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The Little Way Of Binx Bolling

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Joy and sadness come by turns, I know now. Beauty and bravery make you sad, Sharon’s beauty and my aunt’s bravery, and victory breaks your heart. But life goes on and on we go, spinning along the coast in a violet light, past Howard Johnson’s and the motels and the children’s carnival. We pull into a bay and have a drink under the stars. It is not a bad thing to settle for the Little Way, not the big search for the big happiness but the sad little happiness of drinks and kisses, a good little car and a warm deep thigh. — Binx Bolling, in Walker Percy’s “The Moviegoer”

I was reading The Moviegoer out by the pool today at place on the Alabama Gulf Coast where we rented a condo this week. I was nearly to the end of my frosty rum drink, and looked up when I saw a broad-shouldered man with a gut in the water beside me, looking up above my head.

“I’m tryna see if dat fellow gonna jump, or what,” he said, smiling. He had a buzzcut and a working-class New Orleans accent as thick as his midsection. He also had an LSU sun visor shading his eyes.

“This place is like a Louisiana colony,” I said. “Everybody’s got LSU something on.”

“Yeah you right,” he said, emphasis on the first word. We had a pleasant exchange about how much we liked it here in Orange Beach.

“It’s real important to go on vacation wit’ ya kids,” he said. “I ‘memba all the trips we made when I was a kid.”

“We didn’t go on a lot of vacations,” I said. “When we did, it was usually to Grand Isle” — a hardscrabble island on the Louisiana coast — “and I thought that was paradise. I didn’t know that beaches were supposed to have white sand until my senior trip to Destin.”

We laughed together. “Yeah you right,” he said. “It was the same way with us. Grand Isle, all the time. We thought that was livin’. Now, you  and me, we bring our kids to a place like this, wit’ th’ high-rise, and the swimming pools. They don’t know how good they got it.”

I started to say yeah, you right, but most people from my part of Louisiana don’t use that phrase, at least not in the same way Yats [2]like my pool friend do.

My Yat friend raised his coozied can of Michelob Ultra in salute, smiled and me, and made his way to the other end of the pool, where his kids and his nieces and nephews were playing. A fine guy, I thought. Earlier, I’d listened to people from Lafayette talking, and others from Thibodaux. The tribe was all here. It felt … right. I mean, it felt like I was among my people, and this was the way it was supposed to be. I’ve been to The Hamptons, which is very nice indeed, but I didn’t fit there like I fit here, among all these Louisiana people, swimming with their kids on the Redneck Riviera. There was my Lucas, flopping around about 10 yards away, in his goggles.

I put the novel down and stood up. Time was I would have been intensely self-conscious about having a beer belly poolside, if there were pretty women nearby. There were in fact a few very attractive young ladies lolling about, but I didn’t care. There is a certain freedom in getting to middle age and just not giving a rat’s ass about that kind of thing. I’m a 46-year-old happily married father of three kids; my beard is graying, my hair is thinning, and I’m a tub of grease. It really doesn’t matter what those gorgeous 17 year olds think of me. Off goes the guayabera, and into the pool I plunged.

Lucas and I played together in the water, and talked about things for a while, then I got out, dried off, and picked up the book. Before I returned to reading, I thought about how pleasant this all was, and so minor. It made me happy.

And then I thought of my friend who was just put into hospice care. She loved the beach, loved bringing her kids to the beach. She will never see the beach again. She will never even see her Louisiana home again, because she’s in hospice at M.D.  Anderson in Houston. How she would love to be here on the chaise by poolside, feeling the sun on her face and arms just one more time.

Mine was a sad little happiness, but I was grateful for it, grateful to have found a place, and grateful to be grateful for small things and little ways. I don’t think I “settled” for the Little Way, as Binx did, but rather accepted it as a surprise gift. Besides, I think Binx’s idea of the Little Way and my idea of the Little Way differ somewhat. Still, it was a fine thing to be sitting poolside in Alabama with a cold rum drink in my hand and my people all around.

 

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13 Comments To "The Little Way Of Binx Bolling"

#1 Comment By Btrv On June 27, 2013 @ 12:40 am

Wife and kids are in Orange Beach too. I will be joining them latter. So add a few more to the Louisiana crew.

#2 Comment By TimG On June 27, 2013 @ 12:44 am

Doing what we do in Mexico, it can be hard to take vacations. It’s similar to what you feel thinking about your friend—how can I have it so good when so many don’t? ( the opposite “Why me?” kind of question we usually ask). But I find the best response to that is simple gratitude, which you express so well. Gratitude and appreciation for the simple and extraordinary gifts we receive from the Giver of all good things.

I’m learning that thankfulness is also the best antidote for whining (at which I’m naturally very talented) AND a great motivator to be generous in my turn.

So thank you for your creative expression of thankfulness.

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 27, 2013 @ 3:24 am

The Moviegoer is my least favorite of Walker Percy’s novels, all of which I have read, as well as his non-fictional Message in the Bottle and Lost in the Cosmos.

#4 Comment By Animadversor On June 27, 2013 @ 5:24 am

You must know, Mr. Dreher, that there is something that “gorgeous 17 year olds” find rather appealing about “46-year-old happily married father[s] of three kids,” although I’m sure it’s not the beer belly.

#5 Comment By Fred On June 27, 2013 @ 7:52 am

Great post.

King of the Yats:

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#6 Comment By JohnE_o On June 27, 2013 @ 8:14 am

Mine was a sad little happiness, but I was grateful for it, grateful to have found a place, and grateful to be grateful for small things and little ways.

Well, seeing as it is a safer, healthier, and more comfortable life than almost all of humanity going back in history ever dreamed of living – I should hope so.

#7 Comment By Caroline Walker On June 27, 2013 @ 9:44 am

For ten years we rented the same house on Perdido Bay, on the little spit in Alabama across the Bay from where you are now in Orange Beach. Those are the happiest memories of summer for our kids — and us too. Nothing quite like the taste of a rum and tonic iced down good while marinating in the spit-warm cove.
If you can get across the bay on a boat, pirate’s cove yacht club is the best kept secret on the redneck riviera…have lunch in a wet bathing suit and soak in the retro awesomeness. (Josephine, Ala.)

#8 Comment By Grey Pilgrim On June 27, 2013 @ 10:15 am

WV folks have a similar experience going to Myrtle Beach, SC. We were always bumping into people Dad knew from work, or kids that I went to school with. Every parking lot from North Myrtle down to Murrells Inlet was full of WV license plates all summer.

#9 Comment By Mary Russell On June 27, 2013 @ 11:05 am

I think it may be different for men than women. I spent my 20s getting my ass handed to me in training, then my 30s establishing a practice and having babies. Now that I’ve turned 40 I’m ready to rock. It helps that as opposed to the 80 s and 90s when fashion rewarded the cadaverously skinny, my body type (5’11” and athletic) is more in vogue. So I still give a damn about looking good at the pool, and will for a while, and am willing to make the necessary sacrifices in terms of what I eat and don’t eat.

#10 Comment By DS On June 27, 2013 @ 2:22 pm

Animadversor can’t possibly be right. I’m about Rod’s age, and about five years ago I became completely invisible to women under 25. Now I’m 44 and am invisible to women under 30.

They only make eye contact with me when they’re talking on their cell phones.

But the age-cloak is a good thing. My wife fears I’ll run off with a 20-year-old, but unless I’m holding a puppy or conducting a job interview, they don’t know I exist.

Women my own age eye me up like I’m a turkey drumstick. Where were they when I was 20?

#11 Comment By bill holston On June 27, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

my fave childhood memory was going to Gulf Shores State Park with my parents as a pre teen. We went crabbing, ate blue crabs, picked blackberries, ate cobbler and went body surfing in the Gulf. My parents told me later we didn’t have money so we were basically catching; picking our dinner. I was blissfully unaware of that. They didn’t have enough money to pay the toll for the Bankhead Tunnel, so drove back north and through Pritchard. The Alabama Coast, dolphins, fried fish and Civil War relics.

Rod, great story.

#12 Comment By RB On June 27, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

So glad you went swimming. I bet your boy is too.

My mom never went swimming with us and won’t let us take pictures of her, because she so hates how she looks. I would have loved if she would have just jumped in the water with us! She cared so much about the opinion of strangers that she’s been in voluntary exile from fun for decades now.

I’m in my early 30’s and have a bunch of kids and I love being free from the cultural obligation to look a certain way, and free from my own adolescent vanity. I get to just play again, like a kid. What a relief! Life just gets better and better.

#13 Comment By bthayesesq On June 12, 2014 @ 10:29 am

I was simply googling “Binx Bolling” this morning because I had the name stuck in my head and couldn’t remember what book it was from (I was pretty sure it was Percy but couldn’t remember which one). Your post was the first one that popped up and it was as if I’d written the words myself. I just came off a Carnival Cruise earlier this week (and went straight back to work here at the office in New Orleans) and your piece was like Deja Vu from that trip. Of course, you’ve got a couple of years on me but all the other sentiments are the same (inc. the three kids – incidentally, we’re planning a trip out to Ship Island next week). In fact, I just checked my common book and there is the exact quote you included penned in my own hand from when I read “The Moviegoer” all those years ago. Thanks for this article, Mr. Dreher, and Viva the Little Way!