No longer suburban, Bruce Bentzman offers the latest piece in his new series:

From the Night Factory

18. Bless you, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

Stymied, I decided to take a walk. An essayist has a license to ramble.

This was probably one of the last warm nights. Autumn had begun. The window of my study had been wide open. There was the unpleasant noise of traffic on the Superhighway, which is Pennsylvania Route 1. The enjoyable chorus of crickets, for which Bucks County is famous, came in my window. Out of my window went a classical music radio station, originating from Mercer County Community College across the river in New Jersey.

It had also just briefly rained. It was a hard rain, but it took a direction that didn’t come in the window, so I could keep it open. Rain is a lovely sound. When the rain finished, I took off my slippers and put on my shoes, went gently down two flights of stairs, so as to not disturb my neighbors’ sleep, and took that walk for inspiration.

My short walk was along the private drive which is the only access to this apartment development. The black macadam that flows through a wood is approximately 8/10th of a mile long. I traversed the length of it wearing a raincoat, in case the rain decided to come back, and smoked my pipe stuffed with Ashton Artisan’s Blend. It doesn’t seem anyone smokes pipes anymore. I am an anachronism. I haven’t seen a tin of Baby’s Bottom in forty years. It has been five years since I last saw J.F. Germain’s King’s Charles Smoking Mixture. I’m fond of Latakia tobacco. I’m sure the stuff is out there somewhere, but I never come across it. Smoking is a rare treat. I don’t do it every day. I don’t even do it once a week. I typically go a month or several without a puff of my pipe or a good hand rolled cigar.

There on my walk, three o’clock in the morning, the road enclosed by trees and mist, I thought about my book of essays, Selected Suburban Soliloquies. It is my third book, this time self-published on Lulu Press. So very careful was I with the book’s design, resorting to my father’s 1949 edition of A Manual of Style issued by the University of Chicago. I employed the traditional layout for front matter; like I said, I am an anachronism.

I thought also, if only I had the wealth of a Mitt Romney, what beautifully crafted books I would have published. This brought memories.

Back in April, at the 52nd Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair at the Park Avenue Armory at 67th Street in Manhattan, there was not one, but two of only 48 copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer bound in white pig's skin by the Doves Bindery. Only one displayed a price tag, $275,000. There was nothing there I could afford, not even the original pen & ink drawing by Ernest H. Shepard of Winnie the Pooh gathering honeypots, $60,000. It was such a little drawing, but endearing.

The walk was as it should be, a delectation that gently exercised my body while massaging my mind. I paused twice beneath streetlamps to write notes. “For over 150 million years dinosaurs dominated the planet without ever writing books.” That was significant. Intelligent life in the universe, those aliens who would read and write books probably don’t pop into existence often.

Existence! It reminded me of something I wrote to a friend. I had copied that part of the letter into my notes. “Why bother to persist at existence? Do you stop reading a good book in the middle because you know one day you will reach the last page? Existence is a good book I can’t put down.” And walks make me happy.

Writing essays make me happy. Bless you, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. He gave us the essay, a casual attempt to put one’s thoughts into writing. Montaigne understood, as did T.S. Eliot. Eliot explained it in his Four Quartets:
... And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

When I am dead, whereas others will be ghosts, I will be a book. It doesn’t seem I will haunt many bookshelves, but there will be a few.

Mr Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about the events and concerns of his life. If you've any comments or suggestions, he would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"