Bob Lowell found a motel forty miles up the highway. He'd turned the light on and found the room so dingy that he'd turned it back off. Then he had laughed at himself in the way you do when you've had too much to drink and watch your own behavior as if it were that of a stranger's. He turned the light back on and set the bag of burgers and a single bottle of beer on the bedside table. They were the classic old-fashioned hamburgers wrapped in wax paper and smelling of butter and onions. But he noticed that the table was chipped metal enamel, covered with a film of dust, and it put the food in an unfavorable context. It reminded him of how greasy the grill had been at the tavern where he had bought them a few miles back, and this further reminded him that he had the tendency to unduly romanticize taverns and other such things.
He turned the television on, turned the light off again. As he sat on the frayed chenille bedspread to remove his shoes, he decided that staying in this motel was an atonement for his romanticism. It was a half-built place, like he'd seen in so many sections of northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Places where he imagined people had come to live or people had always lived and didn't want to leave because they believed in the beauty of the land and further believed that the beauty would care for them. But the truth was, there is competition in the commerce of beauty: for every man who wants to build a pasty stand on the highway, two more will have the same idea, and many of them will be unable to make a go of it. And in his travels he had seen the beginnings of these enterprises: the abandoned framework of an out-building, the support timbers already gray from the weather, and a sign in the house adjoining that read: PIES FOR SALE, and beneath that one, KNIVES SHARPENED, and beneath that, SMALL ENGINES REPAIRED.
He watched a National Geographic program on television about a variety of oceanic wildlife only recently discovered. Until this year, oceanographers had lacked the technology to dive into the deep habitat of these beings. They were strange, blind, ephemeral organisms swimming under the l