Watching is better than asking sometimes: Random bits of Journal 16

Changing my mind about jobs from hour to hour. [Page 31, Thursday night-early Friday, 26 June 1996]

Was going to sit in the Bull Run on a quiet Monday night, just have a beer and write. No such doings–the place was packed, with Bucknellians, I guess. Looked at the map for over an hour tonight. It’s easy to do when I have other things I could be doing. Well, anyway, I looked at the map of Illinois compared to maps of eastern states. Lots of straight lines in Illinois–square roads. Small areas of metropolitan yellow separated by vast safe distances of white. Out here yellow is splashed all over the place (Connecticut, NYC) and all the lines–roads, county borders, park limits, etc.–are all curvy and jagged. And I was thinking about going back to Illinois and remembering what I didn’t like about Illinois. You can see the towns–here, you can’t–that’s true, but you can see all the town, take it in at once glance. There’s no hills, hardly anywhere. Pennsylvania is pretty, that’s for shore. There’s hills. I like hills, mountains, even these ridge-hills here. They’re pretty. ‘Course, there are other reasons I’m going back to Illinois, Darling ranking first among them. And culturally, Urbana is right there. [Page 64-5, Mon. night, 12 August 1996, 11-ish, Towne Tavern]

The [magazine] story isn’t new or fresh when it gets to the reader (who also reads it in solitude). It’s just a piece of text (filler, essentially) that goes in this month’s issue, and then there’ll be more copy to replace it in next month’s–there must be! For there must be another magazine next month to print the ads and make the money and keep the jobs and make the owners wealthy. This is the real significance of the story, of any story–copy. Text. Filler. It may mean something to the reader, it may change his mind or inform him, etc., but to the writers and editors and production people, it’s just copy. Sure, they love it when a story sparks controversy or elicits a reader’s letter, but they like that not so much for the intellectual-leadership function , the “bringing truth to the people,” as much as it is because it generates interest that increases sales and, eventually, ad revenue. God, this sounds cynical. But if magazines were really about teaching and ideas and publishing ideas and informing the public, they likely wouldn’t publish on a regular schedule. They would publish only when they had a story that they felt must be published, a story whose publication would benefit the public good.  [Page 174-5, Tues. 14 Jan. 1997, at Perkins restaurant]

The older guy–50s–facing me from the next booth smiled and shrugged when those two guys left without paying. We all heard their situation–they said, with kind of an honest but slightly edgy tone–that they didn’t want to be rude. The black-haired guy sitting right behind me said to his buddy when he got here that he liked the atmosphere here. Wonder what he thinks now? The older guy smoking Salems–I wondered why he was sitting in the smoking section. Didn’t like like a smoker, seemed kindly but had a corporate moral-ambivalence to him. He told the manager and bus-fellow that the pair went back to the kitchen and around the side but couldn’t find anybody [to give their money to]. The manager said they could have just left their money on the table, but I thought, what if they only had a $20 and their bill was much less? I wouldn’t just leave my credit card (which is how I have to pay, having no cash ’til later this week). [Page 185, Tues. 14 Jan. 1997, at Perkins restaurant]

Weekday mornings here in town–sleepy, yet overtones of work, not entirely comfortable. The straight-walled old houses, two-stories, brick, rectangular homes. Guy in the little house next door was without kids this weekend, unlike last weekend when he brought them here and they played on the dirt pile. Watching is better than asking sometimes, like this kid setting up his household in the lawn. It’s probably just a yard sale but it’s more fun if I make the story up. [Page 10, 15 June 1996]

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