When I saw the lights ahead, I was almost as happy as I had been the first time I got laid. Since I had been nodding off for the last hour, I really needed the coffee that the truck stop sign promised. The number of eighteen wheelers at the truck stop alongside the two lane road surprised me. I had left the four lane at least twenty miles back. The map didn't show any other major highways before I reached the coast.
As I pulled the Mini Van into the parking lot it all became obvious, the trucks all had the same logo. There had to be a freight company nearby, I thought. It must have been breakfast time for them before they began their day. I parked the mini van in a spot far away from the real trucks. I didn't want to block one of them in. It sure as hell wasn't to save the van. That van had been worn out when I bought it. Buying junk was one of the benefits of having a best friend who ran a salvage yard. It might have been the only benefit.
John could put together about anything I wanted at a dirt cheap price. The van had been his idea actually. I told him that I wanted to sell my novels at festivals during the spring so he suggested that I buy a mini van. It would be good to carry all the junk from town to town and would be comfortable enough to sleep in as well. The deal was struck. I gave him all winter to do it. In exchange he sold me a van with the best of his junked out engines and transmissions for a song. Perfect bodies seldom go to salvage so the body was mess. The fenders on one side looked as though they had been straightened with a claw hammer. The paint was most likely house paint from home depot. The front seats didn't match at all, and there were no rear seats.
As was my habit, I took my antique cane with me. I did it so that my staggering would look as though it were physical, rather than the moves of a drunk. The fact is that it was physical, I just didn't need the cane. It was window dressing, as were most of the things I did that spring.
I found the restaurant to be warm on that chilly spring night. The barstools were all taken so I found a small booth where I seated myself. When I looked at the menu, I found that it made me hungry. I knew I shouldn't have the waffles but what the hell difference did a few pounds make at that point. I resisted the urge anyway.
"Hey there," I said to the waitress before she could greet me.
"You want coffee?" She might have been more asleep than me.
"Coffee would be fine," I replied.
"You know what you want to eat?"
"Nothing thanks, just the coffee and some information."
"Coffee's a buck for all you want, the information is free. We guarantee the coffee is good, the information might or might not be any good." She smiled showing me crooked and yellow stained teeth.
"That sounds perfectly reasonable to me," I said smiling back.
"I'll be back with the coffee then you can try the information bit," she said it while turning away. She returned in less than a minute with a coffee cup, it was about half the size of the one I traveled with.
"Now let's try that question thing."
"Okay, I am headed for a small town called Rosehill, do you know it?"
"Know it hell, I live there. You headed to the festival?"
"Yep, I'm a first time vender there. So could you tell me where the fairgrounds are."
"Aint no fairgrounds honey, they are having it downtown. Gonna block off the streets."
"I know but they said we could camp on the fairgrounds." I was a little worried at that point.
"Never heard of a fairground let me check with someone." The waitress with the bad teeth left me to ponder my next move. That night was pretty much shot anyway. I could ask at the show the next day I supposed. The very best I could do would be two hours sleep that night anyway. The setup downtown began at 5am.
The waitress came back a few minutes later with the coffee pot in her hand. "Okay Mister, I found out I think. I never been there mind you, but when they have the youth carnival they have it at the stadium complex. We are pretty sure that is where you want to be. It makes sense since it has bathrooms.
I thanked her while I sipped the scalding coffee. When I left the circle of warmth, it was almost 3am, I figured I had just enough time to find the high school stadium from her skimpy directions, then just go straight to the set up coordinator. The coordinator who was supposed to be downtown at 5am handing out assignments.
Finding the stadium proved to be easy since someone had thoughtfully placed temporary signs for the vendors. I didn't bother making room in the van for me to stretch out, I was afraid that I would over sleep. What I did was to set the traveling alarm clock, then push the seat back. I slept in ten minutes increments until the first of the pickups pulled from the grass covered parking area for the small town stadium.
I found the bathroom, where I deposited the dregs of the coffee both from the styrofoam cup and my body. When I returned to the van, I waited for someone else to leave for the downtown. When they did, I followed behind. The coordinator set my site on one of the side streets. If I had been selling jewelry or some such, I would have been angry. I wasn't expecting big crowds anyway so I just smiled. Since the rent was the same on them all, it was my guess that the prime spots were saved for the locals.
I had never set the booth up for real before so I had planned a little extra time for it. I started at 5am, which was way too early. Unlike some of the more elaborate ones mine could be set up in just a few minutes. That is once I had the bugs worked out. That morning I planned on an hour.
The coordinator was a gray haired lady whose age I wouldn't even try to guess. She gave me detailed directions and a map. She also told me that my space had a chalk number on it. The instruction, to have my beat up old van in the parking area by six, was delivered as she stared at my wreck of a vehicle. That ragged out old van might prove a liability but I really didn't care. It was all part of the image.
The very first thing I unloaded was the folding chair. I expected to spend a lot of time in it, then came the blob of concrete in the shape of a milk container. The reason for the shape was simple I had used an empty gallon plastic milk bottle as a form. A steel pipe was buried inside the blob of concrete. The beach umbrella came next. It had come from a discount stores close out sale in November of the year before. That should tell you how long I had been planning the spring and summer tour.
When I turned my hand to setting up the tables, it was dawn or a little after. The sun was still below the horizon but it was still pretty much lighting the downtown. That was probably because there were only few tall buildings to block the bent rays.
The two folding tables had come from the local goodwill store. I had kept them stored with the umbrella in my studio all winter. I had erected them at home just to make sure that they weren't going to come crashing down like the walls of Jericho. I had also purchased a coverings for my tables. It had been suggested to me by my ex wife that I use fake fur. That material would not wrinkle while being folded, she explained. It worked just exactly as she had predicted.
With the tables assembled, I moved on to the product. The product was two and a half dozen mystery novels. They were on CDs, since I not only wrote them I also recorded them. The PC along with a program from a cell phone company allowed me to record, then edit them digitally. The CDs were just the easiest thing to produce. I had all the equipment to produce mass quantities of cassettes as well, but they were just a pain in the ass.
I had intended to bring a small number of CDs with me, but again my ex wife convinced me to bring more than I ever expected to sell that summer. "Make it look like a bookstore," she advised me. Hell, they were easy and not very expensive to produce so why not, I thought.
That being the case, I removed a small plastic box of CDs for each title. Thirty one titles meant thirty one six by six by twenty-four inch boxes of novels and two more boxes of assorted short stories divided by tabs. Each CD was in it's own plastic box. The only label was on the CD itself.
With the boxes set up, I was almost finished. Not much more a writer can do you would think? Since I was a photographer most of my life, I had also produced a set of posters for the booth. There were a dozen twenty inch by thirty inch posters in round tubes from the post office. From them I selected six for the stands I carried with me. I would have loved fancy stands that broke down but I just couldn't justify it so I build half dozen.
Each stand was fitted with a cork board after it was erected. The posters were then thumbtacked to the board which had been wired to the stand. I had figured to keep the posters to a minimum during outside shows, to prevent wind damage. I put them up just to attract the crowds. Most were scantily clad women but a couple were male friends of mine holding their pistols. Thank god for redneck friends who own their own guns. Since the digital revolution, I was able to make posters with titles on them. I expected that the posters would help. Then again, I hadn't been on the road before so I couldn't be sure.
Last, but certainly not least, I removed a CD player. The player had been extensively reworked. I am a bit of a tinkerer you see. The four C cell batteries had been replaced by a wet cell lead acid battery that could be charged from the cigarette lighter of the van. The snap on connector had been added because I had two more charged batteries. The tiny plug in speakers had been replaced by larger speakers with their own amplifiers. I figured I could pretty much make myself or my stories heard all over that part of the festival. The player ended my equipment setup, thank God. I finally took a few minutes to look around the area.
The side street had come alive while I concentrated on setting up my show. I noted with some satisfaction that one of the vendors, on my tributary of the main street, was a food vender. Not only that he was a vender of some kind of French bakery items. At least I wouldn't starve, I thought. The very best thing about the booth was that it had coffee. I wasn't their first customer of the day, but I was damn close.
It was almost six thirty when the both next to be started to be assembled. I watched as the man and women worked diligently on it. It was obvious that they had done the assembly before and probably often. Instead of a beach umbrella they had a tent like contraption. It looked more like the tent over a grave site, since it had no sides.
"Hi there neighbor," I said to the man when he had finished the canopy."
"Hi, " He replied as he proceeded to pointedly ignore me. Screw you, I thought as I returned to my chair.
I drank coffee from my travel cup while I waited for the people to come or the space on my right to be filled. The woman, who drove up at the ten till seven, quickly unloaded a folding table, two large plastic boxes, and a chair.
"Sir, would you watch my stuff while I park my car?" the woman who asked was the owner of the afore mentioned articles.
"Sure, I would be glad to." It wasn't exactly a big deal since I couldn't go anywhere anyway. When she returned, we introduced ourselves with a handshake. I left her alone to finish her setup while I walked up the small backwater spot we occupied. When I got to the main street I realized the full extent of the show.
There must have been fifty booths on the main street with several more side streets filling up. The show looked much bigger than I had expected. There were crafts ranging from stained glass to painted saw blades. I didn't see anyone else selling books probably because no one will want them, I thought.
Sell or not it didn't make any difference to me. I was out just for the experience of being on the show circuit. I am not going to lie, I hoped that the books would do well. Truth is what the hell was I going to do with the money even if they did sell?
"So you're a writer," My neighbor on the right asked upon my return.
"I'm afraid I have to duck that by asking what your definition of a writer is?"
"Okay have you sold a book?" She was grinning as she asked.
I smiled sadly at her when I asked, "Sold to who? I have sold copies on Ebay, but none to a mainstream publisher."
"Selling anything at all counts with me. I always wanted to write." I gave her a close look while she spoke. She was probably twenty years younger than my fifty eight. She was probably just as many pounds underweight. She was thin as death but still had a kind of figure.
"I am going to find out today if they do well or not." I said it as I moved to my chair. I noticed that the man and woman next to me listened to our exchange but they said nothing.
The people began to drift in before the show officially started. It was probably a good idea to have the cars out of the streets before seven, since there were people walking in the middle of the streets by that time. I began the loop CD at exactly 8am. I turned the volume up enough to be heard by anyone walking by. It was eight minutes of book blurbs, plus a carnival barker calling people over in between them. The voice of the blurbs and the barker was mine of course.
"You aren't going to play that thing all day are you?" The man on the left asked.
I had finally had enough of him. "Well you know friend, I asked them about the CD Player before I took the space. I expect it is why I am off on this side street one step from hell. So yes sir, I am going to play it. I am damned sorry if it bothers you, but it is going to play it as long as I am here." Of course the exchange wasn't real good for my heart but then what the hell nothing else I did was either.
"Seems to me you would give a little thought to your neighbors," He suggested.
"Gee whiz Beaver, it seems as though we are neighbors now. We weren't twenty minutes ago when I tried to have a conversation with you." I turned my attention to the girl on my right.
"So have you done many of these shows?"
"Just the local ones. This is kind of a hobby with me, one that makes me a few dollars but still just a hobby." I noticed that she sold hand made jewelry. I expected that there was a festival market for it but not much of a market anywhere else.
"So where you gonna be next?"
"Next month I will be in Clinton for the fertility festival." She almost looked embarrassed at having to repeat the name. I nodded since I had no idea where or what it might be. I turned back to my display when the woman stopped talking.
I was a little surprised that the people responded to my voice wafting down the street but they did. Several drifted over to listen a moment. Some engaged me in conversation, others drifted to my neighbors. I sold my first novel on four CDs shortly after 8am. The short stories became more popular as the morning wore on. I sold them until they were all gone. I sold a few novels before the show ended for the day.
I spoke to the jewelry maker beside me several times before the show ended. It was only natural that I ask her for a restaurant recommendation. I understood that even small towns had several diners and at least one class restaurant. I was looking for the best of the diners.
"The best place in town is LucyLou's it has really good food and it is clean. Now if you want a fancy steak you can try Rollin Steak house."
"Lucy Lou sounds more to my pocketbook's liking."
"Yeah, that is were I go when I go out."
I had the feeling she wanted to be invited along. Probably so she could say no. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try. "So Wendy would you like to join me for dinner. You are safe, since I am twice your age at least." I felt like the appendage was needed even though I really was harmless.
"I thought you would never ask, and you just think you are harmless. You my friend may well be the devil." She broke into laughter which made me smile broadly even as I shook my head.
The couple on the left side did not look happy anytime when we laughed and talked. It looked as though it was a case of paranoia to me. I didn't count my take until I had finished taking the display apart. Some of it I packed away for fear of weather damage and some for fear of theft. The cops couldn't hope to protect it all even though they planned to keep a large presence downtown that night.
We were in the restaurant waiting for our food when she asked, "So you gonna come to Clinton?"
"I don't think so. I have already made my schedule for the summer and Clinton doesn't sound familiar."
The food that came quickly was excellent. While we ate, Wendy told me about her marriage, her divorcee and her child. "You know I am probably the only woman in America who has a better ex than he was a husband. Willie, my husband, loves Mark and looks for any excuse to goose up his visitation time. He took Mark for the whole weekend since I am going to be home late and leave early." I wasn't sure but it sounded a lot like an invitation to me.
Since I had to sit beside her the whole next day, I was moving carefully. I smiled a lot and made a lot of statements that were pretty noncommittal. Dinner was almost over when I asked, "So if you don't have to rush off home, would you care to show an old man the ocean?"
"No," She waited just long enough for me to think I had been a fool to ask before she continued, "I would gladly show you the ocean." She grinned at me. I smiled at her with what I hoped was a rakish smile. It had been a long time since I tried to use that smile.
"You know both of our cars are full of product. Unless you really do want to see the ocean why don't you just come to my house for coffee?"
"I can see the ocean on Monday," I replied. I looked to see if she understood and she did.
"So just follow me," she said it when we were in the parking lot. Following her proved to be only slightly difficult. She drove like a crazy person for a few miles then settled down to a reasonable pace. She probably realized that I wasn't going to get lost after all, so she slowed
The house where she lived tuned out to be a nice clean mobile home. I figured it was at least a step up from the back of the mini van, but then I might still be misreading her. I used the cane to steady myself as I climbed the free standing concrete steps with no handrail. Once inside the tin can I found furniture much better than that which came with the firetraps.
"Why don't you take a seat while I fix the coffee." It was an invitation not a question and I knew it. Instead of answering I dropped to the comfortable sofa. Wendy slipped off into the kitchen first. I presume she started the coffee pot before she walked past me with a smile.
"Make yourself at home, I need to get into something more comfortable," She replied to my unasked question. Now when a woman says that, it could anything from a sweat shirt to a spider web. I sat waiting to see what her idea of comfortable might be.
I was almost asleep when she returned from whatever women do while the coffee brews. I had in fact nodded off since I hadn't really had a full nights sleep in several days. It was due some to the drive and some to the need to make last minute preparations and all to the excitement of the journey.
I felt her weight on the sofa beside me, it was the only thing that woke me I am afraid. If she hadn't decided to seat herself there, I probably would have slept sitting up until Monday.
"You look as though you need sleep more than that coffee." The remark hit home but I tried to fake it.
"I'm fine, the coffee will wake me up." I was groggy and my speech was slurred.
"Honey, that coffee is not gonna do you a bit of good. Why don't you just stay here, get a good night's sleep, and we will continue this in the morning."
"Well one thing is for sure, I am harmless as hell on most occasions. Right now I am totally useless." I grinned to show her that it was all it fun.
For no reason I could think of she turned to me pressed her body which was wrapped in a lightweight tee shirt to me. She kissed me sweetly at first then slipped her tongue into my mouth. The kiss passed the time that a gentle kiss would have broken and continued on into a heated passionate kiss. Somewhere along the way she dropped a hand from my shoulder to my crotch. As you would expect things came alive down there. The embrace lasted only a few more seconds then she sat back with a smile on her face.
"You said safe and useless twice tonight, I just wanted to find out for myself." She giggled like a school girl as punctuation for the statement. Of course I was wide awake and embarrassed for a few minutes. "Do you really want that coffee?" She asked it as she replaced her hand on my shoulder.
"Do you have a microwave?"
"The coffee will be fine tomorrow put it in the fridge."
"What coffee?" she giggled again. She had obviously not bothered to make the coffee. Unlike me, she knew what would happen. It struck me then, how much a man is at the mercy of a woman when it comes to sex Weaker sex my ass, I thought.
The kissing continued in her queen sized bed. How I managed to stay awake long enough to make love to her is a mystery even to me. I don't even remember much of it. I do remember she was absolutely the thinnest woman I had ever slept with. She was enthusiastic with a touch of down right wanton in her. It was a very short but intense lovemaking session. I passed out cold after what seemed like hours but could have been no more than a few minutes.
I woke up in the middle of the night to a dark room. My plan was to slip out of bed and go to the bathroom then return to the bed unnoticed. Of course it didn't work that way. First I fell into a wall, then I just sat down on the floor at the foot of her bed. On the way down I grabbed onto the bed as a reflex motion. Her foot was in the spot that I tried to use as a handrail.
"What the Hell," she said sleepily. Deke?"
"Yeah, I should have warned you, I cant walk in the dark."
Within seconds the bedside light came on. "You should have told me honey." I could tell she wanted to ask questions but was holding back.
With the light on I was able to leaver myself up and shakily move to the bathroom. "I'm fine now hon, I could be in the circus with all the experience I have at falling." I did what I had to do then returned to the bedroom.
"Should I leave the light on?" She asked.
"No, I wont be doing that again." She slipped onto my arm. She weighed nothing so it was comfortable enough.
"Are you really okay?" What she was really asking was what the hell is with you.
"Sure, just peachy keen." The anger was easy to detect in my voice. I pulled her even closer then kissed her. The few hours sleep had more or less restored my energy. She was just sleepy enough to be compliant. It was a very different kind of sex from that the night before. It was almost sweet and gentle before her libido kicked in. Once it did there was pain and scratches on my back. She was a demanding lover and something every man should have at least once.
When that ended in a gut wrenching orgasm, I again drifted off to sleep. That time I slept until Wendy woke me with two cups of coffee in her hand. I sat up with my back to the wall, while she sat cross legged facing me. I also noticed a small glass of orange juice on the night stand.
"My god you are the perfect hostess," I suggested.
"Or the perfect whore," she laughed. I made no comment. "Now Deke, where are your pills?"
"What pills are you talking about?" I tried to play innocent.
"The ones you are taking for that midnight episode." She didn't even try to soften the blow to my ego.
"Out in the van, I will have to find them." I made no gesture that would indicate a planned to move toward them.
"Finish your coffee, get decent then go get them. I want you to take them then I want to read the labels."
"You're a nurse?" I asked it knowing that she was something of the sort.
"ER Room for the last five years."
"Just my luck." I grinned at her.
"Well hell Deke, you aren't staying anyway."
Since it was Sunday, the festival didn't start till noon. Wendy and I had time for a leisurely breakfast, complete with a handful of pills. She looked at the bottles while I worked on a second cup of coffee before we headed to a Waffle House for breakfast.
"Damn Deke what a mixed bag of drugs. Everything from aspirin, to a heavy duty anti seizure drug. You want to explain or let me guess the worst?"
"Neither, you should have enough information to settle your questions from last night. I am not a junkie and the cane is not for effect."
"Those aren't my only questions, but yeah I had those concerns."
"Didn't say I blamed you at all. I would have the same ones."
"So what is it Deke? There are too many mixed signals for me to figure."
"Lets just have breakfast and let this go. No sense letting it spoil our meal."
"That bad?" she had been looking into my eyes when I suggested we not discuss it.
"Couldn't be any worse," I replied. "Now that is enough." She could tell it wasn't a demand but a request for privacy. Unfortunately that kind of conversation takes the fun out of an encounter. Even in the waffle house, on a Sunday morning, we looked out of place. The restaurant was filled with couples with at least one partner dressed in clothes from the night before. They were for the most part easy to spot. A woman dressed for a club at 9am was a dead give away. The men were less obvious unless he was in a suit with no tie escorting a lady who wore jeans and a sweat shirt like the couple at a window booth. I found it all rather amusing since Wendy and I were both dressed for a day at the festival...
We arrived at the festival over an hour early which was mostly my doing. Wendy would have arrived five minutes before show time. As I unloaded the boxes then I assessed my stock. It appeared that I had sold the most audio novels for the ones with posters. It was an interesting thought, so I switched the posters for different novels to check it out.
Of course as my ex said, "All your posters are alike, they all have half naked women on them." It was indeed a fact of life. Those posters were almost exactly like the book covers on pulp books of the fifties. Which was what I mostly wrote anyway.
During that day I actually sold a few novels. Since I figured that one festival would be pretty much like another, I gave thought to how I could improve my sales. I noticed one thing right away. The sales were directly related to; how many people passed by, how many stopped to talk, and what sex they were. The books were loaded with testosterone but women were overwhelmingly the largest buyers. Most seemed to be buying for husband or boyfriends but some admitted to buying for themselves. Price seemed to be the major factor. That and a chance to ask me about the story line.
What all that meant was that I sold a few books at the festival. Actually a hell of a lot more than I had anywhere else. It meant that I would have to spend a couple of nights in a campground with electric hookup. I had the small tower computer, used as a CD maker, packed away in a trunk. A laptop would have been nice but I couldn't really justify one just to use a few months.
Lunch came before Wendy spoke to me. I had a feeling she was having a case of buyer's remorse about the night before but I didn't really know what to say to her. I definitely wasn't going to hang around the small town for the next few months. She surely must have known that before she hopped into bed with me.
"Deke I am going for a sandwich can I bring you one?" She asked it pretty much as though she had not spent the night before in my arms.
"Sure, but I insist on buying if you are making the trip."
"I never turn down free food. So what would you like, since you are buying?"
"You pick, I am easy to please."
"I noticed," she said with a grin. I smiled back but didn't answer. When she brought the food back it was some kind of steak sub thing with more cheese than steak. We sat in the space between our booths and talked. It was fun since both of us seemed to have walled off the night before in a different corner of our minds.
Even during lunch I got interrupted a time or two by customers who were interested in the CDs, but not as often as Wendy for jewelry. The show just kind of ended a few hours later. It wasn't so much the time expired as the customer pool dried up.
At six I pulled the van around and began loading it. Wendy had her car full long before me. I had hoped she would say goodbye and leave, but she kind of hung on waiting for god only knew what. The loading should have taken about half as long but I kept dragging it out. Yes, I was doing the man thing trying to avoid the goodbye. Hoping that Wendy would be gone before I finished. She wasn't so I had to face her.
Before I could find something lame to say, she came into my arms crying. "Will you ever be back this way?"
"Honestly Wendy, I won't. I would like to say when the season is over I will come back to you, but we both know it isn't going to happen. You probably think it is because I don't care enough, but that isn't it at all."
"Actually, I have a pretty good Idea. I have been watching you all day. If what you say is true?" She noticed my look. "That it couldn't be any worse, then I don't expect you will be back."
For some reason known only to god, if there is one, I teared up. I nodded, kissed her, then turned to the van. It would have been a grand exit if the damn van had started. Instead it seemed to take forever for the thing to start. It hadn't started on the first try, then like an idiot I flooded the damn thing. The best I could do was to grin foolishly in her direction as I tried in vain to force started the van.
I finally had to get out to open the fuel pump. It was simply a matter of rocking the car for five minutes. I promised myself yet again that I would get the tank drained and cleaned. It must have gotten trash in the tank while sitting in the salvage lot... Eddie had also warned me that the radiator hose clamps wouldn't hold that gas lines. I had refused to wait for him to find the correct lines, so I was paying the price.
With the lines bled, the van finally started. I drove off into the sunset looking like a complete idiot. I made it to the state campground in a larger town fifty miles away with the sun still lighting the sky, so it hadn't really a drive into the sunset after all. I had time to pitch the tent, then unpack everything before nightfall.
Since it was my first time camping, I had to make some basic decisions. It was either sleep in the 8x10 cabin tent and leave the junk for my shows in the van, or move all the junk into the tent and sleep in the van. Since I could lock the van, I went with sleeping in the tent that first night.
The decision had been made even before I checked in with the park ranger. I opted that night for a site with water and electricity. The plan was to spend the next day replacing my CDs. I would need about all day, since I had done a lot better than expected. Hell, I did even better than I had hoped. Since making CDs is a truly boring job, I didn't look forward to it at all.
Once the tent was erected, I put the two halves of the egg crate foam mattress pad together. The two halves, one on top of the other, mad a six inch thick foam pad with air spaces on each side. I sleep cold so I had a light weight flannel sleeping bag and a down comforter for the top. With the tent pitched, I quickly found the heavy duty outdoor rated extension cord. I ran it from the outlet to the tent so that I could play my radio. I had opted to sell all the TVs I owned at a garage sale before I left home. I was about to settle in when I realized I had no Cokes or cookies. Part of the appeal of the last road trip had been to throw my diet out the window before I left home. Hey, I literally threw it out the window. I suppose one of my neighbors might have found the, no cholesterol, no real food scrape of paper. He or she would have laughed before tossing it into the trash.
It was a short trip to the over priced convenience store within site of the park gates. It seemed as though I wasn't the only one who forgot things. I took a look at the price of canned coke, then almost walked out. I made it to the door when I actually chuckled at my foolishness. I went back and bought two six packs of coke, and a box of chocolate covered Oreos. I gave the clerk my visa card. The visa had never had an outstanding balance until the month before.
I drove the van back to the park. I had my butt parked on the folding chair, the one I had used for the show, while I drank my coke and ate the cookies,. The clock radio from my other life blared country music. It blared because the hearing had gone in my right ear. I had placed the radio on my right side for some reason. Probably because I wasn't used to thinking of my hearing as being less than perfect.
The songs were sad, which fit my mood perfectly. After an hour of sad country songs ending with 'I Remember the Year that Clayton Delany Died' I was considering skipping the rest of the shows and just ending it at that moment. I shook my head to clear it, then laughed at myself. I had just had what I considered a good show, I had even slept with a woman young enough to be my kid, and I felt sorry for myself. "This just wont do," I said aloud.
I bent to switch to an oldies station. I wasn't familiar with the area so it took some searching but there is one of those in every listening area. With 1960s rock music blaring I settled back with my second coke and my second handful of cookies. It was as good a supper as any, I decided. I waited a full two hours before I had a drink and a cigar before bedtime.
The next morning I realized that I had slept with a boulder under my six inch mattress. Since the damn tent was right over it, I decided to make the tent a storage area at least by dark. I didn't much care for the idea of doing it at that moment, so I went to breakfast. Miracle of miracles the van started on the first try.
The convenience store where I had bought the cokes and the ice had a small food counter. I found the menu small but I had no desire for eggs Benedict anyway. The sausage and egg biscuit was just fine with me. They let me use my own oversized Delta coffee cup, so I was content to sit at their Formica booth for almost a half hour. I had promised myself a day at the ocean. I decided that the best time to make the trip before I unloaded any of the really expensive equipment. The drive was less than half and hour anyway so I left from the convenience store for the ocean...
Not long after I found myself on the long straight stretch of highway running parallel to the ocean. It didn't matter which beach they all had a road like it. On that morning in early May the beach wasn't crowded especially since it was a Monday morning. Not to many tourists about and all the residents were doing residential things.
Finding a fishing pier was easy. I simply had to follow the signs since there were two competing piers. I had no desire to fish, and I figured the coffee would be about as good at one as another so I stopped at the first one I encountered. I am sure a lot of other people did the same. That morning must have been the exception because the pier had only three fishermen.
"What can I get you?" The nymph asked with a bored expression. I expect a younger man might have gotten a little more enthusiasm.
"Would you fill this with coffee?" I asked it placing the delta cup on the green Formica counter. The whole place appeared to be from the fifties, that counter was for sure I decided.
"How you want it?" She was all business. Like I said, not much enthusiasm for grandpa. The heavy brown stained cup was surely also a turn off for her.
"Black like my soul," I couldn't help it, I am just a born wise ass. It did get a smile from her.
"You not fishin?" she asked as she poured the coffee. She was beginning to warm to me a little. Hey who can resist grandpa in red suspenders. Yes, I wear those. I had begun wearing them several years before, since I heard the giggles of my step daughter. The object of her amusement was my butt crack.
"No I haven't fished in years. Just one more of the things I seemed to have run out of time for."
"Well, I can rent you a rod," she suggested. I skipped the obvious comeback since she was much younger than my step daughter.
"Maybe another time," I replied instead. I took the plastic delta cup onto the pier for a walk. It was what I did at the ocean. I found a bench well past the shoreline. I sat down to enjoy the ocean's hypnotic effect. Somehow that morning it's size, smell and movement did not provoke the usual melancholy in me, nor did it give me any peace. Quite the opposite, all the smells and sounds of life and death made me angry. As a gesture of contempt, I tossed the dregs of my coffee into it. It was something I would never have done before.
I passed through the snack bar on my way out. I was upset because I didn't find the peace I had sought in the ocean. All I found was anger and I didn't know why. Like a lot of emotions they just happen, you never so find out what triggered them. I expected even then that I hadn't been in the right mood to find peace.
I pondered that during the drive back to the campground. When I arrived, I carried the mini tower PC along with its monitor to the picnic table. Making all the connections took a while, but I finally had it ready to burn by lunch time. I spent the complete afternoon making CD audio novels and labels. I never left home without my label maker. The miniature printer spit out labels that were perfect for the CD. I couldn't afford the time it took to do the round complete labels so I used the small rectangular ones. I know it looked less classy, but it worked just fine thank you very much. I kept the blanks for the box labels with me. Any copy shop worthy of its name could run me larger color labels for the outside of the generic cardboard boxes.
Replacing the CDs took another day of sitting around listening to music, while the CDs burned three copies at a time. The convenience store near the park took even more of Visa's money. I still felt a little guilty knowing they would never be able to collect on their bill. I rationalized it by thinking of all those people who made that minimum payment every month and the huge interest payments that filled the credit card company's coffers. I felt a little less guilty when I looked at it from that direction. Since the ex and I had a perfectly legal separation, our family lawyer assured me that visa could not go after her. So long as I made the minimum payment the company would keep extending me credit. Extending it right up to the ridiculous 20 grand limit they had forced on me years before.
By Wednesday the copy work was complete. Since the campground was empty during the week I grew bored, I gave some thought to driving back to the festival town to see Wendy. I didn't only because I decided a clean break was better for us both. Still it was a great temptation, especially during the long nights.
With the grunt work done, I tried to write. It was a total waste of my time. I just couldn't seem to find much interest in the larger than life heroes or the buxom women who occupied their time. Okay, maybe the women I could find an interest in, but definitely not the writing. I had lost any desire to create more trash, but not the desire to profit from it. If the last festival was any indication of things to come, it might just prove to be an interesting summer.
Even though there wasn't much sightseeing to do I wandered around the small towns near the park. Usually I just asked a waitress or convenience store clerk if there was anything of interest around town. I got a lot of local museum suggestions but one of them was more than enough. That first day was a waste, except that I found a copy shop to make the labels for the CD replacements.
By Friday I was more than ready to move on to the next show. It took a long half day's drive to reach the only slightly larger town. It was interesting to note that the show was not in the downtown, but rather in a field just outside of town. The good thing about the lousy location was that it was adjacent to the farmer's market. The market drew customers from the whole county even some from a much larger towns nearby.
Since the farmer's market opened in what seemed like the middle of the night to a city boy, they allowed the vendors to sleep in the parking lot. I was able to rearrange my junk. By storing less valuable items on the roof I could roll out on the pads and in the sleeping bag. It was cramped but doable.
Next day when I set up the booth, I found that I was near a very happily married middle-aged women and a man selling leather products. It was going to be a boring show, but then the first show had most likely been a fluke. No one stopped for the first three hours. The little old ladies being escorted by slightly younger little old ladies had no use for the action adventure novels. Most of them wore heavy glasses I doubted that they read at all, but still my audio didn't interest them.
It was approaching noon when the customers I had been promised by the leather worker arrived. The yuppies came in droves from 10am until early afternoon. I sold out of one title probably because the cover promised sex along with the violence. There were about fifty words of a sexual nature among the hundred thousand word novel. I feared they would be disappointed but I didn't explain it to them.
I had given up on finding anyone to help pass the time when the middle-aged almost midget wandered by. I looked and she caught me of course. It was one of the perils of being a dirty old man. Instead of looking away in disgust, she changed her direction to approach my table.
"You write these," She asked in a heavily accented voice.
I tried to match her accent as I replied, "Yes Ma'am."
"My son's a truck driver, you think he might like these?"
"Hard to say ma'am, I like them though." I smiled to let her know it was joke. "So tell me when did they begin allowing teenagers to drive trucks?"
"What do you mean?" She was almost angry it seemed.
"I can't believe you are old enough to have grown son, so they must be letting teenagers drive those big rigs. That means I have to be a damn sight more careful out there."
"My son is twenty-three," she said angrily and stormed off. I stood watching her walk away almost in shock.
The husband and wife in the next booth heard the exchange and laughed. Their laughter just added to my discomfort. Fortunately in the festival atmosphere it isn't long before someone comes along to stroke your ego. The someone turned out to be a woman in her thirties, at least. We talked until her husband joined her. She told him that she wanted to buy a CD so he paid for one. They bought a single novella but it did have the web address to order more. I laughed at the thought. If they did order, I wondered if there would be anyone to ship it. I was sure there would be someone around to cash the check.
The whole festival went just like that. A promise of companionship but no fulfillment. It went into the book as a fun experience simply because the face to face contact with my buyers. I had sold hell of a lot more at the two festivals than I had on Ebay. I would have bet it was something to do with me being present at the sale. I signed copies whenever asked. The CDs were packaged in what looked like a book but was no more than parchment card stock folded onto itself to make the cover with plastic sleeves inside to hold the CDs.
After closing the booth that first day, I began searching for the county campground listed in the AAA book. The book promised a list all campground public and private so I bought it. Not only did it list them but it also had directions to them. The problem seemed to be that some of the campgrounds had very small signs. I was searching for the camping area run by the county where the festival was being held. Unfortunately it was a large county with a great many newly named roads. With all the confusion, I arrived at the park after the office closed. The note on the door said, 'Just find an empty space the ranger would be around to collect'.
I doubted they would be able to collect from me, since I would be gone before sunup. As usual I was wrong, the ranger arrived at the site while I was unloading enough boxes to make room for me to sleep. Most of the plastic boxes were stackable. Designed so that I could put one on top of another thereby making room to stretch out. However the tables were just too much. those I put on top of the van covered with one of those ugly blue plastic tarps. I had almost all the renovations done when the green pick up pulled up behind me. Even in the almost total darkness I saw the seal on the door.
"Hello there," I said as she approached.
"Hello, you getting a late start setting up?" The woman was almost my age if not more. The dark was kind to her but the lantern she carried was not. I would never be sure of her exact age but she was definitely no kid.
"Yeah, just closed up the festival in Warsaw," I replied.
"Oh yeah, what you selling?" She seemed only about half interested.
"Books," I replied with a smile to ease the abruptness of the short answer.
"Oh you a writer?"
"Of sorts, and an actor too. I make and sell audio books."
"You gonna be leaving early or are you staying a while?" She asked it looking at my self contained operation.
"Crack of dawn it's breakfast then back to the show. The are opening it early for a Sunday."
"I'm surprised you took everything down?" It was a question and I knew it.
"The promoter said to strip it clean nobody was providing any security. Seems some shows do and some don't. This is one of the don't."
"Do you do many?" She was way past the point of official duties.
"This is just my second one. I am still a FNG."
"Geeze, last time I heard that out loud was from my brother when he got back."
"Sure as hell don't hear it much these days, that is for sure."
"Since we are mostly empty, and since you are leaving at the crack of dawn, I will just forget the fee this time. But why don't you come back and see us."
"In that case hold on." From the box of CDs I removed one at random. "Something to keep you awake."
"Well I need something, I'm gonna be up all night checking campers."
"I would think they would all be tucked safely in their beds by now."
"Most are but we have a few partiers. We had a rape here last summer, so we kind of keep a tight lid on things now."
At the word rape my eyes bulged, I was glad that she hadn't seen it. Drop it, I told myself. You are double retired. You don't need to even be thinking about that.
"I can certainly understand," I said aloud.
"If you see me before I leave, let me know what you think of the CD."
"I will make it a point to look for you. Hey, tell you what, I will be your wake up service. What time to you have to be up?"
"I had thought about six. So that I can get a bite and have time to set up before nine. What time do you finish up here?"
"Not till about seven thirty."
"Ah well there goes your free breakfast. I will have to be pretty near the festival by that time."
"Yeah, always my luck. Well next year then?" It was a very nice comment for her to make.
"Sure, next year in Jerusalem," I said with a smile.
"You don't look Jewish."
"I'm not just a gentile smart ass."
"Good, I love a smart ass. See you at six." She got back in her green pickup, then drove away.