Saturday, October 02, 2004 posted by Jen at 10/02/2004 04:03:00 PM
Back to the bizarre.
On Wednesday night, my publicist wanted to take me out to dinner before my reading. He invited along a friend of his, a woman who works at a Very Prestigious Media Outlet – the kind that hardly ever covers novelists, and when it does, it’s Philip Roth.
I was excited to hear that this woman would be coming along – hey, maybe it means that the powers that be are taking my books seriously!
But from the moment she breezed into the very fancy restaurant, ten minutes late and blabbing on her cell phone, and parked herself at the table without so much as a glance in my direction, let alone a "hello," it was clear that my hopes were misplaced.
“Congratulations on being so high on the list!” my publicist said, raising his glass in a toast.
Very Prestigious Media Lady finally got off the phone, and blinked at me fuzzily. “What list?”
“The best-seller list,” my publicist explained.
“Oh.” Clearly unimpressed, she opened her menu. “I can’t read this!" she pouted. "I forgot my bifocals!” She leaned her head against my publicist’s shoulder, a kittenish move that would have been appropriate from an eight-year-old, and was extremely odd when performed by a woman who needed bifocals to read a menu.
I sat there, my heart sinking, as my publicist read the appetizer list out loud. Okay, I thought, so she’s not interested in my books. She has no idea who I am. She’s only here to hang out with my publicist and score some fancy free eats. Which is fine. There are worse things in life than being someone’s meal ticket, and I know that toiling in the prestigious media vineyards doesn’t always pay very well. Although I do wish she’d at least say hello.
“Hello and welcome,” said the waitress, as VPML continued to squint at the menu. “Have you dined with us before? Our appetizers come out of the kitchen as they’re prepared….”
VPML pouted. “Do we have to share?” she demanded.
The waitress looked confused. “Well, you can certainly share if you want to, but you don’t, you know, have to.”
At which point I stopped wondering whether VPML was simply disinterested and started wondering whether she was drunk.
Conversation proceeded in fits and starts. I foolishly tried to engage VPML by mentioning a mutual acquaintance, a former newspaper coworker.
“Oh, him,” VPML said scornfully. “Yeah, I guess he’s still hanging around at the paper.”
Weird, I thought, feeling increasingly nonplussed. The first time I’d met VPML, she’d been with my former coworker, and he’d introduced her as a friend.
My publicist asked about my plans for the tour, and how travel with Lucy would be. I explained that my mother would be joining me for the west coast dates. VPML, who’d been engrossed in her twelve-dollar cocktail, suddenly looked up and glared at me.
“You’ve got a lot of issues with your mother, don’t you?”
“Huh?” I said.
“No,” I said politely. “No, actually, not really.”
“Oh,” she muttered. “I thought I read that somewhere.”
At which point, I stopped wondering whether VPML was drunk and started wondering whether I was on some literary version of Punk’d.
The appetizers came. VPML ate sushi and ignored me. I would have been perfectly happy if she’d ignored me through the entrees, too, except every once in a while she’d look up from her Kobe beef and rejoin the conversation long enough to drive home the point that she had no idea who I was or what I’d written, and that she could care less.
“So this one’s your first book?”
“No, it’s actually my third.”
“And it was just published today?”
“No, it’s been out for two weeks.”
She scratched her head and slurped her drink. “It’s fiction, right?”
At some point during her disdainful interrogation, the whole thing stopped being painful and awkward and strange and started verging on hilarious. (Perhaps it was when she turned to my publicist and giggled proudly, “I’m being rude, aren’t I?”).
Finally the check came and it was time to go to the bookstore.
“Now,” she said, “is anyone else going to be reading tonight, or is it just you?”
“Just me,” I said sweetly. “Sorry!”
My prediction is that I will not be appearing on the Very Prestigious Media Program any time soon.
The Philadelphia reading was wonderful. Crowded, but great. I think there were more than a hundred and fifty people jammed onto the third floor of the Barnes & Noble, including a lot of my friends, and even some of their babies. There were lots of interesting questions, a few funny stories about the “In Her Shoes” filming (including the heartbreaking tale from a woman whose dog auditioned for – and failed to get – a part as a dog extra).
I signed books until my fingers were numb, then took the limo my publicist had kindly given me for the night over to the Continental, and had celebratory margaritas and cupcakes with my baby-mama friends. It was a wonderful, memorable night.