Greetings from LaGuardia Airport, where I'm waiting to board the last of three flights that will take me back to Portland. From there I will ransom my car and drive an hour, and then I will collapse into a sobbing, Godforsaken mess.
I'm at that dangerous stage of exhaustion where everything is annoying, and LaGuardia makes that worse. It's filthy, it's sprawling, it's disorganized, it's inconvenient and it's a willful mystery to new visitors. Signs are scarce, hidden, confusing and sometimes incorrect. Airport personnel are hard to find, except for security guards, who can't or won't help travelers figure out where they're supposed to go. It's shocking that this is the face that New York presents to the world, and something needs to be done about it.
Small-town Maine will be a relief. The big cities have worn me out and reminded me of all the things about modern culture I just don't understand. Here's a list of five items; feel free to add your own, but I warn you right now that I'll delete political comments. I'm in that kind of mood.
1. Sweatpants with large letters stamped across the butt. Young ladies, pay attention: no one looks good in those. No one. You know what gets stamped across the butt? Beef. Pork. And as for the older women who wear those pants . . . one of these days I will say something to you about it. Yes, I will, and it will only be what everyone else is thinking.
2. Facial tattoos. Visible tattoos of any kind are a statement of the lifestyle you embrace or aspire to, and I'm okay with that. Not everybody is supposed to be a banker. But facial tattoos? Really? Why? And what do you think will happen to those tattoos when gravity starts to change the shape of your face? Are you so very confident that you'll never lose or gain a single pound?
3. Memorial decals in the back of car windows. I am sorry for your loss. I am. Every loss diminishes us. I'm just not clear on the value of turning your automobile into a rolling headstone. Although we should never forget the dear ones we've lost, the kindness of grief is that it becomes less sharp over time, and we no longer need to remind ourselves to mourn every minute. Unless you've got one of these stickers, which reminds you to be sad every time you load groceries into the back of the car. I'm not mocking, and I'm not unsympathetic; I just don't understand this phenomenon.
4. White people's dreadlocks. Almost without exception, they look terrible, and while this may not necessarily be the case, they seem to be an effort to embrace a culture that is not one's own. Empathy is good, but posing is bad, and pretending to a heritage that isn't yours is just kind of . . . icky. Anyway, it too is a lifestyle declaration that says "I expect to work in a record store for the foreseeable future." Which is fine, except that record stores are an endangered species.
5. Authors who treat other authors as competitors rather than colleagues. I'm not naming names, but I saw a couple of instances of this last weekend. Make no mistake, I understand the feeling; a world where more than 42,000 novels get published in a given year is a tough old world. But authors who treat each other as competitors do nothing but piss off editors, agents and booksellers — not to mention other authors — and I doubt it wins them any new readers.