-town, or simply needing supplies or some relief right after the flood. But the road got remade in pieces and lumps.

Next came the power company to restore broken lines in at least a temporary relief kit (piggybacking electric lines), then the town road crew made a long bumpy ride inspection, some dumptrucks of gravel followed, and after that we saw a pole setter crew out in the hard rain standing up new poles for the telephone repair to get underway. It took awhile. It had to take awhile.

We visited town and college libraries everywhere and everyone on the staff was accommodating and friendly. Stay positive cynics!

One day we found ourselves in the deep bowels of a basement reference library pretty with two or three brand new wide screen Apple Macs at our whimsy. After struggling and learning the ropes with Dells and whatnot's, on the final days of searching we got behind the controls of old and familiar friends. This only inspired us to climb throughout the library multilevel floors, dark and catacomb-like, monkish immediately in feeling, and tremendous thousands upon thousands upon many more thousands of books in all languages and subjects at our fingertips. Too overwhelming to even begin to want to concentrate. We were enthralled by the spectacle of so much tenderness to books. Our climbing brought us to a tower that was closed. Students have this paradise at their daily disposal.

Back to earth we were making mailing labels, by hand, going from small town Texas to big place Australia and elsewhere. From a country that Gallup now estimates is in a "disengagement crisis" costing America in the order of $300 billion in lost productivity annually. I don't see this happening in the library we are playing somewhat mischief in, nor the town. It seems to be on a progressive cycle with an in-grain network of wealth. This wealth has been usurped, stolen, taken, misplaced, earned, manipulated, inherited, maintained with a fluency from a vast resource much too complicated to point any one finger at, but I'm getting closer and closer to pointing. I only see terrific losses in the majority of other small town New England and forgotten hamlets. Places easily washed away. Places that once were the charm and mother lode.

What is haunting is the massive library of books — all lit by the big windows with the lights shut off — that appear in unison,
untouched. Clean, upright, deliriously rich title after title and not one book pushed or jiggled out of place; with a lone student burrowed into a study carol in one corner, ears plugged in, face eating a computer screen. Oblivious to our book phantom frolic. Does this matter where it is? It's in America.

During all these travel days I've had just the companion with us — Roberto Bolaño's
Between Parentheses (New Directions). Great title for all of us! A volume collecting most of the brash and stellar newspaper columns and articles published between 1998 and 2003. The more I read of Bolaño, and I've read everything translated into English, the more I miss him. He's the Gombrowicz of our time and every time needs a Gombrowicz. There's nastiness and tenderness to the Bolaño touch, just as there is in the best of the natural world. He's so fine at celebrating and dismissing. He can't help but be everlasting with these qualities. He happens to think humor and curiosity are the two most important components of intelligence.

I've also had
Anne Grimes Collection of American Folk Music, book and CD, and this has provided a wood nutty taste to the travels.

Last night our son Carson gave us a lift in from town where we had gathered up from a day of travel four satchels of books and things. Precious notebooks stashed away with precious notes in jacket pockets and inner sleeves. We'd all talk nonstop on the ten mile drive catching up on where we've all been and how things are.

Roberto Bolaño

top photo © bob arnold