Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch
cbertsch

Almost Transparent Blackness

I'm a night person. And that can make traveling hard. When we're camping, I'll go for long walks and sit by the propane light at the picnic table until after midnight, then finally crawl into the tent. As long as I block the light and stay quiet, that works, though the opening and closing of the car door is invariably louder than I'd like. Hotels present a bigger challenge. I wasn't ready to sleep last night and thus wandered down to the lobby with books in hand. But the chairs and sofas of the lounge were too brightly lit and the space too saturated in bustling ambience for me to feel comfortable.

So I went up to the fitness center on the fifth floor -- I'd brought a change of clothing and a towel, thankfully -- and spent an hour on the treadmill reading Ryu Murakami's Almost Transparent Blue while ESPN Classic was playing the Mike Tyson-James "Buster" Douglas fight from February, 1990 on the flat-panel in front of me. I loved the book, but it had been slow going for me because of its many visceral passages documenting the dark side of the Japanese counter-culture. Somehow, reading it while trudging "uphill" on a conveyor belt, my eyes periodically drawn to the vicious blows being exchanged in the strange distance above and beyond the top of the paperback, I was able to make significant progress in it for the first time in days, fully aware of the irony that I was doing so while standing still.

Since Murakami spends a good deal of time showing the relation between African-American soldiers stationed in Japan and the young drop-outs who fetishized their otherness, the fact that the Tyson-Douglas bout took place in Japan, as the bottom of the screen kept reminding me, made it an especially good counterpoint to the novel. Indeed, the resulting "montage" was so powerful -- not to mention mirrored by the reality of the Baltimore that the hotel and surrounding Waterfront struggle to keep at bay -- that I had to move to the sauna to finish the book. Sitting in the pine-scented heat, with nary a sign of another living human, I absorbed the last twenty pages drenched in sweat. Given the depth of the existential crisis that confronts the narrator as his story arc-free tale comes to a close, that felt like the right sort of purging.
Tags: everyday, literature, race, travel
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