Monday, November 20, 2006

Untitled Story, Part I

I received the following in Saturday’s email. I am reproducing it here verbatim, for your consideration.

***

Dear B.F.,

     I wrote the enclosed story years ago. It has been hidden in a drawer since the day it was completed, probably for the better.

     A few days ago, someone forwarded me a link to one of your articles. I read it. I loved it. (I’ve since read everything, and love most of it.)

     Something I read reminded me of this abandoned story, and prompted me to dig it out and dust it off.

     It may not be as horrible as I remembered.

     So attached is the first of three parts of my story. (It never had a title.) If you like the first part, my hope is that you would publish it to your web site. If I see it there, I will forward the second part. If I don’t, then back into the drawer it goes.

     A Reader,
     S.D.

***

4:42 a.m.

I’m three quarters of the way through this book tour, and I don’t know where I am.

I don’t mean this hotel looks just like the last dozen, I mean literally (literally literally, not slang literally) – I don’t know what city this is. Not that it would make much difference. Today will be just like yesterday. Yesterday was just like the day before.

The car will get here in a few minutes and take me to some radio station. I don’t know the station. Or the personalit(y) (ies). (I hope it's just one. One is easier for me than two. With two, it doesn’t matter how nice they are, I always leave feeling like I’ve been ganged up on at recess.) I don’t know the format. Doesn’t matter, most radio talent attended the same school of smarmy-over-animated-feigned-interest anyway. I don’t fault them, or even dislike them. They’re successful in radio for good reason, and I like listening to the radio in the morning as much as anybody else. But even the few who read and make an effort don’t usually have enough advance notice to get all the way through my book anyway. So the questions are always identically superficial.

(If I ever meet the person who decided that authors pimping books should do morning radio, I’m kicking his/her ass.)

That’s okay, the answers are identically superficial, too. Doesn’t matter. When the car gets here, I’ll just get in and go. Moo.

After the station, I’ll fall asleep in the car for a few minutes on the way to spend some face time with corporate types the publisher wants me to schmooze. I won’t know who they are, I won’t remember their names. They could be the same people from yesterday, and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Maybe they follow me from city to city, someone’s idea of a joke to see how long it takes me to notice. Maybe they’re even on the same flights, up in first class where I can’t see them.

More likely, though, they won’t know who I am, either. And will share my passion for the encounter.

After the suits, I’ll go back to sleep in the car on my way to whatever civic service club luncheon I’m attending.

If this is a good luncheon day, I’ll be the guest at a Rotary club meeting (or Kiwanis, or Lions, or ___________), and my only obligation will be to stand and smile and wave when announced. Then I can sit back down and suffer through a rubbery version of what once might have been chicken. With rice, always rice. Required by law, I think.

After, only the two or three people who have a genuine interest in the book will come over to my table and talk to me, the rest will simply file out the doors, back to their jobs as doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs.

These two or three will likely constitute the universe of sincere face to face human interaction I get for the day.

Maybe one or two more will confuse me for someone else and tell me how much their [friend/nephew/neighbor] enjoyed the book(s) I didn’t write. I will politely thank them. I will not correct their mistake. I usually like the author they think I am anyway.

If this is not a good luncheon day, same organizations (or, if this is a really bad day, a chamber of commerce), only I’ll have to speak at the luncheon, and I will not have time to eat my rubbery chicken and rice. Instead, I’ll have to stand at the podium before a room of professionals who raise money for things like global polio eradication during their lunch hours. God bless them, and their efforts, but there isn’t a lot of polio vaccination in this book.

I don’t feel insecure speaking to these groups so much as inappropriate. Clancy can save face at a conference of security contractors. Grisham can address bar associations with (some) credibility. When I have to speak to civic service associations, I always feel like the mistress being introduced to the wife.

I’ll doze off again on the way to the book store. I don’t know which of the homogeneous book conglomerates (Walden-Borders & Noble a Million) will have me chained to a desk all afternoon wishing for a cardboard mask-on-a-stick to hold in front of my face, bearing a smiling likeness of me.

[I thought up the mask-on-a-stick during my very first meet and greet, which happened to be day one of this tour, after the third person came up to the table and asked “[d]id you really make all this stuff up?” I checked to see if someone at the back of the line was putting them up to it. I prayed that it was some kind of prank. Publisher’s hazing, or initiation, or something.

It was not.

So I figure that having a life sized picture of my smiling face on a stick would enable me to endure those questions without having to visibly suppress the gag reflex.]

Honestly, sooner or later, I will vomit on a stranger. (The people asking the boneheaded questions never hear the answers anyway. I could say, “Oh, goodness, I didn’t make any of it up. Copied it from other stuff. Phonebook, mostly,” and they would just thrust their new copy in front of me to sign without missing a beat. I’m thinking that if my response came in the form of spewing rubbery chicken bits, that they would notice.)

The publisher’s publicist Patti (say that after a couple of Stolis, neat) hasn’t come right out and said as much, but I’m reasonably certain that blowing chunks on the admiring public (at least, the book buying, book signing attending members) would not boost sales.

(Oddly enough, it probably wouldn’t hurt, either. One or two isolated instances, anyway.)

After Walden-Borders & Noble a Million, I’ll probably go to the airport. Maybe dinner somewhere first, with some municipal officials only marginally less interested in who I am than vice versa (after all, I can't vote here, wherever here is). If the flight is on time, maybe I’ll be in the next hotel room by 1:00 a.m.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Am I complaining? Oh my god, how funny. This is exactly what complaining would look like, if I were complaining, isn’t it?

Be careful what you wish for. I wanted the book to do well – dreamt that it would. And it is doing business. (Secretly, I knew it would. I don't think out of hubris, I’ve just read enough to have some idea what works and what doesn’t.)

I know that all of this is part of the deal. I enjoy the travel and the people, I do. I’m just… tired. The first two weeks were a total blast, the dream come true. Then the lack of rest and the repetition caught up to me. The adrenaline (and abject terror) wore off. Dulled. Became routine. This doesn’t feel like the attention that I’d craved. Everything since has been blurry, and not the exciting kind.

I’m three quarters of the way through this tour, and I don’t know where I am. It doesn’t really matter. Today will be just like the last dozen, and all I have to do is show up and go through the motions. At least I have all the answers.


    “Sir? Your car…”

    He looked past the voice and saw the dark Lincoln at the curb. It was raining harder now. The driver held a large open umbrella in one hand, the other rested on the rear door handle, cocked and ready.

    “Thank you,” he said, closing the laptop as he stood. Without taking his eyes off the car, he slipped the computer into his bag, reached up with his other hand to clench his coat collar, and walked out the door.

***

Thank you, S.D. – I am intrigued, and though I have done nothing to merit your confidence, I will endeavor to uphold your expectations.

I am excited to find out what happens next. Something tells me that if it is as hum-drum as your protagonist expects, then you wouldn’t have bothered to tell the story.

Your obedient servant,
B. Freret 

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