Sunday, July 20, 2014

One Drop

Drop Danny off. Make them some coffee. Feed the cats.  Go home, get back in bed.

That was my list for yesterday morning, but as I drove away from my brother's house I had a whim. "Why not go to Asheville today?" So I did.

I hit 25 north at about 11 AM, a notebook, a pen, and a pack of cigarettes for companions. I sang loudly to several old CDs I had rattling around in the car and felt good. I felt freedom and well-being and graditude and true purpose and joy for the moment. Rain fell. I knew I had an umbrella in the trunk, so if a true deluge came I could utilize it as I strolled ways unknown to me.

With time to kill, I explored the city's streets and its record stores and art galleries and used book shops. The smell of old books is like no other. It's a musty, old smell, an organic smell, a living smell. The pages contain much more than the words printed on them. Much like thrifted clothing, there's a secret history within every used book - the sweat and coffee stains and tears of previous owners, the smells of their homes and things they cooked there, the psychic information transmitted from the readers to the books as they lived through whatever their lives were at the moment when that book enriched them. Buying a book second hand, you don't get these stories delivered straight to your waking consciousness, but it comes to you unconsciously when you smell or touch them. As you leaf through the pages your soul expands, connecting you to the lives of those who previously held, read, loved or hated or merely liked or disliked that book.

On the streets of an unfamiliar city I feel in my element. In Pack Square before the Vance Memorial Obelisk stood two young men with anti-war signs - Sean and Shane. I introduced myself, chatted with them a moment and asked where I could get a good cup of coffee. I was pointed in the direction of a cafe in proximity.

"Is there a demonstration today? Got more people coming?"
"There's usually more people here," said Shane, "but it's an even more powerful statement to just have two guys standing here in the rain." I admired their fortitude and good cheer.

I sat with my coffee and air dried and thought about where I was, what I was doing, how it made me feel. It was a sense of freedom that I've only ever experienced when alone and on the road. It was intoxicating. Freedom is the most magnetic, the most healthful, the most joy-bringing, and possibly the most dangerous of intoxicants. One drop from its cup and you are bound to it forever. When you've tasted freedom, you will never be free from a constant seeking after it.

The sky stayed gray all day. I meandered aimlessly in search of drinks. Bars were everywhere, but what I wanted was a small hole in the wall with atmosphere. Not a show-up-on-a-moped-drink-till-you-pass-out-and-sleep-in-the-sawdust-underneath-the-bar kind of dive, mind you, but something a bit out of the way. I took an unexpected turn onto Broadway and began climbing a hill when a huge, framed poster of Bob Dobbs peered out from just such a place. I knew I'd found my bar - Tiger Mountain Thirst Parlour.

The place was dead, which was unfortunate, but the bartender was sweet and cool and there was some good rock and roll I'd never heard on the turntable. I ordered a whiskey and a beer and chatted with her. I forgot to ask her name. A few people came in, ordered drinks. A dude in a flat-brimmed baseball cap sat near me and set a book on the bar. He explained to the bartender that it was his 34th birthday.

"Got any Jameson?"
"No, I'm sorry we're out right now." He was taken aback.
"Alright. Got any Crown? I'll have Crown on the rocks."

"What're ya readin' there?" I asked.
"It's a book about the Sicilian mafia. I'm big into anything about the mafia." He talked about the differences between the mobs here and over there and how he got interested in the subject because his Dad was a forensic psychologist and his mom got him interested in reading really young. He told me all about Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski and how he'd once tied someone up in a cave and let a bunch of rats eat him alive.

I finished my drinks and leaned out into the dusk with no plan. The darkling sky tried hard to crush my mood but failed and I climbed Broadway with warmth and unknown purpose and that feeling of freedom. The whole night was ahead of me.