by Martin Murie
(Swans - August 13, 2007) Drove the fifty-odd miles, my computer in the back of the truck, ailing, probably a virus. The computer guys wouldn't be available until three o'clock. I went to the bookstore to check on my book titles. The owner apologized. "They haven't been selling very well." She went to the crowded corner labeled Adirondack History. A big easy chair was blocking a sizeable part of the bookcase. She tugged it aside and crouched and searched in the floor-level shelf for my books. It took her a while to find my five titles. I was chuckling to myself. We went through the paperwork. I took back the two titles that had been on consignment, went away, feeling pretty good, knowing that I didn't have to go back there ever again as a "Bookseller Without Borders."
Most bookstores, chain or not, are addicted to mainstream and if they are anywhere near a destination place, like the Adirondacks, they don't favor oddball books that are centered somewhere else. That obsession is what put my novels in the Adirondack History location. Same scene in Jackson Hole; same in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. I argued with two owners in Maine, suggesting that tourists that moved across country, Maine to Michigan to South Dakota and points in between, might possibly include a few folks that wouldn't mind reading a book like Breakout. No.
Drove to the other bookstore, "Peaceful Dove." A sign on the door. "Closed For Vacation. Back July 31." Still too early to turn over the computer to the computer place, so I walked the streets of the old part of town. Narrow curving streets, tall buildings built to last, brick or stone. It was dying. I went into a half-empty food joint, ordered a BLT, opened a book, Humanitarian Imperialism. (1) I sensed that the woman at a nearby table was staring at me in a level, unwavering way, her husband shoveling food into his mouth. I closed the book, met the woman's gaze, wondering if she wanted to have a little conversation, noticed her right hand holding a cell phone to her ear. It happens to all of us, turning into an object to look through. The BLT came, cheapest item on the menu, nothing to brag about. I crossed the street to the Coffee Camp, ordered a single espresso. It was weak, served in a paper cup. Tasted of paper cup. I walked the streets for a while, killing time. Back to the truck. I'd parked it in deep shade under a big spreading maple.
I drove to where the action is: malls, chain restaurants, dealerships, etcetera. Temperature in the nineties. Found some shade to park in, walked. Steady flow of traffic, vehicles turning into and out of the stream, bringing a memory: Priest Rapids on the Columbia River. We had carried the canoe past the worst part, ran the rest. Relentless sounds, the traffic, the river.
Martin Murie (right) & friends,
Grand Coulee, Columbia River, 1949 (2)
I turned into a strip mall. Tried to stir up some interest in the usual stuff. Came to a couch and a cushioned armchair, sat down, closed my eyes. Wasn't long before a voice asked, "You comfortable?" I opened my eyes. Just a shopper. I stood, offered him my seat.
"No, that's all right. I'm looking for a futon." There was something there that looked sort of like a futon. I left him to it.
Having exhausted the pleasures of musty air conditioning, I went back to the blazing heat, noticed a sign further down the main drag, "Kinney's Drugs." Went that way, long slog and a right turn into a huge parking lot. I stood there, amazed, estimating the acreage of empty blacktop. At least six, probably more. The strip mall, looking tiny in the distance; vehicles in a single line, like flotsam cast up by the black sea that was showing cracks in its asphalt, adjacent lots dry and pale, loaded with heat-loving weeds. I thought of the old center of Plattsburgh, next to Lake Champlain, the scene of a decisive naval battle in our second war with the British Empire, the one we call "The War Of 1812," and the new center of Plattsburgh, twentieth and twenty-first centuries and how all that would follow the British Empire into oblivion, probably quicker this time because the structures along the traffic stream were low and built for quick profit, our empire fading fast, trying desperately to build up a surge of sincere interest in another Harry Potter print while military families wait for the knock on the door and ask, "Why are we over there?"
Hey, just trying to report what came to mind in the one and only foot traveler on a long hot slog across that desert expanse into the sudden freeze of air conditioning. Found a 95 ink jet enclosed in the usual burglar-proof hard plastic, in the usual place, school supplies. Three dollars knocked off the usual price. I brought one to the counter. A pile of Harry Potter paperbacks there, for impulse buying, I supposed. I riffled through one of them. Acres of print. I'd heard the author was, finally and at long last, taking a vacation. Good news, but she'd left the door slightly ajar.
Back into the black glare. Oh well, it killed time. Moved the truck to the computer place, backed it into shade, browsed in the adjacent flower shop. Cold in there. A computer guy showed up, only a few minutes late. Once inside I asked if he might have time to work on it this afternoon. No, it was the other guy who did the Mac work. He would probably call me tomorrow.
2. Ed. Note: In the summer of 1949, Lemont Richardson (left on the picture), Mark Knoel (center), and Martin Murie embarked on a journey from Revelstoke, British Columbia, to Portland, Oregon, using a canoe to travel the Columbia River. This picture was taken in Grand Coulee in Washington state by a local newspaper's photographer. Exact date unknown. Courtesy of Martin Murie. (Priest Rapids is south of Wenatchee, WA.) (back)
If you find our work useful and appreciate its quality, please consider making aMoney is spent to pay for Internet costs, maintenance and upgrade of our computer network, and development of the site.