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Some behind-the-scenes advice for attending The National Book Awards, or any literary party:

*From the story “Someone Ought to Tell Her There’s Nowhere to Go.”

 

Georgie knew before he left that Lanae would be fucking Kenny by the time he got back to Virginia. At least she’d been up front about it, not like all those other husbands and wives and girlfriends and boyfriends, shined up and cheesing for the five o clock news on the day their lovers shipped out, and then jumping into bed with each other before the plane landed. When he’d told Lanae about his orders, she’d just lifted an eyebrow, shook her head, and said “I told you not to join the goddamn army.” Before he left for basic training, she’d stopped seeing him, stopped taking his calls even, said “I’m not waiting for you to come home dead, and I’m damn sure not having Esther upset when you get killed.”

Self-interview, huh? How often do you talk to yourself?

Kind of a lot, actually. I’m an only child who’s never had any kind of a roommate, so I got used to getting away with it. Besides, it comes in handy on public transit. I apparently have one of those faces that says: Talk to me. Confess. Strangers sit next to me on buses and start telling their life stories. There’s something overwhelming about being that approachable, and on days when I feel like I don’t have enough to offer in return, which is most days, I ride the bus holding a book and wearing headphones, but sometimes that doesn’t work. I rode into Chicago once with a teenage runaway who had told me all about her boyfriend troubles by the time we arrived, and out of Chicago once with a man who’d just gotten out of jail and needed to talk about it. I ran into a woman I’d never met before in a hotel lobby and she began telling me about the measures she was taking to escape an abusive marriage. A man on a bus in Missouri once sniffed me, and somehow got from inquiring about my perfume as a potential gift for his wife to telling me about the problems in his marriage.  Three bus drivers in three different states have proposed to me. Once, I was hungover and limping across an Iowa City parking lot because I’d twisted my ankle the night before, and a man came running over and said I looked like a writer and maybe I could help him, and handed me a cassette tape he said contained government secrets.  On my second day in Paris, people came up to ask me for directions in several languages that I didn’t speak. Years ago, in an Amtrak snack car, I sat with some guys who, apropos of nothing, asked me if I thought they’d be extradited from the state they were visiting in order to face drug charges in the state we’d just left.  Last week I was standing at the bus stop with about ten people, and a woman walking by ignored all ten other people and stopped and stood in front of me and kept talking until I took my headphones out. She asked me if I was ready to have my palm read, and when I said no, gave me her address and told me she’d be there when I was ready. I’m hoping this is the beginning of a narrative arc that leads to me being told I have superpowers, preferably the zappy lightning bolt kind.