August 9th, 2006


Fourteen Days

I just noticed that the Booklist reviewer misspelled Dancy's surname as Flammarian.

As of tonight, it's been two weeks since we arrived in Rhode Island. I came here to find the story that would become Joey LaFaye. I came here for a change of scenery, to be some place less familiar, less stressful, some place where I could begin to shake off the exhaustion and monotony and prepare myself to begin another novel. And tonight, two weeks in, almost two thirds of the way into the trip, I have to say that I'm very close to admitting defeat.

I'm sure, in part, that this is simply a case of getting off on the wrong foot. We arrived on July 26th, and on July 27th I got the news of the the mess that Penguin has made of things. That morning, the morning of Thursday, July 27th, I'd made the first page of notes for Joey LaFaye. Since then, I've made no notes for the novel at all. I've hardly even been able to think about it, for worrying about this thing or that thing or the other. I think the only genuine breakthrough was in figuring out that the Flying Horse Carousel in Watch Hill was abandoned there by the Barker in the 1880s, and that Joey Lafaye is short for Joey Lafayette. I've considered Mystic, Stonington, and Watch Hill as the setting for the novel, but have done precious little in the way of getting to know those places as well as I need to get to know them.

Of course, in that regard, the tourists have also been an unspeakable and severe hindrance. They are everywhere, all the goddamn time. I can hardly see anything for them. Everywhere I turn, they are a sunburned, oily, yelping, all-consuming blot upon the landscape. They are a peculiar sort of necessary plague to these towns. I suppose that it's a kind of symbiosis, wherein the parasitic species (tourists) manage to convince the host species (small seaside towns) that their only hope for prosperity and survival is to become entirely subservient and dependent upon the nourishment brought by the gluttonous, consuming activities of the parasite. Today, we were in Mystic, and I would have given almost anything to have been able to see the town before it became only a Disneyesque self-parody. Whatever was there before — say seventy or eighty years ago, when Mystic was an actual seaport, not a theme-park seaport — it has almost been scrubbed away to make room for the needs of the tourists. Scrubbed away or sealed under glass. I'm reminded of Mommie Fortuna, who had to bewitch a real unicorn so that the people who came to her carnival (tourists) could see it as anything but an ordinary white mare. In Mystic, everywhere you turn, there are fake horns for the tourists to see, and the real unicorns have long since forgotten themselves.

I had vague plans of seeing the Mystic aquarium today, as long as I was there. But it was awash in hundreds and hundreds of people, all packed in there together, and admission was $19 per adult head, and I said screw it. We'd also thought about the seaport museum, but the crowds there were even worse, hundreds and hundreds of cars, and admission was $17 per person, and, after all, I'd have only been playing the role of parasite myself. It wasn't as bad as the mess down at Misquamicut. But, even so, I know this was merely the family-oriented/infotainment side of the same vile coin, and, finally, we fled back to Westerly and spent a little time in the library (which was closed when last we were there). But the tourists and the heat had sapped all my strength, and I couldn't think, much less read. I fell asleep on the way back to the cottage in Green Hill. It was the best sleep I've had in three days.

I've almost decided to cut my losses and head back to Atlanta early. The tourists, Penguin, the heat — all of it working together — it seems extremely unlikely anything good will come of this.

We shall see. There's a full moon tonight, and Spooky and I ought to be somewhere by the water, somewhere the sea is crashing against the rocks, watching the moonrise. But I do not have the energy, and I do not have the motivation. I am beginning to believe that the toursits may be exuding some heretofore unknown form of radiation, which slowly robs everything around them of anything like actual drive or enthusiasm. Not unlike Lovecraft's colour out of space. I can too easily imagine another forty or fifty years from now, and all that will remain of this place will be a brittle grey corpse, strewn with abandoned Starbuck's and Dunkin' Donuts and Johnny Rockets hamburger stands. Breathe and it will all collapse in a heap of dust.

Travel is never easy on me. The constant reader may recall my comments to that effect near the end of my last trip to Rhode Island, back in July '04. But this trip's like chewing glass and thumbtacks, and there's nothing but vinegar to wash it all down.

Oh, a few days ago, maybe late last week, we saw a bumpersticker in Wakefield, which read, "They call it tourist season, so why can't we shoot them?" I don't even live here, and those are my sentiments exactly.