Paul Greenberg

(With apologies to Walker Percy)

He no longer looked up when he walked out of the office building into the evening. He felt the sauna heat and went on, gazing straight ahead. He used to dawdle. Now he walked purposefully, as if he knew where he was going.

Once he had looked forward to this time of day, with the sunshine a last scrawled gash across the sky, or maybe diffused high above, the layered clouds lit from beneath. He remembered how sunsets had been - the sudden burst of light in the summer, the almost refreshing feel of the sultry, unfiltered air. The unconditional Southern air of deep summer that let you know where you were. You walked out the door and into dead air. Nothing stirred, and yet something did, inside.

Soon the lights in the other office buildings would come on against the encroaching dim. For a moment there would be a feeling of escape into the night. The sun would have released its grip. But for now there was only the accumulated heat of the day pressing down like a blanket, like the suffocating past.

Above all, literally above all, there was still the sky. The beauty and ordinariness of it had become too much to contemplate. He was tired of entering into all that, and then having to emerge from it.

Now he preferred to watch where he was going, rather than just meander. He had learned something: Anything that elevates, or recalls the past, or gives you feelings at the end of the day, will demand things of you eventually, just you wait. You'll pay. Better not to get involved.

A client took him to lunch the other day at one of those places atop a building. He chose a small table in the corner with a chair facing the wall. His host offered to swap places with him, so he could see out the picture windows and admire the wrap-around view. "You should see this sky," the other, younger guy said. "It looks like a huge painting." Exactly, he thought. It wasn't real any more. None of it. "Thanks," he said, "I've seen it before."

He was thankful there had been no design on the wallpaper. Blankness invited, comforted, released. Symbols meant trouble. In symbols begin responsibilities. Projects. Obsessions. Symbols demand allegiance. He didn't want to be bothered by all that any more. Not that he was embittered or disgruntled. He was just no longer interested.

He experienced the weather now mainly over the radio, the way he did traffic jams-something to avoid. He wished he could go through just one day without news, the incessant news, and its unspoken demand that one have an opinion about everything. Why?

No, he did not need a vacation. He needed vacancy.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.