Tag Archives: writers

Lame Adventure 378: Real Life Revenge of the Nerds

It is not a secret that I am a tepid book reader.

Ah, let's read about Wine for Dummies while quaffing beer.

Reading the cover of Wine for Dummies while quaffing beer.

This is not because I have an aversion to reading books. I simply have little time to devote to reading books. At the risk of sounding like the kindred spirit of a hack that seldom listens to music but composes a symphony on spoons, I recently finished writing my first book of 25 short humor essays, Lame Adventures: Unglamorous Tales From Manhattan. Currently my essentially invisible tome is in freefall. It’s # 712,595 with a boulder on Amazon’s Best Sellers Rank. This sinkhole ranking gives the impression that I have written my masterpiece on spoons. I have agonized over this situation and concluded that my tome’s problem is that only tens of about thirty people are aware of it, and they’ve all purchased it. Today I learned that my pal, Fellini, contacted The Bloggess about it. Yes, real deal humorist Jenny Lawson has given my book a welcome shout out. Maybe her endorsement will generate more e-book sales.

In an effort to lift my book’s dismal ranking a hundred thousand notches or maybe a realistic eight, I attended every librarian’s wet dream, BookExpo America.

Wally Lamb! (whoever that is)

Wally Lamb! Whoever that is.

Tie-in for film based on book that is not on my radar.

Tie-in for film based on book that is not on my radar.

Malcolm Gladwell — heard of him as well as David & Goliath.

Malcolm Gladwell — heard of him as well as David & Goliath.

Duct tape raffle! (didn't enter)

BEA duct tape raffle! Didn’t enter.

Larger than life Lego sculptures. (respected the rules — only photographed; didn't touch)

Larger than life Lego sculptures. Respected the rules — only photographed; didn’t touch fearing decapitation.

Dummies guy was in the house!

Dummies guy was in the house!

BEA is a massive publishing event that was held at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. Javits is a cavernous six-block long conference hall that could double as a town with central air conditioning. For published authors the entry fee was a seizure-inducing $199, but on the bright side, I was not smacked with a penalty fee for being semi-illiterate.

Prior to going I researched the more than 1000 exhibitors to see if any might be open to my brand of wit. I focused on nine publishers and three literary agencies. Once at Javits, I saw a crowd waiting in the lobby for the show to open at 9 A.M. Someone assumed that I was press, which struck me as odd, but I was wearing this Roz Chast cartoon tee shirt that must have given the false impression that I have a career.

No, I am not CEO of Low Key Press.

No, I am not CEO of Low-Key Press.

After registering, I set out to find the agents who were in the International Rights Center located a floor above the show proper. On my way there, I found the beer.

9 A.M. suds. Locked.

9 A.M. suds. Locked. They knew I was coming.

And I narrowly missed getting run over by a Coke machine.

Almost the death of me or at least some disfigurement.

Almost the death of me or at least some disfigurement.

The third event in this leg of my journey was encountering a guard who stopped me and asked if I had an appointment. No appointment. No admittance. Even though she didn’t bare her teeth, I sensed that she was no nonsense.

Me: How do I go about getting an appointment?

Guard: Make phone calls.

She gestured toward a catalogue with names and numbers. I did not want to get bit in the shin so I took her advice. I spilled my guts to an assistant at one agency who was responsive. She arranged for me to leave my book with reception. A few of the publishers on my list that I visited on the exhibition floor were also receptive.

Exhibition hall before it got REALLY crowded.

Exhibition hall before it got really crowded.

Time will tell if anything will come from any of these encounters or if the copies of my book that I handed out are destined to be mulch. In the exhibition area, I was deluged with exhibitors offering advance complimentary copies of all kinds of books. The vast majority I declined because I did not want to lug around 900 pounds of backbreaking clutter. Many attendees grab a copy of everything at this all you can read buffet.

Stacks of Raccoon Rampage for the taking.

Stacks of Raccoon Rampage for the taking.

Authors are also present to sign autographs.

Mat Phelan signing his graphic novel I regret not taking.

Matt Phelan signing advance copies of his graphic novel, Bluffton, that I highly regret not taking.

Bluffton by Matt Phelan, a graphic novel I later learned that's about my favorite silent film comedian Buster Keaton.

Bluffton a graphic novel featuring my favorite silent film comedian Buster Keaton as a boy.

I had little interest in collecting any autographs until I saw that my favorite living playwright, Tony Kushner, was signing copies of his screenplay, Lincoln.

So-so picture of great American writer Tony Kushner.

So-so picture of great American writer Tony Kushner.

He could sign a gum wrapper with William Wrigley’s initials and I’d wait in a line an hour for that. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his theatrical masterwork Angels in America and has twice been nominated for the Academy Award. He is such a brilliant writer the grocery list in his back pocket would likely sing to me.  

Okay, maybe I did lower myself and get Helen Fielding's autograph, too, and a copy of it for my sister as well.

Maybe I did get Bridget Jones’s Diary author Helen Fielding’s autograph for my sister … and me. Helen’s delightful.

It’s common at BEA for attendees to ask fellow attendees standing on epic lines whom they’re waiting for. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it was for an author I had never heard of, but I quickly perfected the habit of nodding my white noise-filled head like I was familiar. When I encountered time one hundred, I learned that the line was for Jim Carrey. Yes, this guy.

Grandpa Jim smiing and signing.

Grandpa Jim smiling and signing.

He was signing autographs to drum up buzz for his children’s book How Roland Rolls. He wrote it with kids and his own grandson in mind. Even though it seemed like I stood in his line for the better part of a week, I met a fellow self-published author named Rainey who lives in Arizona and bonded with her. Bonding with people makes the long line waiting almost enjoyable. The people in front of us were very friendly, too. There was such a commotion when Jim Carrey arrived; I thought that maybe it was for another famous guy with the initials “JC”.  I’m not thinking Jimmy Carter.

Rainy indulging in her 1.8 seconds with Jim.

Rainy indulging in her 1.8 seconds with Jim.

Real Happiness at Work a.k.a. an oxymoron.

Real Happiness at Work a.k.a. a myth.

On my way to finding where an author was talking about her book, Real Happiness at Work, which from my own day job experience must be in the fantasy genre, I noticed a queue that stretched to infinity. Attendees were not waiting for a free book or an autograph from God. This horde was eager to have their picture taken with the Internet sensation Grumpy Cat. I had never heard of this cat until that moment at BEA. Grumpy Cat was born with feline dwarfism, a condition that leaves a permanent frown on her face, much like my fellow subway riders at rush hour. But no one would stand in a line crossing the border to meet them. My fellow line waiters there were terrific, too, especially Ellen the Wonderful, who is familiar with this blog. What a woman!

Ellen and Grumpy Cat.

Ellen and Grumpy Cat.

Me smiling like an idiot with Grumpy Cat who indeed looked very grumpy, if not sedated.

Smiling behind Grumpy Cat who indeed looked very grumpy, if not sedated.

Around four o’clock the exhibitors unlocked the beer. Quaffing an icy cold one while socializing with pistol librarians like Jeanette from Newington, Connecticut and Debbie from Easton, Pennsylvania also makes the line-waiting pass much quicker.

Before leaving at the end of the long day, I visited the bathroom, but resisted the temptation to shill my book to the attendant there. The loo was plastered with Mad Libs stickers. Pictured below is the one that was inside my stall’s door.

Mad Libs written by my predecessors. Photo hot shot from a sitting position.

Mad Libs written by my predecessors. Photo not shot from a sitting position.

Lame Adventure 275: Depressing Sight

One night this week I was waiting for an uptown local subway train to take me to my destination, a movie theater where I was going to meet my friend, Felipe.  I was standing on the platform with fellow members of the beaten-down-after-work-heading-to-the-land-of-gin-and-tonic crowd.  Most of the herd was looking in the direction of the dark hole of a tunnel for an oncoming train’s headlights that were nowhere in sight.  I was focused on the tracks fixated on this depressing sight.

"Is that what I think it is?"

The curled green cover made me think that this little book, whether it held addresses, notes, or the answers to all of the important secrets of life (where do all my lost socks go?), had probably belonged to a woman.  Yet, maybe it belonged to a guy who is colorblind or indifferent to color or simply a fan of green and has a leprechaun fetish.  Whoever this notebook belonged to, he or she probably had no idea what happened to it.  As pessimistic as I am by nature, I like to think that it was not the owner that tossed this little book into the tracks.

Little green notebook meeting its depressing end.

I imagine its owner probably just thought it disappeared and entered the void, as lost things often seem to do.  Then, after realizing our loss we think:

We (thinking):  Where the hell did [whatever that is] go?

Through the years I’ve asked that exact question about the aforementioned lost socks, as well as gloves, umbrellas, tickets, lip balm, packs of gum, pens, keys, photographs, my American Express card, and rather fabulously two crisp twenty dollar bills that had the unmitigated gall to sprout wings before my eyes when I stopped to use a pay phone at least 25 years ago.  How that happened was I unzipped a fanny pack I was wearing strapped across the front of my body.  I dipped my mitt in for change and my wallet-less cash flew out in the summer breeze and sailed gracefully in tandem into the slits in a sewer grate.  I looked helplessly down in the grate at them looking up at me at least ten feet out of my grasp forever.  My half-deaf ears were in better shape in my reckless youth for I seem to recall hearing them snicker.  I vividly remember that sick feeling of loss I suffered as if it happened yesterday.  This was also the last time I  wore one of those tourist-type nerd packs anywhere on my body ever again.  Even though I knew exactly where my cash went, that incident also absconded with one of the many missing pieces of my mind.

My battered Moleskine notebook safe and sound ... for now.

Lame Adventure 108: An Invitation from Suzan-Lori Parks to Milton and Me!

Recently, The Public Theater, where Milton and I share a membership, sent us an email that said the following about a playwright we both admire:

Suzan-Lori Parks Invites You to Watch Her Work

This performance piece, a meditation on the artistic process and an actual work session, features Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks working on her newest writing project in the main lobby of The Public Theater. The audience is invited to come and watch her work and/or to share the space and get some of their own writing work done. During the last fifteen minutes of the performance Parks will answer any questions the audience might have regarding their own work and their creative process.

The problem is that S-LP is doing this during the workday proper and my boss Elsbeth’s calendar is already packed with notes about my comings and goings related to all the New York Film Festival screenings I have been attending.  I ponder how she might digest a request from me to cut out for a seventy-five minute adventure, excluding travel time, to watch a writer write in a lobby packed with students, retirees, and people that called in phony-sick from work.

As much as I would like to employ the “something came up” tactic, I fear that this could backfire badly:

Me:  Elsbeth, something came up. I have an opportunity to network* with a brilliant playwright.

Elsbeth:  That’s great.  Who?

Me:  Suzan-Lori Parks.

Elsbeth:  Who?

Me:  She won the Pulitzer for Topdog/Underdog.

Elsbeth:  Should I know about this?

Me:  You do now Boss!

Elsbeth:  When are you going to meet with her?

Me:  That’s the thing.  I have choices.  Today, at noon, tomorrow at three, or Friday morning at eleven.

Elsbeth:  I have a better idea.  How about you stay chained to your desk, get some work done since I’m paying you, and you don’t go at all?

That’s the type of suggestion I would make to my sidekick, Greg, if he tried to pull this on me, after I had granted him three days worth of favors in the same week, and I also had an eyelash stabbing me in the iris.  Greg is straightforward with me when he needs a favor.  I could try the straightforward approach with Elsbeth.

Me:  Get a load of this, I’ve got an invitation from The Public Theater to watch resident playwright Suzan-Lori Parks write.

Elsbeth:  You’re going to watch someone write now?

I instinctively know from that imaginary reaction the conversation will crash land.

Milton is not inclined to barter with his superiors to attend S-LP’s writing session.  He even purposely resisted the opportunity to attend a book signing with one of his favorite authors, Michael Cunningham.  Milton’s purpose was to stay home and write, although we did spend forty-five minutes on the phone discussing his act of extreme self-sacrifice.

Milton:  I really wanted to see him, but we’ve been going out so much lately, I’m not getting any writing done.  At this rate, I won’t have anything finished until next year.

Me:  I’m torn over missing S-LP.  I just think if I laid this on Elsbeth right now, I’ll cross the line with her and she’ll finally detonate.

Milton:  I don’t think missing seeing her write is missing much.  No one would want to see me write.  That’s for sure.

Me:  You think?  First you open a bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass, and check your e-mail.  Then, you open Word.  You top off your glass of wine and play Bettye LaVette on your iPod.  You decide to change the font from Arial to Times New Roman, and write a sentence.  You hate the sentence, and then decide what you really hate is writing in Times New Roman.  Instead of changing the font back to Arial first, you delete the sentence, save your changes, but then you cannot recall what the sentence was.  Frustrated, you pour yourself a third glass of wine and watch a DVD.

Milton:  Have you been watching me write?

*This is no more of a networking-type event than I could claim I once had a conversation with baseball hall of fame catcher Gary Carter.  Years ago, when I was working as a production assistant on a Pringle’s potato chip commercial featuring then New York Mets catcher, Carter, I was told to fetch a can of Coke for him.  I did.  When I entered his dressing room and handed it to him, devout Christian Carter said, “God bless you.”  Dedicated atheist me asked, “Who sneezed?”  Fortunately he laughed at my snark, and I was not fired on the spot.