An incurable disease

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“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly

November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin

warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my

hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent

me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats

off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

So said Herman Melville in Moby Dick

Some days, that’s how I feel. Grim about the mouth, my soul a dreary November day with

an unexplained urge to knock people’s hats off. I know then it is high time to get out to

sea. For me, “the sea” is any place other than home. It is a change in scenery that

hopefully involves a bookstore and small town charm. A place that will, for the moment,

slake my thirst to see and observe and find newness. I like to think that in another life,

another time, with other opportunities and choices, I would have been a hobo; a vagrant

with the insatiable need to wander. These days my wanderings don’t take me far but I

savor them nonetheless. Today, Tryon was my destination. A quaint mountain town with

a main street lined with shops, art gallery and cafés; it captured my heart. We parked and

wandered along the main street, past a small group of grey haired men sitting on a bench

in the sun. Their jovial greetings welcomed us to town, their infectious cheerfulness a

reminder that it was a beautiful, crisp, December morning and that we should enjoy each

moment of it. We poked around in a few shop. The antique store filled with old license

plates, shot glasses and black and white photos of strangers; a short wander through a

hardware store that smelled deliciously of oil and paint and tools and had dark, creaking

wood floors. I love the smell of hardware stores and the useful flotsam and jetsam of big

silver basins, jars of screws, hammers and saws. Lunch was at a small café/bakery. A

warm, cozy retreat that smelled of fresh bread. A glass display case showed off

ridiculously tall cakes and mouth-watering brownies. The coffee was perfection.

And, of course, no trip would be complete without a stop at a bookstore. The Village

Bookstore is tucked away around a corner, behind a door painted black with a bell that

rings when you open it. A sweet little shop, it begs visitors to come in and stay awhile. It

is soft twilight inside, but subtly placed lights bring pools of light to dark corners and

illuminate book titles. Neat rows of used books march across shelves with labels carefully

tacked into the wood, announcing genres that range from fiction to history to local

authors. Oh those words. Those delicious, amazing, fresh, inspiring, liberating words,

sandwiched between two covers. I lose myself among them all, sitting on the floor to scan

pages. I can tell within moments if I’ll be drawn in by the story or left bored and

untouched. I carefully collect a chosen few and then tear myself away before I spend more

than I should. By the time I purchase my three treasures, I feel as if I have taken a trip to

some far off place and have returned, restored and refreshed.

For a time, a brief time, my hobo heart is happy.

John Steinbeck wrote of this urge, this compulsion, to leave one’s home like a restless

nomad. In his book “Travels With Charley,” he talks about how people told him maturity

would cure him of this affliction, and then middle age, and finally, perhaps, senility would do the job. Yet it does not.

“Four hoarse blasts of a ship’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to

tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on

pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and

the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don’t improve; in

further words, once a bum, always a bum. I fear the disease is incurable.”

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