Wednesday (02.02.2011): Wake up at 5:45am. Kansas City just got record snowfall and I need enough time to pack and get all the snow and ice off my girlfriend’s Explorer because my Benz is like a kid with palsy on bad roads. The messenger bag is filled with my immediate needs: novels for the plane, iPod, Vicodin, headphones, camera, pens, legal pads, etc. Clothes are in the Guess bag. I kiss my girlfriend good-bye and it’s a different kind of kiss than when I’m going to work or the store because she believes in plane crashes. My dog looks at me and goes back to sleep. My PR guy rides with me to pick up Caleb J. Ross (another author on the label). His neighborhood is drenched in snow; worse than my downtown area. We go to McDonald’s for breakfast because we’re running early. I have $1 menu items, and it’s difficult for me to not order double what I actually get because I have an affinity for cheap fast food like some guys have for cheap fast women. Drop off. Hug good-bye. “Good luck” and all that. Our plane is one of four departing flights through Delta that isn’t cancelled. I get Starbucks. The male barista gets deep on me about the beauty of snow and I fail at being congenial. We’re both mutually weirded out. One last smoke. We get on the plane that connects to ATL. There’s a smoking lounge sponsored by Heineken in the airport that Caleb and I go to. The waitress says I have to order something in order to smoke in the lounge. I’m done before she even brings back menus or water, and we get cheap fast food. Then we go to D.C. Ride the subway after spending ten minutes trying to figure out the map. I photograph it and make it my background on my cell. We have no subway in Kansas City. I feel like a kid at Space Mountain when it comes to riding the subway. Wear sunglasses and try not to smile like a dork. We get to the Marriott around 1:00pm. Or 2:00. Not sure. Check in and the room is just like the two-bed rooms in Dallas and L.A. and Chicago. Floorplan cloning. I’ve written about this before. Caleb and I register for the conference. He paid over $100 and I only paid $40 because I said I was a student. I’m not. Haven’t been for years. We take a lap around the bookfair and it’s miles of white and blue tables. None of them interest me more than the others. My head isn’t in it yet. We go to a pub and get beer and these things called cottage fries. I’m Facebook updating like a maniac about this remarkable mundane things because they seem so much more interesting in new locales.
We only have about two beers even though the $2 happy hour isn’t over for another 30 minutes. I hit up CVS and a liquor store for vodka and cranberry juice. Caleb gets a Blue Moon artisan because he doesn’t drink hard liquor. Nik Korpon shows up; another author on the label. He’s got a little Rivers Cuomo thing going on only more talented. We drink and drink and talk about author shit and I crash early and sleep for about twelve hours. Thursday (02.03.2011): Wake up around 10:00am. First night in a new bed is always a nightmare. Back is killing me. Get McDonald’s breakfast. Nik and Caleb are disgusted by this for different reasons. McDonald’s breakfast, I’m finding, is quite transgressive. Nik has to sit at the Otherworld table at noon. Caleb and I decide to catch a panel about the future of the book review run by Bomb Magazine. For the most part, it’s mildly intriguing up until the point where a drunk wearing sunglasses starts getting nasty with one of the panelists. You can tell she’s rattled but she deals with it because people with microphones have more power than people shouting from the back of rooms. Her name is Emily and she looks like a Kardashian if a Kardashian was wholesome and hipster-ish. We exit and hear people arguing over their differing opinions. I chuckle because they think they’re accomplishing something. Caleb is on a panel about social media as it relates to writers. He’s funny and is the only one that isn’t taking himself completely seriously. Nik Korpon is sitting next to me. The moderator of the panel is on a laptop that she displays on a screen stage right. I realize that I can tap in with my phone on the AWP11 hashtag on Twitter and start Tweeting inappropriate things.
Nik photographs this. We grab dinner at a pizza joint. It’s the size of a small basement and the pizza is decent, at best. Their credit card machine is broken so I have to pay cash. Back in the room, I have a couple drinks and we catch a cab for our reading at The Velvet Lounge. The time is around 6:30 or so. It looks shut down when we get there. Some guy comes up with keys and says we can’t come in until later. Michael Sonbert and his girlfriend show up in a cab while we’re on the street. It’s the first time I’ve met him after talking for nearly nine months or so. We go next door and have beers. My agent shows up. He’s young and tall and New York-looking. The line-up for the reading is made on the back of a flyer. I’m up first. We all head back to The Velvet Lounge and now we’re waiting on the sound guy. It’s a dirty little armpit of a bar and perfect for us. Our purposes and content. I don’t fault them for being late because I almost expect it. Another round next door. We head back twenty minutes later and everything is set up. Sparse audience. Around fifteen or twenty. Caleb sets up the recording equipment. We’re starting so late that we have to cut our pieces down. I read “Carl.” It’s about a cold sore trying to get back to Vegas. I’m surprised my sick sense of humor goes over so well: “Carl” The rest of the line-up reads and drinks in turn. We all do really well. We sound polished. The audience eats what we feed them. I start to wonder if this is how it always is. The reading concludes on Jesus Angel Garcia going unscripted but flawless from his upcoming book. The group of us head across the street to a gay sports bar for dinner, and then Nik, Caleb, and I head back to the hotel. Nightcap. Sleep. Friday (02.04.2011): Wake up. McDonald’s breakfast again. I have no energy. End up reading a Dexter novel for most of the day because plans fall through and I have no cash for cabs. The novel is a waste of time. It’s season one of Dexter but not as good. Have some coffee. Have McDonald’s for lunch and hope I don’t break out. Nik and Caleb and I eventually go to this place called Bourbon in which a reading is taking place, but I’m not sure for what label. They have no microphone so the audience and staff is dead fucking quiet. The audience doesn’t react or respond much to the words. I eat tater tots and drink Thunder Cow beer. The audience mostly sits quietly and doesn’t laugh or gasp or sigh and I wonder how “Carl” would go over with this audience. Some prim and proper audience that considers masturbation a deep dark secret. The bar cuts them off so the whole thing ends prematurely. I find it very fucked up, despite myself. We (Caleb, Nik, myself, Ryan W. Bradley, and Ben Tanzer) do a podcast about readings. I usually black out during these things to a degree and am still waiting for it to post. I smoke a cigarette and we get cabs to check out this other reading at a place called Mie N Yu, which I think is Persian-themed but I can’t be sure. Lots of mirrors. A belly dancer. Foreign soundtrack. More photographs should have been taken but I spaced it.
We walk into the reading late and I wind up standing against the wall by the door for the first half. The room is attentive and the authors are polished. This is when I think about the difference between a reading and a performance. There’s a difference. There’s a big fucking difference. Some things are meant to be heard out loud, I’m finding. Some not. I get a beer at intermission and watch myself drink it in about five different mirrors. Part II is mostly female authors. I love female authors when they talk dirty. Such a crowd-pleaser. The thing wraps and this author named Mary Miller tags along with us to dinner. I have no idea who she is but she’s a big deal, apparently. We go to a place called Armor which is comprised of three parts: a front bar, a back restaurant, and a club downstairs filled with underage cocaine Barbies. I’ve written about this before. We talk about writing and personal life over dinner. I’m the only one with no kids, no marriages, and no tattoos under my belt. It’s almost like you can’t be taken seriously as a human being until you’ve done at least one of these. Without these things, you can be treated like a 23-year-old at 28. We cab it back to the Marriott. Nightcap. Sleep. Saturday (02.02.2011): Wake up before my alarm is set to go off. Shower. McDonald’s breakfast (again). It’s making Caleb sick. Nik never got to eat the Ethiopian food he wanted even though I said he could get American food and sprinkle raisins on it. My morning is spent packing and bullshitting about until noon. Today I have to sit at the Otherworld booth, but I mostly spend the entire time people watching and fidgeting and realizing that I’m surrounded by my competition, and I feel smaller. This is my reality check, a little voice saying, “You’re not even close yet,” and even though I knew that, it’s disconcerting to actually see it spread out over three enormous rooms. This sticks with me all the way back home, to Kansas City, where my girlfriend and neighbor are waiting for us at the airport. I’m scheming already: how to expand. How do I come back bigger than I am next year? I’ve got roughly one year to figure this out. It’s a logic problem, some sort of complex algorithm, and I’ve written about those too.