Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

By Paul Ruffin | Go to book overview

The Girl in the Clean,
Well-Lighted Place

You are on the road on a book tour, and it’s late, but not late, just past the time when you know you should have eaten—your stomach has told you so. The motel room is quiet, with things scattered about in the casual clutter of a man alone, and you really want to be anywhere but here.

It’s not like you’re in a strange town, since you grew up just outside it and went to school here, but things have changed in thirty years, and night has settled on you like an empty shell inside which even familiar stars cannot light the way. Towns, the people in them—they change. Have to. It’s their nature. You’re back for professional reasons, not because of aging and dying parents, as was the case almost a decade ago; you’re back briefly, and then you’ll leave again, off to other places. It’s not like being in a town where everyone’s a stranger and the buildings and streets are strange. You know the town, and some of the people you still know, though they’re older now and off in their own worlds, and your woman, the one person you really want to be with, is not with you, though you can almost imagine her beside you, sense her with all your senses, the way you do a woman you are profoundly in love with. You are the stranger, in town for a day or two, then back on the road.

You are tired of cheeseburgers and Subways and pizza, the standard fare of the book tour—you want steak in some clean, well-lighted place, as Hemingway described a café in one of his stories. You want to sit in a room where people are enjoying food and each other’s company, where children chirp and giggle and couples whisper across the table to each other and rub feet, and you want to watch and listen, for this is what you do as a writer: you sit and watch and listen and record, and if you can, you make something of it.

You drive around behind Leigh Mall, where once there was a Morrison’s, but the cafeteria is gone, something else in its place, but not a place to eat, so you stop and idle, then notice across the street a sign advertising a restaurant or a bar, where a full meal might be served. You drive over there and park

-37-

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • Things Literary, More or Less 1
  • Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur 3
  • The Mosquito 15
  • The Lady with the Quick Simile 19
  • Workshopping a Cowboy Poem 22
  • Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry? 28
  • On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe 31
  • Making Preparations for the Tour 34
  • The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place 37
  • Explaining a Poem to a Student 40
  • Some Rare and Unusual Books 43
  • Tales from Kentucky Lawyers 45
  • The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns 48
  • Making a Dam in Segovia 51
  • Just Thinking about Shit 54
  • To San Juan and Back 60
  • On Likker and Guns 81
  • Drinking 83
  • Rats! 100
  • The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder 117
  • The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something He Didn’t Intend to 120
  • Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to the Gun Show We Go … 128
  • From "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash" (an as-Yet-Unpublished Memoir) 135
  • Trains 137
  • Learning about Sex 143
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