We drove north on I-95...past the wooden roller coaster that nobody rides, past manmade lakes reflecting cartoon-blue skies, past miles of strip malls (KFC, Classic Carpets and "Palm Readings"), and the drive-in movies at the Swap Shop. A purple sedan pulled up beside me. A ponytailed girl slouched at the wheel and slurped a Big Freeze. She glanced at me, then looked away.
I wondered if anybody in the universe would listen to me read on a Saturday afternoon.
When I walked into Borders, I got a whiff of ink and glue and paper (always reminds me of skipping class with my best friend and driving to the nearest superstore, just to sit on the floor and read comics.)
"I'm Crissa," I told the smiling woman at the Info desk.
"I knew it was you!" she said in a clipped, British accent.
That's when I noticed the 12-inch photo of my face, propped in front of me.
Louise (my guardian angel, aka the London import) scooted me to the middle of the store. I stared at the podium/mic combo and gulped. Behind me, a pastel wall of TCO covers gleamed under the fluorescent lights.
I sat at a kid-sized table and fiddled with my laptop. At least, it made me look busy. A clump of teenagers peered over the Travel section, then scurried away, giggling. Off to a great start. A disembodied voice shrieked behind the shelves, "I have a life, you know, Mom. You can drive yourself home."
I logged online and IMed my friend, Roberta. We used to walk together in Vermont, during the Middlebury conference, and look for the moon. She asked if anybody had shown up yet.
"Nope," I typed.
Then a woman settled into a chair. She blinked at me and said, "I'm...uh...Kitchen Witch's mom. She called and asked if I could pick up a book."
I leaped out of my chair. "No way," I said.
She handed me a copy of her daughter's poems (love the stripey socks on the cover!) and I gave her a handful of buttons and stickers.
A pair of fourteen-year-old girls ran up to me.
"Front row!" they called out.
I laughed. "That's a dangerous place, you know. I might spit on you."
Soon, a small crowd had gathered, including a Korean girl who had just moved to the States to learn English, and my dad, who was focused on munching his chocolate brownie. I read the first chapter of TCO and played Adrian's soundtrack.
I asked the Front Row Girls (shout out to Tiffani, the trumpet-player, and Moira, the painter) to give me a number. They picked a date in December (turns out, we're both Sagittarius).
I logged onto Fin's blog and said, "Here's your pick." (The piece they chose is called Clear Nail Polish.)
After the reading, the girls talked about eating lunch in the band room (just like Fin and me) and the perils of jock-girls who can "kick your padunk-a-dunk." I could've sat there forever and listened to them like music.
Ditto for the following Wednesday, when I spoke to my students at MIU (not to mention, my boss and the dean. Double gulp). I always try to pick something special for each audience. In this case, I read about the Dade County Youth Fair. (If you're a Florida kid, you know what I'm talking about).
Todd, (a fashion major who wears newsboy caps) raised his hand and asked, "Is that the Miami you write about in the book?"
"Hell, yeah," I told him.
I talked about editing and revision (more scenes from the "cutting room floor") and I also read from my summer vacation journal, circa 1985: a composition book swarming with the characters I wrote about in 5th grade (Funny Bunny in his sunglasses).
I used to get in trouble for doodling in class. I told my students, "When I catch you guys doing the same thing, it doesn't bother me. I know you're listening."
I spotted a round of nods in the audience. They were listening. I knew.
PS: Check out the HarperTeen blog at MySpace. You can read about the Grape Ape , this jerky guy I liked in college, back when I had no taste.
PPS: If you can't make it to a signing and you're into collecting autographed bookplates...just send a self-addressed stamped envelope to my snail-mail addy.
13615 South Dixie Highway
P.O. Box 543