The Fabulous Life of a Published Author

Many writers dream of seeing their published works on the shelf of a bookstore.  Think of the heady feeling of walking into a Barnes & Nobel and seeing your name and book among the thousands of bestsellers.  That’s never been my goal in life.  Selling books means you make money and making money means you move into a higher tax bracket.  Who needs that?

Ok, I’ve written four books, and I get a royalty check once a month from Amazon.  I’ve spent hundreds of hours planning, plotting, writing and formatting (my wife did that part) and I actually get something ($) back in return for all that agony of being cursed with such a creative mind.  I make so much in one month that I can now go to a restaurant and order a Caesar’s salad instead of a regular tossed green.  It’s a life of wild self-indulgence.  I now know what it’s like to be John Steinbeck.  I don’t mean this in a literal sense because he died on December 20, 1968.  I now know what Hemingway’s life was like…sometimes I can even understand why he was “cleaning” his shotgun on July 2, 1961.

But I’d like to say that since bookstores are going to totally disappear from our lives in about six years, I’ve gotten more satisfaction from finding my books in the Public Libraries of America.  It is in these great institutions that my volumes will remain on a shelf for all time.  Actually, that’s not true.  I found out that a book’s “borrow” slip where a little grey-haired lady or an English major stamps the due date, needs to have dates stamped on them.  If no one checks a book out (say, twice a year) then the product of your sweat and tears will be in the next Fund Raising Book Sale.

[So if you’re in the Coburn Free Library in Owego, NY and you don’t check out my four books, they will sell them for 10 cents.  Go ahead, walk past me on the shelf.  It’ll be on your conscience, not mine.]

Recently, I toured the Saranac Lake Public Library to check on how my books were doing.  I felt like a famous surgeon making rounds of his patients at the Mayo Clinic.  I was very surprised to find all my books were shelved properly and had a decent number of check-outs.  I was even more pleased at the company I keep on these shelves.  In Fiction, I’m right next to Jennifer Egan, a very famous author and editor of The Best American Short Stories of 2014.

For those of you who are not familiar with Jennifer, this is a recent publicity head shot of her:

JenniferEgan

[Jennifer Egan (no relation), but a guy can wish, can’t he?]

Here’s proof of my claim:

JenniferEganShelf

[There I am…just don’t ask who Lesley Egan is, I have no idea.]

I went over to the Non-fiction section.  Again, there I was, with two books.  This time, however they buried me between two biographies of two relatively unknown individuals.

See what I mean?:

EinsteinEdison

I went straight to a computer and Googled these two people.  I found these images:

einstein-tongue-out

[A guy named Einstein]

einsteinOnBike

[Same guy, but on a bicycle.]

Edison

[The Edison guy with a funny horn-thing. He reminds me of a teacher I had once in high school who also had a sore left hip.]

So, what is the moral of this story?  What is the point of showing you photos of my books, when you can go to your computer and order them all yourself?  Well, you don’t have to go to the library then, do you?  A lot of quiet old men sit and read the newspaper in libraries…for free!  And, chances are, there are no book stores with 85 miles of your home.

But, there is a distinct possibility that you may not like to read and that you don’t really like me very much.  Then there’s always the option of Books-on-Tape.  The only problem is…none of my writing is on tape.

Not to worry, though, if you send me lots of money, I’ll gladly read a copy of my book into a tape recorder…I’ll even mention you by name.  There’s something heady in that, let me tell you.

Maybe then I can afford the extra salsa at our local Tex-Mex restaurant.  Can you believe they make you pay for that?

Travels 23: I Meet Jade, The Young Hobo

You who live on the road, must have a code that you can live by.

Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Teach Your Children”

We were just west of Tulsa.  We needed gas.  Mariam needed the Ladies Room and I needed to get out of the car and see if my right leg could actually function again…as a limb of mine, that is.  There was the beginning of a disconnect between my right hip, thigh and calf and the rest of my body.  They were more intimate with the gas pedal than with the rest of my skeleton.

I also needed a baked potato.  At least that’s what I planned to have as a side for dinner this evening.  I had eyed a sign for Wendy’s, which, unlike Burgher King, carries a variety of them, mostly dripping with Velveeta.

As we pulled off I-44, I did some serious multi-tasking.  Professional multitaskers like attorneys, brain surgeons and private school parents would have been proud of me.  I was keeping an eye on the left fender of the R-Pod to make sure it didn’t come in contact with the Jersey barriers on the exit ramp.  My eyes flicked to the right rear-view mirror to ensure that there was no Oakie trying to pass me on the right.  I was flying New York State plates and you never knew what the locals would think of the Yank exiting on the west side of Tulsa.  I was also checking the left mirror for signs of a semi that had plans on using the same exit but whose brakes had failed and was bearing down on me at the legal highway speed of 75 mph.  That kind of experience could ruin a whole day.

Hey, it’s happened.  You have to be ready for such things when you’re an experienced Road Warrior like me with some hard traveling under his K-Mart military-style belt.  I mean I still had dust in my hair from a diner parking lot somewhere east of Kingman, Arizona.

All of this was happening while I tried to connect with the slightly sexy female computer voice on our GPS that was telling me what to do.  When the programmers put her voice into the internet/satellite system, they took a young pretty voice model and layered her intonation with mid-western wildflower honey.  We call her Moxie.  She’s available at the touch of a button, like an escort at an Atlantic City casino hotel.  Yet, all she ever does is tell you where to go.

I know marriages like that.

I was sitting at the red-light at the end of the ramp when I saw them.

Two of them.  A young man and woman walked across the road just in front of my car.  They carried backpacks and each had a dog on a leash.  I noticed an overstuffed teddy bear sticking out of the woman’s coat pocket.  It was the yellow-ness of the toy that caught my eye.

Look, run-a-ways, I said to Mariam.

No, just kids traveling, she said.

Two older teens with dogs don’t walk the roadways anywhere near Tulsa, I thought.  My imagination kicked in.

She’s pregnant, I said.  They’re running away from unaccepting parents.  In a few miles they’ll be at a friend’s house.

The light changed.  I pulled slowly around the corner and looked for an entrance to the Conoco gas station that was attached to the Wendy’s.  The young run-a-ways were nowhere in sight.

You gas up, I’ll get the spud, I said to Mariam.  We’ll take turns for the rest rooms.

I ordered my potato (baked, with chives and sour cream on the side…we’d add cheddar later)  To go, please.

I stepped back to wait for my order.  Someone stepped to my side.  I backed up against the stack of “Happy Meal” boxes.  I know that’s MacDonald’s, but hey).  I knocked one over.  I replaced it to the top of the pile.  As I bent down, I noticed the woman next to me was wearing military boots.  As I stood to replace the box, something in her coat pocket caught my eye.  It was a very yellow stuffed animal.  It was her!  It was the pregnant run-a-way.

She looked at me and smiled.  Her big eyes were made even bigger by the blue eye shadow she was wearing.  She was holding a chocolate smoothie.

Hi, I said, I just saw you back down the road a moment ago.  You’re traveling, I said.  I think I heard her say “duh” under her breath.  Yeah, she said, my husband and I are going to California…that’s him across the street.  She nodded with her slightly spiked hair.

And then she dropped the bomb on me.  They were going to California ALONG ROUTE 66!

I was looking into her eyes, not the eyes of a pregnant girl on the run, but a real child of the road.  No, not a child (she was older than I expected) and she was willing to tell me her story.  We went to a corner and she told me how she was born near Tacoma, not far from where my daughter, Erin, lives.  She said her name was Jade.  I felt rushed.  Her husband was waiting with the dogs across the road.  Mariam had finished tanking up with the gas, but I couldn’t let her just walk away.  I wanted to listen to more of her story…her sad story.  I filled in the blanks between the facts she told me.  She was married and had three kids.  Divorce.  Trouble.  Back and forth to Tacoma.  A disjointed life.

I asked, if she didn’t mind, could I ask her a personal question.  She said no problem.

Are you on the road because of necessity or just a long walk to California for the experience.  Both, she replied.

We plan on getting some work in Texas and save enough for a van to get the rest of the way.  She held up her Smoothie; this is lunch for the two of us, she said.

I hope you’re keeping a journal, I said.  This is an experience of a life-time.  She said that when it was over, they would be settling in California and planned on writing a sociology book about the people they met along the way.

I knew we had to go.  We moved toward the door.  I fished out a few dollars and handed the wadded bills to her and told her to have the next meal on me.  I asked if I could take her picture.  She said yes.  We walked to the car and I introduced her to Mariam.  Jade made a strong point that they were not Rainbow Kids.  I asked what a Rainbow Kid was.  She said that they were the young that were on the road (where? I thought) but they worked the system and always wanted a hand-out.  I calculated that these Rainbows could be the age of my grandchildren…the grandchildren of the ’60s hippies.  They (Jade and her husband) stayed clean and followed the Hopi Prophecies.  I looked her in the eyes and they looked clean and clear and bright.

We parted.  I honked to them as we pulled back onto I-44.

So, I’ve been looking for the drifters and the lonely along my journey.  I have been looking for unshaven sun-burnt men.  But they passed along Route 66 sixty years ago.  Then, they were fresh out of the army, families heading west, following the sunsets and hoping the new sun would rise on a better life.  Now, they’re out there again.  But, I wondered, were they ever NOT out there?  Did I stay too close to home to see the lives of people leaning against trees and fences, split-rail fences.  Or, did I just have too many maps in my collection?  Maps and Atlases that had colored lines and little dots on them.  When you see the world that way, as I did for so many years, you forget that along those colored lines, cars speed along and people roam.  And, in those little dots, in the big cities, small towns and the crossroads, old men still sat under cottonwood trees and diners smelled of real grease.

I had met the children of the children of the children of John Steinbeck.

This is Jade.

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Travels 16: The Rest Stop: An Encounter with Rex and Jenny

One long-standing rule of life I generally live by is not to form serious long-term relationships with people you meet at highway rest stops.  Today, I made an exception to this tenet and I bonded with an older guy named Rex and the girl, Jenny, who sat at his feet.

We had been ripping down I-5 in Central California at a tire-melting speed of 54 mph.  I swear the paint was about to peel off the leading edge of our camper as we flew along.  Grove after grove of Olive trees sped passed us.  Each of these plantations were manicured like a vineyard in Provence.  At one point, we passed an articulated open truck carrying a ton of garlic heads.  Now this was the land Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and John Steinbeck wrote and sang about.  Every few miles was a sign that reminded us that “Farmers Feed America”.  This is what Willie Nelson is trying to save with his Farm-Aid concerts.  I felt like pulling over, climbing the barbed-wire fence and running through the Olive trees singing Nessun Dorma…reaching the high C until the mile long diagonal row of trees ended in an irrigation ditch.

Yes, this I would do to demonstrate my love for this land to anyone within the range of my voice.  Only two things prevented me from doing this wild and crazy thing: I really can’t sing (much less reach a high C) and I had to urinate like Secretariat.

We pulled into the next Rest Area.  My wife stayed in the car and I meandered (with haste) to the men’s room.  I exited by the rear door and walked back to the fence to look at an Olive Grove from a better angle.  It was on the way back to the car that I heard the singing.

There were no other travelers there save for two guys who were sleeping on the picnic tables.  There were two maintenance workers wearing day-glo green/yellow vests.  I changed direction and walked through the breeze-way between the men’s and women’s units.  In the center was a bench.  It was occupied by an older gentleman playing a guitar.  His carrying case was to his right.  There was a plastic cut-off milk carton just to his left that contained several dollar bills.  A crude music stand, a reject, perhaps, from a defunct junior high school music program or a hand-me-down from an ancient bluesman.  He was singing “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.  At his feet, was a small dog wearing a short lease that was tied to nothing.  I stuffed two dollars into the container.  When he stopped singing, he began to talk to me like he had not spoken to anyone in weeks.  He told me how important country music was to him.  Not the new stuff, no sir, but the old, the pure songs that came from the heart.  He played “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and his ancient voice bent around the lyrics like a narrow roadway up to the summit of Mount Heartache.  He said that was Hank Williams…I said I certainly knew that.  Then he said I can’t really sing this but I’ll give it a try.  It was sad to hear him struggle with the yodel of “Honky Tonk Blues”.

By this time I had motioned to my wife to come over from the car and hear him.  He told us how he was setting up one afternoon at a Rest Stop to the south and in the space of ten seconds, he said, someone opened his car and stole five of his song books…books with lyrics, scores and his own notations.

Why would someone steal his song books, he asked?

I just shook my head.

Just as he was starting another story, I put another dollar in his bucket.  I said we had to move on.  What was his name: I asked. Rex, he said.

What’s the dog’s name?

Jenny.

We turned and left Rex and Jenny at the Rest Stop.  He was starting to tell the story of the stolen books to another man who had wandered up.

Rex will probably never remember me, a guy named Pat who stood and listened to him sing at the Rest Stop.

Me, who can’t sing or play the guitar…but knows an old and pure song when I hear it.

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