The snow-shovelers are scraping the sidewalk. I woke to the rhythmic noises: crunch, crunch, crunch in 4/4 time, like someone munching a bowl of Rice Krispies. Strange to see them "mowing" the pavement last night, pushing machines with sharp teeth to pave a path for all the old ladies on the Upper West Side, the grande dames decked out in wooly coats and fur hats (and walking standard poodles with saddle-shaped vests...creatures more equine than canine).
The snow didn't stop falling, quickly, diagonally, all throughout the day and night. I stood under a lamp post and watched the fat flakes swirling upwards instead of down. I almost didn't make it into town. After teaching two classes on Thursday, my parents picked me up and drove me to Miami International, where I sat until midnight, waiting to see if I could fly. The airline was full of excuses: "mechanical problems" (a phrase I never wish to hear) and "cosmetic issues." I knew the snowstorm was the real reason. I just sat on the dirty carpet, reading my Edie biography while smooth jazz burbled on the PA.
"Excuse me?" said a young man with soft brown eyes. His nametag said, "Christopher."
I looked up.
"You were my English teacher," he said.
Despite the suit and tie, I could almost picture him slumped at a desk. I resisted the urge to ask, "What are you doing now?" (That was obvious) He asked where I was headed. When I mentioned the meeting with my publisher, he beamed. "I will definately look you up on the Internet." I asked if he could wave a magic wand and get the flight going. "We're trying to find a subsitute plane," he told me, making it sound as if the airline had misplaced it.
Hours passed. It seemed like the entire airport had shut down, from the pretzel venders to the janitors. A clump of teenagers sat on the floor, playing card games on a laptop. I watched a businessman talking on two cell phones at the same time. It seemed weird that we were stuck in this together, yet nobody talked to one another. The airline announced that they had found a plane, setting off round of applause, then took it back, saying, "Whoops. That one's going to Peru."
When they finally herded us into a line, I couldn't see straight. A woman took my boarding pass and said, "Your seat has been changed." I sighed. Now what? She sent me back to the desk (where my former student punched buttons on a computer). "Am I sitting in the same place?" I asked him.
"You're nearby," he said.
I ran back to the line. The woman ripped my ticket and I marched into the plane. Looking down at my ticket, I saw the words: FIRST CLASS in bold letters.
"I like my new seat," I told Chris, who had stepped on board and waved goodbye to me. He passed me a note on a ticket stub that said, "Good luck."
We didn't take off until an hour later. Another mechanical issue (oil in the engine?)
The entire scene felt like something I had written, rather than experienced in real life (especially because my new book deals with travel). First class wasn't as swank as I had hoped. The last time I sat in those boxy leather seats, I was just a kid. I spent a lot of time fiddling with the ashtrays (yeah....it was that long ago) and wishing I could order a cocktail with an umbrella. This time, me andthe Burberry-clad Japanese businessmen got peanuts in a glass cup (still tasted like peanuts), and the movie, Dreamgirls, played on a tiny TV that was bolted to the ceiling. A flight attendant passed around trays of Chicken McNuggets (actually, some kind of fried food that stunk up the whole cabin). My stomach lurched whenever the plane jiggled. Sitting up front, you can hear engines groaning, propellers whirling, along with a dozen unidentifable noises that set me on edge.
Out the window, lightning strobed like a disco. The flight attendants strapped themselves into their seats and told us to stay put. "We don't want anyone to get hurt," they said. Great. By the time we bumped our way into LGA, it was almost four in the morning. I felt like I should've landed in another time zone, in a city where English isn't the language du jour.
I called Harlan's mom. She said the couch was ready for me. And I was ready for the couch. After a few hours of fitful sleep, listening to the New York noises: trucks beeping, dogs yapping, people singing loud and drunk, I managed to crawl out the door. I hailed a cab that inched all the way down to the bottom of the park, just in time for my meeting at 10:30.
In the marble lobby, people zoomed through turnstiles, as if heading for the subway instead of an elevator. Julie had left my name with the "bouncer" who guarded the gates. I met her upstairs and we sat down with my Harper peeps, the entire PR team, our head honcho, Ms. Katherine Tegan, along with a number of souls who said, "I loved your book," although I couldn't remember their names: from the blonde girl who designed the construction paper letters on the cover, to the goatteed guy who slogged through copyediting ("I even gave it to my wife!" he chirped).
I sat on the couch next to Julie, trying not to dribble coffee on my dress (in my sleep-deprived state, everything had a two-dimensional, faraway quality, such as the distance between my croissant and my mouth). The PR team, all blue-jeaned ladies around my age, sat on chairs in a semicircle. They never stopped smiling. Of course, the first thing I noticed was my book on the shelf, facing outwards for all to see.
Each person has a specific job. One is in charge of school visits, another works on scoping out reviews. Another lady, Colleen, is solely devoted to the Internet. They handed me sheets of paper, breaking down the tasks. The lists said things like, "Contest giveaways? Harper First Look Program" (which is their awesome Internet site, where teens can select a galley of their choice and review it online). I giggled at the list of questions for their website...like something a pop star might answer for a glossy mag: "What's your most embarrissing moment? If you weren't an author, what other job would you do?"
Funny thing is...I'd rather answer these kinds of questions because they tell a story. Writing my Dear Reviewer letter? That was mega hard! I actually asked, "Can I write it in character?" And I wasn't joking.
I nodded my head and took notes, although now it looks like scribble, the handwriting of a zombie. I still plan on hiring a freelance publicist to cut the slack. Luckily, they are already familiar with her name. Guess I'll giver her a call when I get home. It will make things flow smoother....especially when it comes to communicating with so many different individuals on the PR team.
At lunch, I sat with Julie and Colleen, the web guru, and discussed our plan of attack. They seemed happy with the work I have done, including my website and a few other "top secret" projects that I have up my sleeve.
One thing that surprised me: Colleen said that many authors aren't cool with the PR thing. They would rather hide in their hobbit holes and write. They don't care about learning the inner workings of the publishing processs, which I envision as a giant machine, like something out of a German Expressionist movie. I love learning about the way it works. Then again, I am a big geek.
We marched back to the office, almost hydroplaning on the sidewalk. My agent, Kate, had another idea. "I switch shoes in the office," she told me during yet another meeting, this time at ICM. She was decked out in a dark suit, as if headed to a cocktail at a museum...which fit in well with the agency's frosted glass (as if the cubicles were conceptual sculptures). Kate's office is also crammed with books...including TCO's jacket, thumbtacked to the wall, and brown boxes with handwritten titles on the shelves.
"Is this you?" Kate asked, checking out the Official Author Photo on the cover. "It doesn't look like you because you're smiling."
"Gee, thanks," I said, laughing.
Kate asked questions, rapid fire, and I filled her in on the Harper pow-wow. We talked about the Second Book's edits, then I was out the door again. It still hadn't stopped snowing. The cold whooshed up my sleeves and spiraled down my coat. I hailed the first cab I spotted and zoomed to the West Village, to a sleek, dark bar called Daddy Os. When I slipped through the door, there was nobody in the place except for an old school New York character, a wrinkled man nursing a pint of Guineness in the corner at the bar.
I sat at a table near the chilly window and watched a man across the street, who was sprinkling what appeared to be bird seed on the sidewalk. Seconds later, the snow magically melted. I sipped hot tea and read my book until siobhan-says-so showed up. I spotted her umbrella bouncing down the sidewalk: a clear, mod number that an ingenue might carry in a New Wave movie.
Siobhan and I met online: a pair of first-time YA authors with an indie rock obsession. In person, she has freckles and four letter words and a grin so big, I couldn't help grinning too. She talks the way she writes: in bold capital letters. In short, she is a blast. I am quieter...talking more in itallics, taking evil pleasure in the weather, the way it slowed down the city to my pace, for once.
I leaned back against the booth. "There's a blow-up doll above the door," I said, glancing past Siobhan's head. She turned around and giggled. We wondered if anyone ever took the doll down and gave her a spin on the dancefloor.
A few hours later, I was standing on the subway, lost in a thicket of commuters and dripping umbrellas. Strange to be here without Harlan...who always points out the graffiti tunnels as we rocket underground towards the block where he grew up. I'm in his city. But it also belongs to me. I knew this was true...just the way I knew the snow would fall all night, tapping against the windowpane like the words to a familiar song.
PS: here are some pictures that I took with rusalkatrix in the city...