I remember it very well. I was four years old. I had gotten bored of waiting for my parents as they leafed through second-hand books in one of the marquee tents and had wandered off. This was when the book festival was still very much in its infancy, housed in just a couple of marquees by the river, before the throngs of people and the shuttle buses and national sponsors and fields full of cars.
I strolled across the small grassy clearing formed by the circle of tents. It was a hot day and the sun fell down into the valley onto the white tents and the willow and ash trees, and the river glistened and I saw the Black Mountains rolling like ocean swells, the sun drilled down into the hillside soil.
I stopped walking once I reached the middle of the clearing. That was when I saw him, in the short shade of the catering tent, sat alone at the counter, an old man. He was wearing a blue shirt and loose fitting trousers. I could see his beer gut hanging over his waistband, long grey hair and spiky white whiskers on his face. His face might have been carved from wood. He was drinking from a paper cup and smoking a cigarette. I figured he was at the festival to do a poetry reading. I stood watching him a moment, then walked over.
“Hello, Mr Bukowski.” I said.
“I’m a big fan of your dirty stories.”
“I especially like the one where you spy on a woman get fucked by a tiger. That was a good one.”
“Aren’t you a little young to ready stuff like that?” His voice was soft. There were other people at the tent but they paid him no attention, he wasn’t as big here as on the continent.
“Probably, but I know where my dad hides his dirty magazines. They don’t know that I read them, my parents, I mean.”
He laughed. “That’s probably for the best.”
“How long are you in town for, Mr Bukowski?”
“Oh, I’m leaving tomorrow, I can’t be away for too long you understand, I’ve got a girlfriend who puffs up like a frog and jumps all over me!”
Wow, I thought, and I watched him light another cigarette and it was obvious from the gentle way in which he did it that he had a big heart.
“Well, I have to go,” I said, “It was nice talking to you Mr Bukowski. Goodbye.”
“Don’t let ‘em beat you, kid”, he said, raising the beer cup to me, and I heard him chuckle as I walked away to search for my parents.
Well, that was 24 years ago and I suppose that I am defeated, but not by them, I have defeated myself. Four months ago today I returned from a year long trip away and I’m still looking for a job and I already have my routine, nothing has changed, people go to the same jobs they went to as before, living that same life, every day.
I might have known this is what awaited me. All those times that I wanted to come home, what did I expect to come home to? After my first trip away, it took months to find a job. Even after that I didn’t really understand it when people say that it takes guts to give everything up and go. My line of thinking remained the same: it’s the easiest thing in the world! I’ll figure it all out after, the job included, how hard can it be? But I believe now that I am beginning to understand.
I write letters, even when I know there’s not going to be anything, it puts a weight on you, wasting time looking for something you know you’re not going to find.
What shit this is; I returned home like a fully-charged battery and the job hunt is a giant industrial machine sucking the life force out of you.
It would be hella easier if I didn’t do these things in the first place. Then I could accept anything. Perhaps by now I would be simply lost in the tiny details of a job doing the same tasks over and over every day and I wouldn’t know any different. But I’ve done them and the memories aren’t going to slip away like everything else distant, so it’s hard to accept the dull routine of my new life. I understand that you have to come down sometime, like a chopper, you can’t stay up there forever, down to the street, but goddammit, this is like a crash landing.
It seems an awful long time ago; the beaches, volcanoes, the earthquakes, the afternoon walks, the danger, feeling the sun on my skin, the Spanish voices, the music of the birds in the patio, San Salvador, Santa Marta, I want to go back to when I was happier than I’d ever been, exultingly, and now I’m sitting in my room pretending it’s ok when it’s not because I miss her, I miss her so much, happy birthday baby, and I think of my hero sat on that stool at the Hay festival, nobody ever said so much in so little, with a laconic cool borrowed from the immortality of James Dean, the best there ever was, the best there’ll ever be, he helps.