Shortly before leaving for my mini-”tour,” which was also meant to double as a working vacation (my stomach had reacted to the typical publishing stress with stabbing pains that made me unable to eat, with my non-work hours filled with doctor’s appointments and Xanax), I lured a boy back to my apartment after a reading. (There is a longer story, but let’s keep this part short.) Afterward, around 3 a.m., he asked me to call him a cab. I lay in bed considering the meaning behind this request and decided that it would be good to get out of town for a while. I’d been entirely too available to people in New York during the promotional period–readings, interviews, the pummeling by radio hosts–all were highly appreciated, yet it all made me feel more naked and vulnerable than I ever had while working in the peep show. It seemed like everybody had seen me naked in some form or the other. Now, it was time to be overly-available to people in other cities, who were not tired of me yet.
I landed in Los Angeles at noon and it took about hour to get to the hotel. I received an upgrade to a big room with orange shag carpeting and a silver teardrop-shaped beanbag chair. I jumped up and down on the bed in front of the mirror for a while, but I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get to Beverly Hills from West Hollywood, where I had a meeting at 3, and then I had to be at the bookstore by 6:30.
I took out my orange Marc by Marc Jacobs dress out of its garment bag, got out the iron and ironing board (when you stay in a normal hotel and not a flophouse, they provide these things) and ironed it out carefully. It would be an important meeting. I straightened my hair.
I arrived at the agency early. Having never been to one before, I was hoping for a scene out of “Entourage” or at least “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The girl made tiny by her huge desk called upstairs to inform someone that “a client” was here to see Mr. So-and-so. She told me, firmly, to take a seat.
A couple other writers wandered in–TV writers, from the looks of them. They were schlubbing it in jeans and Hawaiian shirts, muttering things to each other like “Have you heard back about the Oprah gig yet?” and other such industry-isms. They looked like they did not get out of the house very often, their social skills and razors rusty (they were mostly unshaven).
After a while, a whippet-thin young man wearing a sharp grey suit and a headset came down for me and took me two stories up, to a maze filled with dozens of other young men in suits and headsets. Would I like some water? he asked, and I shook my head no.
He led me into the office of the agent I was here to see. It wasn’t Ari Gold; it was a kindly-looking grey-haired gentleman who could have been my dad. He asked if I wanted water, too. No, thanks, I said. Are you sure? he asked, so I broke down; I’d take the water, maybe it was a cultural thing. It was just a meet-and-greet really, but I was in unfamiliar territory and was only able to mumble a few things, like, “I like Breaking Bad a lot.” He just smiled and said that the best writing was on TV these days, which is what my book could be, a “dark, sexy” TV show on a cable network.
“You’re a great character,” he said. (“I’m just a character to you?” I thought.) Thirty minutes later it was time for me to go–time being money and all–and I asked if there was a cab company around. He seemed amazed that I was traversing L.A. on foot. A cab was summoned via secretary. I watched with trepidation as the cab fare ticked towards $40.
I didn’t have my hopes up after the meeting, or my hopes down, it was something that meant everything and nothing; it could all go either way. 3 p.m. “Stay in touch” handshakes were the same as 3 a.m. whispered promises–paved with good intentions, and the like.
|Reading in San Francisco
In San Francisco, my aunt came to the reading with her boyfriend–marking the first sign of familial acceptance of my book. Afterward, she drove me across town, back to the Pontiac Hotel on Minna Street. A San Francisco resident since the 1970s, even she was put off by the neighboring porn store, the storefront needle exchange, the strip clubs. “Oh, God, Sheila,” she said, then recovered quickly, saying brightly, “I’ll just wait here until I see you’re safe inside!”
|Sheila, live from the Pontiac Hotel
“It’s fifty dollars a night,” I said. “Plus, you know I kind of like this kind of thing.”
“I’ve read your book,” she said. “I know you do.”
Halfway through my trip, the stabbing pains in my stomach miraculously subsided, and I was able to eat again. Having an appetite again was novel, and I ate and ate for the first time in two months. I found a Vietnamese place near the Pontiac flophouse that played Michael Jackson concert videos on a continuous loop and dined there nightly.
The next day, I met with a girl who had had the exact job as me–in the exact same peepshow actually–for an interview. I went to her apartment in the Tenderloin. Her buzzer didn’t work either, so I texted and she came downstairs to let me in. She had red curly hair. Her apartment was nearly empty; we sat in the kitchen and she smoked a cigarette. We talked for two hours, although we agreed that some things she wouldn’t put in the article because nobody would “get” it. Nobody would ever get it but us.
In Seattle, I saw my name in lights. Well, on a chalkboard in front of Elliott Bay Books. The crowd here was the smallest, but it contained some delightful people, and I ended up hanging out with an Internet friend and her fiance for the next two days.On the plane back to New York, I was stranded indefinitely (remember the hurricane?) during a layover in Detroit, also known as “home.” Well, I would have to face it all sooner or later: show up with a suitcase and let my dad be angry with me. It was six in the morning. I swallowed an Adderall, rented a car, and drove the two hours to Owosso. He was sitting in the kitchen when I walked in, watching TV, and I hugged him so he could go to bed. He had stayed up all night waiting for me.