Bedrich Grunzweig, Times Square Movie Theatre Marquee
(New York City, c. 1950)
Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
Then it is that the idea of the search occurs to me. I become absorbed and for a minute or so forget about the girl.
What is the nature of the search? You ask.
Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked.
The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick.
To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.
The movies are onto the search, but they screw it up. The search always ends in despair. They like to show a fellow coming to himself in a strange place—but what does he do? He takes up with the local librarian, sets about proving to the local children what a nice fellow he is, and settles down with a vengeance. In two weeks time he is so sunk in everydayness that he might just as well be dead.
What do you seek—God? you ask with a smile.
The last time I had friends was eight years ago. When I returned from the Orient and recovered from my wound, I took up with two fellows I thought I should like. I did like them. They were good fellows both. One was an ex-Lieutenant like me, a University of Cal man, a skinny impoverished fellow who liked poetry and roaming around the countryside. The other was a mad eccentric from Valdosta, a regular young Burl Iives with beard and guitar. We thought it would be a good thing to do some hiking, so we stuck out from Galtinburg in the Smokies, headed for Maine on the Appalachian Trail. We were all pretty good drinkers and talkers and we could spiel about women and poetry and Eastern religion in pretty good style. It seemed like a fine idea, sleeping in shelters or under the stars in the cool evergreens, and later hopping freights. In fact this was what I was sure I wanted to do. But in no time at all I became depressed. The times we did have fun, like sitting around a fire or having a time with some girls, I had the feeling they were saying to me: “How about this, Binx? This is really it, isn’t it boy?”, that they were practically looking up from their girls to say this. For some reason I sank into a deep melancholy. What good fellows they were, I thought, and how much they deserved to be happy. If only I could make them happy. But the beauty of the smokey blue valleys, instead of giving us joy, became heartbreaking. “What’s the matter with you, Binx?” they said at last. “My dear friends,” I said to them. “I will say good-by and wish you well. I think I will go back to New Orleans and live in Gentilly.”
And there I have lived ever since, solitary and in wonder, wondering day and night, never a moment without wonder. Now and then my friends stop by, all gotten up as young eccentrics with their beards and bicycles, and down they go into the Quarter to hear some music and find some whores and still I wish them well. As for me, I stay home with Mrs. Schexnaydre and turn on TV. Not that I like TV so much, but it doesn’t distract me from the wonder. That is why I can’t go to the trouble they go to. It is distracting, and not for five minutes will I be distracted from the wonder.