On the Road Again

     Nine years ago I moved away from the pleasant hell of Southern California to Vermont, where I helped set up this illustrious news page.
     Now I am moving back to Southern California, for reasons that do not escape me, because I never once held those reasons in my hand.
     What does an editor take from the wreckage of nine years of his life?
     I shall tell you, in case any of y’all ever – shun the thought – have to deal with an editor.
     These are the things that one editor valued:
     All of my red pens.
     An official Jesse Helms U.S. Senate coffee cup, presented to me by one of the senator’s friends.
     Nine hundred pounds of books about Shakespeare. (Kahn: forthcoming, perhaps.)
     Three cool seashells.
     A small bowl carved from agate that never served any purpose and never will.
     The complete recordings of Glenn Gould.
     My bicycle, and my other bicycle.
     Three saxophones, two clarinets, a flute, and 100 lbs. of sheet music, including “The Charlie Parker Omnibook,” 70 pages of transcriptions of John Coltrane solos, and the Mozart, Nielsen and Copland clarinet concertos.
     A frying pan, a pot, a sharp knife, and a cool whirly thing that whips stuff up.
     Three Parker pens.
     A pen carved from mammoth bone that never worked, but my sister gave it to me.
     A wooden ball carved by Tarahumara Indians, to be kicked through Copper Canyon on a 100-mile footrace.
     Three large, heavy and unwieldy dictionaries.
     Why anyone would drag so many dictionaries across the country is, I admit, a poser. I guess I just want to be sure. Oh, all right, if you insist: the condensed O.E.D., Webster’s Second Unabridged, and the Random House.
     Box after box containing 40 novels I have written, two of which have been published.
     The other 38? … Well, no one else seems to care about them.
     The collected works of Max Frisch.
     The collected works of Pablo Neruda.
     “The Innocent,” by Ian McEwan.
     H.L. Mencken’s three “Books of Days.”
     A Dutch book containing the complete paintings and sketches of Vincent van Gogh.
     A backscratcher.
     Thelonious Monk’s complete recordings on Prestige Records.
     My dog, Chester, an Akita, who weighs 93 lbs. and will sit in the back seat and protect me from bad men along the road.
     Chester, of course, is the most important of all. Because he’s alive, and he loves me. He can’t help it. He just does. I love him too, and I can’t help it either.
     When I get to California, I plan to buy a dog to keep Chester company. I hope to find him a puppy mastiff, to raise as his own. The mastiff, of course, will grow to be bigger than Chester, but will always see Chester as his dad.
     I like big dogs. Not to keep bad men away from me – though they do that – but because I find it comforting to be around big dogs. I like to lean against them, and to have them lean on me. Plus, they have great ears, and hear things I can’t.
     Love is big. I like it when it leans up against me. When it goes away I miss it.
     Next week I shall send y’all a dispatch from the road.
     In case you wonder how America is doing.

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