The traffic lights blinked and we lunged forward in a herd. Everybody dressed in black coats, looking straight ahead, not saying a word. I dug out my headphones--a soundtrack to the city. I stared at a shredded plastic bag that flapped on a tree. The wind lifted its branches and the bag tipped forward. The sidewalks were swollen with garbage. Cigarette butts heaped in flowerboxes. Oil sludge dribbling into the gutters.
I glanced up. There was David Levithan, walking ahead of me. I wanted to shout, "Hey. There's the guy who co-wrote Nick and Nora." Instead, we just kept marching along fifth avenue, both of us plugged into our iPods (me, with the new Mates of State. What songs had he downloaded for his infinate playlist?) A lemon-yellow messanger bag bounced on his hip. I kept my gaze pinned to it like a flag.
We reached Books of Wonder. I waited outside for a minute, not to seem stalkerish. Then I opened the door and got swept into a tide of people. Over 40 YA authors were signing all at once (or rather, in timed clumps, according to the paper a cashier handed me). Kids were scarfing down cupcakes and plowing through the aisles on Razor scooters. I couldn't deal with the crowd, so I pushed my way to the cafe and sat on a chair printed with ladybugs.
"I just found a tooth in my pocket," said a woman in a pastel sweater.
I watched her husband flick a paper cup across the table. "Home run!" he kept shouting, over and over. After a while, I sucked in a breath and headed toward the signing.
"Are you in line?" I asked a blonde-haired girl.
"Hey, Crissa," she said.
"Sarah?" I blinked. "I thought you were in a castle."
"I'm just here to see the chaos," she said, laughing.
"Your book comes out soon, right?" I asked.
She nodded. No pre-pub jitters for Ms. Sarah Cross. I told her to bring a falcon to her book launch and she laughed. "Good idea."
We got in line. Barry Lyga signed his new book for my niece, Corie ("What do you believe in?" he wrote). Beside him sat Blake Nelson, wearing button-down plaid and old-school Adidas kicks.
Earlier, I heard Blake read at the New York Public Library "trustees room" (think: glowing chandeliers, wall-length tapestries, a marble fireplace so big, it could burn a sequoia). Blake read from his new novel, Destroy All Cars. When he got to the part about "concerned soccer moms," he busted out, giggling.
"This is my favorite part," he said, as his cell phone beeped. "You guys aren't calling me from the back, are you?"
He tried again. More beeps.
He turned a page.
Another screamy ringtone.
Blake slammed the book on the table. He sighed, then laughed again.
After the reading, Jack, the NYPL librarian/rockstar, arranged an epic, campfire-style "round robin" story marathon between several authors in the audience (Coe Booth, one of my literary heroes, tried to drag me up there, but I said: No, no, no). We scribbled titles, characters, and scenes on slips of paper. Jack, wearing a "Proud to be Awesome," tee that matched his striped socks, tossed the notes in an empty Coke box.
"I hope this is Diet Coke. I found it behind a curtain," he said.
The story involved: prom, secret agents, drag queens, and soft leather wing chairs, a zombie motorcycle race, the men's room at JFK, and "death by pommegranite." It sounded like Greek theatre crossed with a plot capsule on the TV guide channel.
Barry Lyga wrapped the whole thing up in one sentence:
"We never did go skinny-dipping."
When the story ended, we were told to "mingle." Megan McCafferty found me lurking in the back row. She was smiling for photo ops near the medieval-looking tapestry. Her fans--mother and daughter--had flown all the way from California, just to attend the Teen Author Festival.
I stood by the marble fireplace, thinking: How amazing is this? I'm talking to Blake Nelson in a room straight out of the movie, Clue. He's talking in a whispery voice, asking questions about my weekend.
"You go out and stuff?" he asked, and at that moment, he sounded just like a boy from his books.
At the Saturday afternoon reception for the NYPL "Stuff For The Teen Age," I listened to Walter Dean Myers talk about libraries as "the last hope," a place where kids can escape, just as he used to do. He said:
Teenagers are smarter than you think. That's why we should never dumb things down.
I clapped until my hands stung.