Wednesday, June 26, 2002

I'm writing this from LAX, where I am awaiting a delayed flight to San Francisco--the blessings of wireless internet rain down on my poor undeserving head. Let me catch everyone up to speed on this schizophrenic book tour.

The Austin reading: we're at Book People, a charming Austin institution. They ensconce me on the second floor, where a healthy-sized posse of people show up...and they are my kind of people. Sharp, friendly and affable, they ask great questions and put my mind at ease. Although I have done a lot of performing, book readings are a different animal completely--too casual for theater, too mannered for loose talk--it straddles a difficult line. Still, with the help of the good people of Austin I acquit myself honorably--there is a lot of smiling and laughing, and after the low-key (but suitably energized) reading concludes, I feel a sense of fulfillment, plain and vanilla and decent. It wasn't Carnegie Hall, but I did my job: not strictly as a performer, but as an author. That is the difficult part, at least for me...I am a fledgling author, and this world is still very strange to me.

After the reading I went back to my palatial hotel and walked down by the bridge, to watch swarms of bats fly out into the darkening sky. They fly with determination, in a loose, roiling mass that pulses and darts in a way disturbingly unlike flocks of birds in motion. You can tell they aren't avians--they are mammals, like us, and they obey a different imperative. If you should ever drop by Austin, I encourage you to go down to the bridge (everyone will tell you where it is) and see it happen. It is not just beautiful--it's a little haunting.

The L.A. reading: we're at Borders in Westwood, and the situation couldn't be more changed. The room is a lot sparser than Austin, and there's a funny energy in the air--a kind of slackness. I am on a small stage, after a very professional and heartfelt introduction from the organizer, who is very excited about 21 DOG YEARS. I begin speaking, and after a few moments realize that no one is looking at me. No one. Not even my friends. I look over to where they are all staring and see that a homeless man is listening to Enya very loudly. I'm loosing to Enya--that Celtic bitch is killing my chances at getting through this in one piece.

A store worker goes over and brings the Enya volume down to a low roar of harps and power chords. I keep trudging ahead, talking about how I develop my shows orally, when suddenly I hear a shout. The homeless man is scratching his head and yelping. Arhythmically yelping--he makes a sudden noise, gets quiet, yelps again. I am reminded of Motherless Brooklyn, the book i am reading at nights on this tour, Jonathan Lethem's sharp and skewed novel about a small-time thug living in my neighborhood with Tourette's. I simultaneously wish I had Tourette's, or that I could suddenly yelp myself and get away with it, pull everyone back and not get tagged as a freaky insensitive. I also wish I was Jonathan Lethem, and in a wave of nausea I am professionally acquainted with I am suddenly sickened from speaking of my own life. I want fiction, anything else to speak about that isn't me, standing here, outgunned by the Enya-loving superfreak on Aisle Four.

I do none of these things--instead I weave this into the story I'm telling. I talk about how drama in life always trumps drama in art, and how when a moth flies into the Cherry Lane while I perform that scads of rational adults who spent nearly 50 bucks apiece stare at that moth, lost to words, proving in their simple staring that childlike wonder is not nearly as dead as some skeptics would like us all to believe. I talked about the nature of stage performance, and retold the gruesome and horrific story of my performance in Jean Genet's THE BALCONY, this time in technicolor detail and attention that isn't found in the book's form. I worked it as best I could, and despite myself I started to feel good. Not very good, not the fulfillment of last night but maybe her kid sister, brattier and less willing to put out. The people were gracious, and we talked less like performers and more like people running into each other in a book store, except that I said too much about myself--a professional hazard.

Now I am at LAX, after the reading, flight delayed, waiting in airport limbo. I do want to say that this isn't a rant or a whine--I'm lucky to be on this tour, lucky to have a book, lucky to be alive. If you are reading this, odds are you are lucky too. I just feel sometimes that this site can get a hip tone, where I censor myself to keep only politic and positive sentiments flowing forth so that to the world my success looks bulletproof: after all, what's a website but a PR machine? Well, maybe. And maybe one can tell the unvarnished truth sometimes and admit when he's been taken down a peg.

I'm looking forward to San Francisco, to tomorrow. As time passes, it doesn't seem so bad--and it was nice to see friends. And when you collect stories, setbacks are often opportunities.

I really liked those bats. Those bats were worth everything.