The old lady's voice is buzzing in my ear giving me information I should be writing down.
The little cell phone beeps. Low battery.
It’s getting late and I'm pulled over to the side of the Raceway Gas station on the exit ramp for Gordon Highway near where I work and my heart is pounding.
Its Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 3:45 in the afternoon, rain is running down the window of the driver’s seat which I'm staring out of as the traffic whizzes by and something is seriously happening.
"Yeah . . . okay . . ." I nod my head vigorously, even though the voice on the other end of the cell phone can't see me. "No kidding . . . shit - I mean - sorry! I mean wow. . . yeah. "
I’m hearing something impossible this afternoon, something I absolutely never thought I'd hear in a million years.
""Thursday. 7:30 . . . Is that. . . wait, no . . . Is that across from that little coffee shop? Yeah . . . I think I know. That's on the hall to the auditorium, right? Okay. . . I was scared I was going to do the auditorium. I'm not . . . No, no wait, yeah but I . . . yeah but . . . okay, but . . . well I like hearing you say that but. . . I can't fill an auditorium, lady, I don’t think so. . . uh huh . . . Thanks, but I really doubt that. . . . uh uh . . ."
"yeah . . . Well, that's true. . . No, I'm really excited. Anything I need to bring with me? Yeah? Okay, I can do that, definitely . . . whoa . . . Sure. . . I'll be ready. Seven thirty. Okey-dokey."
"Looking forward to it. Okay, bye bye."
Excited, yeah. Scared green is more like it. This will be a debacle. But still.
I get to read my shit. Out loud.
The phone dies just as she hangs up. In the old days I would have considered that very spiritual to have the phone last just until she says goodbye. The will of God or something. The finger of fate. Now I think of it as just batteries, held up maybe by interaction with air waves, or maybe Jungian synchronicity. Not so much god or angels or the Trumpet of Destiny calling my name.
I'm going to give a book reading at the Columbia Fucking County Library. The Jabez Auditorium. Thursday. Seven thirty and don't be late.
This stuff just doesn't happen to me. No way is this stuff supposed to happen to me ever. This is not life as I know it. I sit looking out the window for a long time, not thinking. Just breathing and watching the rain run down. I want to tell somebody – but wait a minute. They probably have me mixed up with somebody else, somebody good. We’re all gonna get burned, I just know it. I need to keep this under wraps until it happens.
Me. A book reading.
How did the Columbia County Arts Board even find out I write stuff?
What if nobody shows up? I think the librarians will show up anyway. I think they have to or something. It must be them. It must be them, they're always seeing me check out writing craft books and short story collections. I know who it is! Jesus - I know! It's that librarian, the one with the tits and the British accent and the tight sweaters. I started showing off to her one afternoon when she was talking about local writers with me. Her tits got to me, I couldn’t stop myself. I told her about meeting Dacre Stoker. I gave her my pen name and I’ll bet she looked it up. That's what happened. She looked up my damn pen name. How many writers can there be in my little town? They were scrounging the very bottom of the barrel for just anybody to fill a slot and sonuvabitch – that’s right where they found me.
Jesus H Christ on a tricycle.
I get to read my stuff – MY stuff! - in front of people! A couple of people at least.
Thank you god . . . thank you for every blessing.
Thursday night arrives and I shuffle in a side door and it’s raining again. There’s nobody milling around in the hallway. When Charlaine Harris was here, the hallway was packed to the walls and out to the sidewalk. Now I know for sure nobody's going to show up for me, especially if it’s raining. I won't be able to get a big enough crowd for a card game much less a book reading. As I come down the marble hallway, with my print outs in a plastic Kroger’s grocery bag - I'm such a class act - the British librarian with the dazzling chest and her signature tight sweater is there by the door to the auditorium watching for me.
" 'ello!" she chirps up and smiles.
I remember from my street preaching days in Milwaukee, when I would stand on a plastic milk crate on a corner and get up a crowd. It’s not that hard. You look for that one face. That's how you do it. You have to know your first sentence, and look for The Face. One friendly face and you sort of preach to that person. If Jugs here is in the crowd I'll read to her until I get up to speed. That’s how I'll do it.
Garce, you’re so full of shit. There’s nobody here. You’re going to speak from a podium like some pompous doofus to one person? Really, real world, maybe there’ll be one more library worker, some hapless high school kid who can’t get out of it, and if I’m lucky there could be two, maybe three people tops sitting all in the back row of Jabez Auditorium, so that I have to ask them to sit up front or something, who came across my stuff somewhere, god knows how. We'll all circle our chairs together for coffee and cookies and have a few laughs and go home.
Goddamn I'm nervous! Was it like this for Charlaine Harris? Is it like this for Ashley Lister when he reads his poetry in front of people?
She jiggles buoyantly alongside as she leads me to a glass door down the hall from the auditorium. The Promised Land.
She opens the door and holds it for me. “After you.”
I go into the bright room and freeze in the doorway so suddenly her chest, which precedes her by a good six inches, crashes into my back.
The room is full. That's not possible.
She turns towards me and I whisper to her "Who else is speaking tonight?"
I shake my head, I can’t believe I heard her right. I should have brought a camera. Nobody is going to believe what I'm seeing without a picture. They need to see this. This is my time. This is my moment in the sun. Lisabet! I wish Lisabet could see me! There's 20 rows of ten plush chairs. That makes 200 people sitting. And people standing against the wall. Where the hell did they get all these people?
I'm overcome and I can’t speak. My eyes water and I'm trying not to choke up. I look down at my pants to make sure this isn’t one of those goofy dreams where you show up to give a lecture and discover you’re naked.
Wait a minute.
Oh no. Oh hell no.
I know what's going on now. This is very bad. Bad enough to make my life pass in front of my eyes. And I stepped right into it.
These people, there’re not here to be nice to me. This is going to be some nutty fundo Christian group, some happy horseshit Baptist Bible Camp thing come here to lynch the pornographer, get the guy who writes naughty stories and hang the cringing little bastard high as a lesson to American youth.
I look at Double Dees for help but she looks truly happy for me and she’s blocking the doorway. As far as she’s concerned she shares my joy.
I take a step towards the podium and the plastic grocery bag tips over and dumps my stuff all over the floor.
A young woman with an odd pale complexion jumps up and helps me gather my papers together in a pathetic wad, as if I'd dropped a baby on its head and there're whispers and snickers. I bring my pile up to the podium which has this little desk light and a thin microphone. Who knew I’d need a microphone? Who knew there would be a crowd? Some of the printouts have gotten rainwater off the bag and the ink is running on my fingertips.
While people cough and wait, I wade frantically through the mess and gather up the kick off scene from Father Delmar's diary that starts "The Dying Light". I should have stapled the shit. Why didn’t I staple this shit . . . ?
“Good evening.” A soft feedback whine. “Thank you for coming here tonight. My name is C. Sanchez-Garcia. I’m a writer. More or less.”
Applause. Oh my god. Oh my god. They like me. They’re not here to lynch me.
I say some polite words, a couple of self deprecating jokes. The crowd is getting a little restless. Then I notice - there aren't any men here. These are all women. Now I know I'm dreaming. It’s a lucid dream.
If it’s a lucid dream I can screw with every woman in this room.
I know how to find out. I put my stuff down and raise my arms up and lift up on my toes. If it’s a lucid dream I can will myself to rise to the ceiling. Nothing happens. People are looking at me funny. I'm not naked and I can’t fly. Probably not a dream.. C'mon Garce, pull your shit together.
"How many of you here have read my stuff?"
Almost everybody's hands go up.
Standing against the wall are some young ladies in prim looking green clothes. They're the only women wearing skirts. Their skin has an odd pallor I can’t seem to place. Foreign students. One has a sort of Aunt Jemima checkered head scarf and the others have baseball caps. They raise their hands.
"Yes?" I point at one because I want to hear if she has an accent. I think they're going to be from the Middle East.
"We read your book, the 'Mortal Engines' when we were at Girl Scout camp. The leader thought it was a car repair. We didn’t tell her it was a dirty book.'
Now that is rude. To hear it said right out loud like that. That's what we're going to talk about tonight. I won’t embarrass this girl with the funny accent, but I'm going to steer this thing towards some elevated conversation about the difference between cheap pornography and erotic literature. There is a difference. I write respectable literature by golly. They need to know that.
"I'm going to read a scene none of you will have read yet, it’s from a vampire novel in progress. This scene is from a chapter called "The Dying Light". Ahem “I like writing with a fountain pen best. A fountain pen like this one suits me. . .' I go on with that for a while. Then a couple of poems.
The rest of my stuff is a mess. The pages are out of order. I'll do a question and answer now and wrap this up and shoot an email to Lisabet to celebrate my triumph. I want to get back to that dirty book question somehow. "We'll take some questions now. Who wants to go first? First question?"
The librarian raises her arm and I gaze as her breasts shift and elevate heavenward. Now I know why romance writers like to use that stupid word "gaze". Brother, I am gazing. "Yes?"
"Where do you get your ideas from?"
Ah ha ha, modest me chuckles. "I get them from different things. Some of the stories I don’t even remember where the ideas came from. You start out with a scene sometimes and build up."
A young woman, maybe a college girl raises her arm. "No – she means where do you get your ideas for fuck scenes from?"
She's being crude to shock me, or maybe show me that she's on my side. I can’t tell which. She talks like I think. "What do you mean?"
“They get me off. They sound like the way people really fuck. Is that from your real life?"
Now, O Friends of The Inner Sanctum, my pathetic real world sex life wouldn’t fill up a tea cup, much less a novel. I open my mouth to confess this with thrilling and noble frankness but what comes out is "Oh yes. All of its real."
I get this feeling.
It’s this feeling you get when you’re walking across a grassy lawn barefoot and your toes come down hard on something in the grass which is warm and gooey and pungent and very, very natural and it squishes right between your toes.
A moan goes over the room. Dozens of female hands shoot up into the air waving furiously. I pick one at random. "What about vampires? You fucked a vampire?"
"Yes," I say to her. "I sure did. All night. It was fantastic."
I'm hoping this sarcasm will make people laugh, but instead a Goth girl dressed in black I hadn’t noticed before jumps up and throws her head back defiantly. "I'm a vampire."
Whoa. I glance over at the librarian but she is looking at me with something like feral heat in her eyes. She runs her tongue over her lips. I can make out the big nubs of her nipples poking against her sweater.
"Well," I stammer, "I mean figuratively. Not literally. The vampire is a poetic metaphor for relationships that -"
"Fuck metaphors! I'm a vampire goddammit!"
Another woman jumps up. "Me too!"
"Listen, there isn't any - "
A third woman jumps up. "My name is Natalie - and I'm a sex addict." Everybody claps supportively. "And I'm a vampire. I pick up strangers and take them home. I fuck them and then suck out all their male psychic energy from their chakras when they cum. That's how I steal the yang life force energy from stupid men."
I look over at the librarian again, the one I was reading my Father Delmar stuff to over the heads of the crowd. She's got her sweater off. What's she doing with her blouse? Can she do that here?
"Wait!" I yell, shaking my head like a baby rattle. "How can you be a sex addict vampire?" There could be a story here someplace. I should be writing this down. I start fumbling in my shirt pocket for a pen.
The librarian’s blouse is gone and the bra is on its way. She steps up to the sex addict vampire girl who sucks people’s life energy out of their chakras - and shoves her down on to her chair. Her righteous Working Class breasts are out and they're bigger than the British Empire. She straddles the poor girl who stares up at her stiff brown nipples in fascination and terror.
"You little ghost whispering tart -" yells the librarian "I'm a lesbian vampire sex addict!" She shoves the girls face between her breasts and for an instant every human being in that room including me wishes we were that girl. Then she fastens on the girl’s neck and the poor thing sags in her chair.
I start getting my papers but I’m shaking and a pile of them fall on the floor. I kick them away from me. Screw this, I'm getting the hell out of here.
The four foreign looking women standing against the wall - all of them like some weird chorus line - tear off their blouses and their underwear. They're nude. Their skin is a strange bluish color I hadn’t noticed before. They tear off their baseball caps and big phallic antennae pop out. "We're lesbian vampire sex addicts from the planet Venus! And you are all our human sex slaves!"
"Get them!" screams the librarian, spitting drops of blood into the air. The crowd mobs the four women, tearing the bunting from the wall and tying their arms behind their backs. "Bring me an encyclopedia!"
Girls dash out and come back with a couple of encyclopedias, and a big coffee table book of Ansel Adams photos. The topless librarian swats a Venusian Girl Scout on the ass with the Ansel Adams book and the girl whimpers and begs for more. The girls line up and begin spanking the Venusians asses with the heavy books. Their erect antennae waggle with pleasure as they scream their defiance for all earthlings.
I throw my stuff on the floor and run like a rabbit.
Outside the rain has stopped and distant sirens are approaching. There is a girl under the street lamp in a denim jacket waiting for me on the sidewalk. She's short with a bright mane of silver hair glistening with rain and her hard blue eyes for the moment are smiling. "There you are," she says with that thick German accent I know so well. "So then ('zo zen') how was it?"
"We need to go. We need to go now."
"These Girls Scouts I met, they were there, jah?"
"They were from Venus."
"Did they have cookies? Those nice little chocolate ones with the coconut?"
"There's a Kroger’s down the road. I'll get you any cookies you want. Or a Mounds bar. But we have to go now,"
She laces her arm in mine. "Let's go, stud."