There's a lion in the library. Or rather, it's a dude dressed in a rumpled lion costume, like a walking stuffed animal. I hide behind a pillar and pray he doesn't notice me. As I bolt around the corner, I catch sight of him, kneeling down on the carpet and posing for a picture with literary punk rocker, Cecil Castellucci, and I wonder what alternate universe I've been zapped into...The New York Public Library's Books For The Teen Age.
Across my sweater, I wear a sticker ("Crissa-Jean Chappell: Total Constant Order). This compels people to stop and stare at my chest. A tiny woman peers up at me and asks, "Do you write for high school or elementary school?" I grin and say, "Teens." Apparently, this is the wrong answer. "Well, good luck with that," she says, scurrying away.
I spot another YA author, Jo Knowles--a person I've never met in real life...but in another dimension called cyberspace. I recognize her flowy locks, like a princess in a fairy tale.
She says, "I was wondering if that was you."
Yeah, it's me.
She and Cecil are chilling near a buffet loaded with nothing but cookies. Cecil sticks out her hand and says hello. Her shoes are decorated with skulls. I flip over my tote bag, which is skull-flavored, as well.
"Skulls are good," Cecil says.
Jo wants to know, "Where are our books?"
I warn her, "When you go over to the tables, people are going to talk to you."
The "tables" are stacked with this year's titles and arranged by category:
"The Soundtrack of Your Life," "Parents From Hell," "Dead and Relatively Dead Relatives."
I tell Jo, "Maybe you're in the dead section?"
Turns out, we're both in "Dealing With It."
I bump into Chris, the librarian who hosted my NYPL reading in the Bronx, just a few days ago. He takes a geeky picture of me, clutching my book, and counts, "Two, four, six," before the flash. I wish that I could bring him on tour with me. He gave the best introduction of all time--something like, "This is Crissa. She collects Japanese candy and pinback buttons and recorded stories on tape with her cousin, etc. etc."
"Best intro ever. It was borderline stalkerish," I say, giggling with Jack, the master of ceremonies. He's decked out in pink ruffles, bringing to mind proms of the 1970s. He rolls back his sleeves and shows off his "blingy" cufflinks.
I tell him, "My boyfriend has cufflinks shaped like safety pins."
Jack throws back his head and laughs.
After pacing around the crowd (under a swooping blue ceiling that reminds me of a snowglobe, minus the snow), I collapse in a front row chair (where nobody dares to sit). This scene is so intense, I need to take a break. I keep turning around and looking for my friend, Siobhan, but no sign of her yet.
I close my eyes and think of the movie we just watched at the Angelika theater (think: clouds painted on the ceiling and subways rumbling under your feet). We caught a matinee of Paranoid Park, Gus Van Sant's brilliant adaptation of the Blake Nelson novel. At first, I couldn't imagine how anyone would translate such an interior narrative to the big screen, but in Van Sant's hands, scenes are shot out of sequence, building suspense, along with a subjective sense of time. The main character's thoughts and feelings are translated into visual clues (like the columns of water spewing in the shower, as birds chitter in the background). Did I mention that Elliott Smith plays on the soundtrack? Did I mention that I left the theater in a daze, as if New York itself had morphed into a film?
Somebody waves at me. "Remember we met at a Radiohead concert?" he says.
It takes me a second to realize, it's Nico Medina (plus he's wearing a nametag). He tells me about his next book (about a "hoochie mama") and we both crack up, imagining what his nametag might say next time: "Nico Medina: Fat Hoochie Prom Queen."
Nico introduces me to the person standing beside him--a woman with movie star hair. "This is Rachel Cohn," he says.
I almost slide out of my seat. "Wow!" I squeal like a fangirl.
Rachel is about to duck out the door, but she takes a couple minutes to chat with me. "I used to be shy, too," she says (though it's hard to believe). Her rapid-fire speech (punctuated with giggles and one-liners) reminds me of wisecracking Cyd in her Gingerbread series.
Now it's time for the "keynote speech." I turn around in my chair. There's Siobhan, a few rows behind, wiggling her fingers at me. We're still glowing from our N. J. school visit (Franklin Middle School Author Day). I brought my stencils and the kids painted t-shirts with me in the art room. I also had a blast, meeting the other authors (During our lunch break, we ate sandwiches on a stage in the auditorium, making it seem like we were actors in an absurdist play).
A sign on the wall said: "We eat, talk, line up, and purchase food in an orderly fashion, using a pleasant conversational tone."
On the early morning bus ride to NJ, I sat next to Robert Lipsyte, another HarperCollins author. Turns out, he's the keynote speaker for the NYPL reception. He talks about "dick lit" (yes, this is an actual quote) and how boys are groomed to be team players, not individual thinkers. No wonder dudes get dissed for solitary activities, such as reading.
I scoot out of my chair and slink to the back of the room. There's no place to sit, so I plunk down on the floor. The lion sits in front of me, nodding his head. I lean against the wall and listen.
When the speech ends, everybody claps, long and hard. I want to tell Robert that I loved his speech, but he's already posing for pictures. So is Siobhan, along with Jo and Cecil. My boyfriend is texting my cell phone, something about the Whitney biennial in a Civil War armory. Later, we'll eat cupcakes and stroll through half-frozen parks. We'll party in a Brooklyn warehouse stacked with mile-high canvases, watch breakdancers tumble and spin on the concrete floor.
I will wake up on Easter morning, pack my suitcase, and fly south. I'll forget to bring a few things---my bag of stencils, a sweatshirt with a bird stitched into the tag. But of course...this only means one thing.
I will go back again.