If it was sunny he would have gone to the Conference, just off Washington Square Park earlier, strolled around and had lunch at The Spotted Pig, especially after the Batali accusation. Why is it these NY abusers like Batali and Weinstein actually look like spotted pigs, or like Anthony Weiner, a porcine product?
The crappy May day meant he would just drive in do his 2 minute pitch for his overwhelmingly underselling book to the representatives of over 100 Jewish groups looking for speakers. At least the weather let up. Out of the garage and – boom – a downpour. Rain jacket on, hood up, the cold wind driven rain pelted his face and pants. “God, I hope I dry off before I have to meet anyone.” “Maybe I should have gotten here at 2 when registration started.” He didn’t want to be there longer than necessary. No one knows how shy Paul is when in new situations. He puts up a good front.
Finally, he reached the doors of the Hebrew Union College. Water dripping off his jacket, he followed the 5 women ahead of him and, as he always does, observed what they did, so he could “do the right thing” when it was his turn to get in. They waved paper tickets and ID’s, so he figured they were members showing their tickets and membership ID’s. “I don’t need that” he thought, “I’m a presenter.”
The chunky security guard looked up at him, “ID?” “I don’t have one. I’m not a member, I’m a presenter,” Paul replied confidently. The guard asked again. Paul smiled and replied again, figuring the guard didn’t hear him. “I don’t have one. I’m not a member, I’m a presenter,” The guard asked again. “ID?”
“Fuck, what is he asking me for? “Duh… He means a photo ID, a driver’s license.” “What an idiot I am.” Aware of the line building behind him, Paul sheepishly said, “Oh, I misunderstood…. Ha, ha, ha …. Here you are.” He pulled out his ugly NYS driver’s license photo hoping no one behind him noticed his screw up. “So far, no good. First the rain then this embarrassment. Let me go register”, he mumbled to himself. At least he got on the correct line for presenters.
While he mulled over the crappy start to this long shot of a day, he was asked his name and handed a yellow name tag dangling from a too long nylon string. The generically faceless woman seated far below him mumbled something about a coat room, the restrooms, a sanctuary, and to hang around a half hour before the 3 PM indoctrination. The actual pitches would start at 4. He took his tag and headed to the coat room to hang up his dripping rain jacket. He went to the men’s room and dried himself the best he could with the cheap paper towels that crumbled when wet. He decided to come back and pee. At his age, timing urination was not only an art and science, it was a necessity. You didn’t want to be stuck in a room doing the one knee bounce and the seated butterfly dance.
No food, just some gallon sized jugs of water on a table next to the sanctuary. Nothing would be allowed in. Drink here. Deposit your garbage in the trash. “What is this, the Negev?”
He grabbed a cup, filled it with luke cool water and found a chair. As soon as he sat, he felt it. “What moron spilled water on the seat and didn’t wipe it off? I just dried off. I hope no on sees my wet ass.” It reminded him of his last wet ass.
Two years earlier Paul was in pre-op for a routine aortic valve replacement. Arriving at 5:00 AM to hurry up and wait, he was finally taken in by a pre-op nurse whose Chinese accent was impossible to understand as she questioned him to fill out the pre-op form. She led him to a zip locked enclosure where he was instructed to sit on a gurney. That’s when his ass felt wet. “I don’t have the shits” he thought.” “What could that be?” He stood up and felt his now wet, gown covered behind.
Jane screamed, “It’s blood!” The Chinese nurse came over and said, “You bleeding. You bleeding.” He went to change to another gown. On his return, he sat back on the gurney and felt wet again. The Chinese nurse Ratchet screamed again. Paul calmly raised his voice to intimidation level eight and lowered it to the deep bass he can be when it’s time to scare the shit out of people. The nurse was the recipient.
“Don’t touch me.”
Jane lunged at the gurney and pressed on the wet spot just as Paul was ushered into the operating room by his surgeon and anesthesiologist. Blood oozed up and covered the sheet. At least that ended well. The hospital was so embarrassed he was upgraded to a private room and the “good” meals.
“This is not a good omen,” thought Paul. But off to the bathroom he went to dry off. “Thank goodness they don’t just have those stupid blow dryers. What would I do? Bend over and blow my ass goodbye?”
2:55. Not finding anyone who would make eye contact and chat, he went to pee and grabbed his last glass of water before entering the desert sanctuary. He was escorted to his alphabetically arranged seat on which he found a thick directory the size of a prayer book opened to his author page. He sat, put his pitch under his chair, and flipped through the book with the 253 other authors with whom he was competing. “Fuck.”
He glanced around the room. This session’s 45 authors were split, seated along the side walls. Between the two sides was the bimah… one of those extra wide ones in temples for the unscrolling of the Torah and the hiding of the fat. A mike on an elbow stand was on the right. Facing it were 200 or so seats.
Some authors knew each other. They had done this before or knew each other through NY Times or freelance gigs. Paul glanced through the directory and noticed quite a few award winning authors as well. “Could I just slip out now before anyone noticed.” He started some small talk with the authors next to him until they were interrupted by a voice at the mike who needed that extra wide podium.
Susan Swan, or some alliteration like that, went on and on for about 15 minutes before Andrea, the mistress of ceremonies, “Does one call her Mistress?” told them about the day’s procedures. Andrea would call the “next up” author to sit beside her as the author who was “up” was introduced to speak. “At least this sounds well organized.” They already knew they had NO MORE THAN 2 minutes to speak. They would be timed and apparently shamed if they went over. “Yes Mistress.”
First up would be two “surprise” pitchers who had to leave early… “Why?”
It dawned on him that this was looking more and more like a slave auction and as he leaned over to one of the authors he thought would appreciate a good joke, the woman leaned to him and said, “I think they’ll be checking our teeth as we go up.” Paul laughed and was grateful she said it first.
Mistress Andrea said they could test the mike to adjust its height and check the volume. Although Paul didn’t need to because he was familiar with mikes and his voice didn’t need one in a room that size, he’d have to adjust it up to his far greater height than anyone, so he went to look at the hardware. While waiting, a woman tried to adjust it, but it kept slipping. Another author tried to help but gravity rules if you don’t turn the knob at the elbow to lock it in place. Paul nudged his way forward to demonstrate. At least he felt good about that.
“Stretch your legs. Be back at 3:45 when we open the doors for the audience. DO NOT BE LATE.” “Yes, Mistress.” Paul found a place to practice his 2 minutes pitch. “OK.” Then it was time for clockwork urination, get one more swig of swag swill, and return to the sanctuary of the sacrificial scribes.
Paul counted the authors before him. He would be thirteenth. “Ugh.”
Oddly, the orange name tagged audience would not make eye contact. Maybe they were under strict instructions not to. They had been given those directories to peruse days earlier. Perhaps they had already made up their minds? Lyle Lovett popped into his head.
“Because she’s already made up her mind.
She’s already made up her mind.”
First up? Dr. Ruth?
She grabbed the mike out of the stand and stood before the bimah. No one would have seen her if she was behind it. She spoke longer than 2 minutes, but who cuts off Dr. Ruth? … Sex would end.
She pitched a graphic children’s book “about the Holocaust, not sex” she dryly noted, in her still heavy eastern European accent after all her years in the US. Next up was a Simpson’s writer, whose book was about writing the Simpsons and its Jewish actors and writers. “I have to compete against them?”
Then came the normal authors. Some were boring, some overly dramatic, and a few were damn good. Paul, hoping not to seem rude, glanced down at his script when possible. Finally, he was called. “Next up”. He noticed no one had yet adjusted the height of the mike and that there were a few seconds to do so. He figured he would use that time to lighten up the audience a bit.
He walked to the bimah barely hearing his introduction. Mistress Andrea returned to her seat to start the clock as he raised the mike almost a foot higher and said, “Sorry for this technical interruption but the last time I was up at a Bimah… I was Dr. Ruth’s height.”
He heard some laughter but supposed many were not paying attention and that a few snowflakes thought he was insulting Dr. Ruth, not joking about his own height. Two minutes later he returned to his seat. “Whew.”
During the two hour session there were pitches for cookbooks, children’s books, novels, self-help books, memoirs, and an art book. One cookbook was pitched by a famous chef he had actually met. He would have to go over and say hello after the session. There was even one absurd pitch about a book about seltzer. It was funny… too funny.
“At least there weren’t any like mine. That’s encouraging. Maybe there are some folks who would want me because I come cheap.”
Session done, Paul went to the reception followed by the audience members who decided to mingle. Paul took a selfie with Chef Shaya and reminded him about their visit in New Orleans. He spoke briefly to a couple of other authors and an organizer who Jane said to say hello to for her dermatologist. He found a woman from Albuquerque and hoped she knew an old friend from the Bronx. She did. He would have to contact Gail and tell her to pitch him to this woman.
Noshing on latkes, mini egg rolls, and pigs in a blanket as if at a cheap Bar Mitzvah, he hoped one or two audience members would approach him feigning at least some interest… Not one.
He tried placing himself around the room in almost unavoidable or hard not to notice spots… to no avail.
A few authors had some groupies, one of whom was his chef buddy. He glanced around the room for a last time… no eye contact.
Then, as was his custom, he quietly slipped out and went home.