Friday morning I stood on the curb with my luggage, waiting while the doorman tried to flag down two cabs--one for me, one for an elderly resident and her daughter. Cabs hurtled by, some with lights that indicated they were on duty. (Wednesday, when I was heading back to the West Side, a cab stopped for me, but when I told the driver my destination, he shook his head and zoomed off.) Go figure.
In the end I flagged a car service that happened to be in the area. ("You need car to take you from airport, call me, I give special price," the driver promised in a thick Russian accent. The price he quoted was five dollars more than the car service I usually use charges.) Street traffic was heavy, so he took the West Side Highway. The piers we passed were vacant, but I flashed to my childhood, when my family would drive up from Lakewood, New Jersey, to visit cousins in Washington Heights, and I would press my face against the car window, gawking at the line-up of majestic, impossibly huge ocean liners, one more sleek and imposing than the next, all of them beautiful, filling the horizon, glorious, promising adventure that I considered trying in spite of the rolling of my stomach.
At Javits Center, the site of Book Expo, my driver carried my luggage up the few stairs to a lobby teeming with people from around the country and the world. Hoisting my garment bag on one shoulder, I wheeled my roll-aboard to the registration desk to pick up a badge holder. I was waiting for a strap for the holder when a woman behind me said, "Oh, I'm not sure if I helped you or broke your luggage."
She was talking to me, I learned, when I turned and saw my roll-aboard felled, along with the satchel I'd strapped onto it with a Velcro closure. The roll-aboard's retractable handle, that wonderful invention whose creator deserves a Nobel prize, had been extended to support the satchel. Now it had snapped off.
A year ago--a few months ago--I would have obsessed about my luggage. So I suppose it's a sign of maturity that I didn't let the ruined luggage spoil my day. I would deal with repairs back in L.A., I told myself with surprising equanimity. But how to transport the roll-aboard, the satchel, and the garment bag to the downstairs bag-check area? Fortunately, one of the JCC book fair people came to my rescue and helped me down the escalator.
For the next seven hours I joined the throngs on the main convention floor and inched through the crowded aisles. The enormous hall was filled with noisy chatter, with the more subdued sounds of book buying taking place at tables in booths on both sides of the aisles.
I was wearing the flared print skirt and green sweater I'd worn for lunch on Wednesday. Instead of my sexy pink sandals I wore comfortable shoes, and after reading today's The Book Blog, I'm not sure the shoes were okay:
What Not to Wear at BEA
BEA 2005 or Book Expo America begins next week in Manhattan. But what should you wear? In case you missed it, Publisher's Weekly had a funny article on the subjet earlier this month, written by Clinton Kelly and Stacy London, the hosts of TLC's What Not to Wear. Here's Rule #1:
Rule #1: You may not wear any shoe just because it is comfortable. You may, however, wear a shoe that is both comfortable and stylish. Or a shoe that is excruciatingly painful and completely fabulous. Here are some examples.
Just comfortable (and absolutely forbidden): any sort of sneaker you would wear to any sort of athletic activity*; a tan flat with—God forbid—nude hose; a nurse's shoe or any form of footwear that resembles one; an Ugg boot.
Comfortable and stylish (and acceptable): a kitten-heel slingback; a split-toe antiqued-leather lace-up (for men only); a ballet flat; a wedge.
Excruciatingly painful and fabulous (and preferred): a five-inch metallic stiletto sandal.
I stopped at booths to pick up a variety of bags, including a huge red tote, in which I placed my stash:
Pop-up books, kites, and miniature bottles of Princess bubbles for my grandchildren; a how-to for my son-in-law on starting a new business; a preqeul to the Superman saga for my Smallville-loving son (he may have to share it with his brother and sister-in-law); an Apprentice poster for my daughter signed by Kelly, last year's winner; for our oldest son, a padded beer can cover in the shape of a mini sports jersey with lettering that says, "Get your own damn beer, I'm watching the game"; for my husband, a book on how to succeed in the corporate world and an autobiography of a marine; a book of baseball statistics for my mother-in-law; for a recipient yet to be determined, How Not to Write: An Office Primer for the Grammatically Perplexed, by Terence Denman; for another daughter, The Swedish Table, by Helene Henderson. (I considered keeping the book for myself, but who am I kidding? I hardly cook anything but the basics, except for Shabbat and holidays.)
And for me: Jonathan Harr's The Lost Painting; Beverly Barton's Killing Her Softly (the title of an earlier work by Nicci French); The Human Fly and Other Stories by T.C. Boyle; Third Girl from the Left, by Martha Southgate; The Starter Wife, by Gigi Levangie Grazer; Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Wesiberger (author of The Devil Wears Prada); Gregory Maguire's Son of a Witch; Brian Freeman's Immoral; Karin Muller's Japanland; Bill Napier's Splintered Icon; Paul Auster's The Brooklyn Follies; Terry McMillan's The Interruption of Everything; Julie Julia by Julie Powell; Jacqueline Winspear's Pardonable Lies (the third in her Maisie Dobbs series); Nicci French's Catch Me When I Fall.
There were many more books that I chose not to pick up. I have learned from Book Expos past to be more deliberate, but still, it takes self-control not to whisk a copy off an inviting stack, especially when others are whisking, and you're wondering whether they know something you don't, that you're passing up THE NEXT BIG BOOK. Plowing back and forth through the aisles, my shoulders sagging from the weight of the bags I was jugging around, I spied people clutching books I coveted, and totes. Especially a turquoise one. The totes go quickly, as anyone who has attended Book Expo will tell you.
Throughout the day I bumped into people I knew--writers, reporters, book fair chairs. Harlan Coben, whose Myron Bolitar series I adore, introduced me to his French publisher (she gave me her card) and to a reporter from the Wall Street Journal with whom I'd corresponded via e-mail. I received a big hello from Bobby from Mystery Bookstore in Westwood and Ed Kaufman from "M" Is For Mystery in San Mateo. I met Shmuley Boteach, the author of Kosher Sex, and sent regards to his aunt. We were close friends when she lived in L.A. so many years ago. (I forgot to tell the rabbi that I mentioned him and Kosher Sex in Grave Endings, in a scene that takes place in Frederick's of Hollywood.)
At the Brilliance Audio booth I stored my totes in a narrow closet and chatted with publisher Eileen Hutton, her husband Bob, and all the wonderful people who have introduced Molly Blume to audiobook listeners. At the Warner Books booth I saw Time-Warner Book Group publisher Larry Kirschbaum (we met years ago when I was with Mysterious Press, and my editor was the late Sara Ann Freed, whom I dearly miss). Larry is leaving at the end of the year to become a literary agent. And of course I stopped by the Random House booth, where I spoke with several people I knew, and met others. They are all rooting for Molly Blume, and so am I.
At one point, standing in line to get a signed copy of Winona Judd's new book, I struck up a conversation with two women from Baker & Taylor, a major book distributor.
"We wanted a copy of a children's book," one of them told me, "but they wouldn't give it to us. Not very smart, since we're the children's books buyers."
The two exchanged wry smiles.
"Like in Pretty Woman?" I said. "The scene where Julia Roberts, all fancied up, returns to the Rodeo Drive shop where she was snubbed, and she flaunts her bags with all those expensive purchases? 'Big mistake,' Julia says. 'Huge.'"
"Huge," one of the women said.
Now we were all grinning.
As it turned out, Winona was signing a promo sheet, not her book, which wouldn't be available for months. I left the line.
I met Gerald Burstyn, contributing editor for the World Jewish Digest, which reprinted my essay, "The Right To Write: Who Decides What's Kosher?" Gerald introduced me to the paper's managing editor, Simona Fuma, who offered me cashews and invited me to accompany her and Gerald for lunch at, perhaps, Le Marais, a nearby kosher restaurant. I was tempted, but declined with regret, since I would be leaving at four and worried that there were still so many booths to visit, more books and tchotchkes to collect.
"I heard there's a kosher kiosk on the lower level," I told them.
That's where I met two editors for AARP The Magazine. I told them about Molly Blume.
"We're interested in active characters in their fifties," they told me.
"Then you'll love Molly's grandmother, Bubbie G," I said. "She's a Holocaust survivor--wise, warm, witty."
"Does she solve the crime?" one of the women asked.
"No, but Molly consults with Bubbie G," I assured her.
They gave me their cards.
At three o'clock I made my last round of the convention floor. I gathered my totes from the Brilliance closet and trudged past the aisles of booths, feeling three inches shorter than when I'd arrived because of the weight of the bags on my shoulders. My feet ached.
Outside I waited near the curb for my daughter, who was coming to pick me up. "I'll bring the luggage in a few shifts," I told her on my cell phone.
It started to drizzle. I held a USA Today over my head, then retreated to the building entrance and stood under the overhang. I tried to ignore the cigarette smoke wafting my way.
There would be different books offered tomorrow, and several mystery panels. But tomorrow, Saturday, would be my Sabbath. I would be spending it in Brooklyn with my daughter and her husband.
A stiff gust of wind lifted my skirt. A Marilyn Monroe moment, but I'm not Marilyn. I hurriedly tamed the skirt and tucked a section between my legs.
Then my daughter was there, in front of me.