I love my breakfasts. But when I’m at home, I don’t usually get to
them until late—11
or 12, if I’m writing. (Some writers drink. Some do drugs.
I find creativity via coffee on an empty stomach.) And I eat
cereal. Or oatmeal/porridge. Milk should always be somehow involved with
breakfast, I feel.
The hearty, American-style breakfast of egg and bacon and sausage and
hash browns is a little too much for me, especially early. If you
ask me, there’s something a little immoral about cooking anything before noon but toast.
This is why I’m having a little difficulty with the hordes of people
in line for pizza at 8am at the airport. And “breakfast tacos!” You
can’t just put the word “breakfast” in front of something as if that
makes it okay! No! There are no breakfast pot roasts, are there? Breakfast
buffalo burgers? Breakfast prime rib steak?
It’s raining in Austin. But that’s okay, because I have to stay in
and do my washing. Originally, my plan was to have the hotel
dryclean some clothes for me. But I’m never long enough in
one place for this. So I fill up the bathtub, toss in some soap,
and wash a load of shirts and underpants, old-school. Then I wring
them out, arrange them on hangers, and distribute them around my
hotel room. It really adds something to my luxurious hotel room;
a certain third world ambiance.
I call home, and we get the webcam thing happening. Jen puts Fin
on her lap, and Fin sees my picture and smiles. I sing nursery
rhymes to her through the phone and she grins and claps and says,
“More?” when I finish. It’s wonderful. Being able to see them,
even in jerky low-resolution, makes me feel much closer to home.
On a geeky note, I’m very pleased with my laptop computer.
It’s the first time I’ve left home with a Linux-powered machine
(it’s running Ubuntu),
and thought I might hit problems trying to hook up with the
internet services of various hotels. But nope: everything’s worked
Today’s amusing email:
im doing a book report on your book “Jennifer Government” and i need some books that contain information about you as an author. my stupid english teacher
insists that i find at least 3 books that contain information about you as an author, even though it seems to be impossible.
i also need to know if you are “respected” as an author in the writing community because it is part of my paper.
please please help me
That’s a good question, whether I am respected. Who knows what those
bitchy other authors say about me behind my back?
I wonder if authors ever go on tours together. That would be cool.
All this travelling would be more fun if there was somebody else.
I should go with Paul Neilan, because I’m recommending his book
at every stop. It feels good to recommend Paul’s book here,
because back home, every time I tell someone how great it is,
I have to add, “But you can’t buy it here.” This makes them
disappointed and angry. But it’s not my fault no-one’s
published it in Australia. I don’t control the world. But here,
at readings I can say, “And
it’s available in the US!” Then we all look at the bookstore
person, who says, “I don’t think we have that.”
At tonight’s reading,
a girl named Jessica asks whether Chuck Palahniuk and I hang
out together. She says that she read online that he’s a fan of my work,
and I hyperventilate for a few seconds before realizing that
she’s confusing Chuck with the webmaster of chuckpalahniuk.net,
Dennis. So I guess Chuck won’t be calling up any time soon and
asking if I want to come over and shoot some pool, or, you know,
murder some puppies or something. Whatever, Chuck. I’d be up for
Jessica has an adorable accent and says “y’all.”
It’s so strange to hear actual “y’all”s. I kind of assumed
they were just in movies and Jerry Springer. For some
more local flavor, a guy—I want to say Mike, but my notes aren’t
clear, sorry—gives me a “Fightin’
Texas Aggies” T-shirt, from Texas A&M University. He helpfully
advises me not to wear it in Austin, though, because it may prompt
locals to beat me up. I’m glad he mentioned that. I hope it doesn’t
cause any problem with airport security tomorrow.
What happens to the soap? Every day I check into a new hotel and
unwrap at least one small, packaged, and apparently pristine
bar of soap. I use a tiny amount
before I leave. What happens to the
rest? I can’t believe they’re throwing all that out. I haven’t seen
any big soap collection trucks backing up to hotels, and that’s
what they’d need to haul away all the leftovers.
They must collect the used bars, mold
them into new ones somehow, and repackage them. So when I’m in the shower, I’m actually
rubbing myself with soap that has passed over hundreds, maybe even
thousands, of bodies before mine. Maybe the way to look at hotel soap
is as a hundred million invisible skin particles from everyone who
stayed there before you, compressed into a sweet-smelling bar.
Feeling more connected to humanity, I head down for some breakfast.
There’s a TV running FOX News, and on screen people are agreeing that
the only way to deal with Iran’s seizure of British soldiers is to
“make them feel some pain.” Anything less, like diplomacy, would
cause the UK to become “a laughing stock.” It’s amazing
how similar all this is to the last time I was here, and the time
before that, and that. The names of the countries change (Iraq, Iran),
and the precise issue everyone’s agitated about, but
the solution is always the same: send in the military. And I understand
that mindset. But I don’t understand how they can still be talking
as if it’s February 2003.
A little later I receive the following email from David:
In today’s blog entry (March 28, 2007) you mention that Finlay crossed her arms for the first time earlier in the day, and express wishes that you could have a picture of this occurrence. I cannot provide you with an actual photograph of this important milestone in your daughter’s life, but I can offer
this artist’s rendering
of the occasion. I hope that it will convey the situation to you just as well as an actual photograph would have.
Now I don’t really want to encourage people to Photoshop pictures of
my daughter. But that completely cracks me up, so I have to share it.
At Madison airport, the woman at check-in is surprised that my final
destination is Chicago. I figure out why on the plane: I’ve just about
finished buckling up my belt when we commence our descent.
I spent more time going through security than actually travelling anywhere.
Chicago is a great city. I’ve been here twice before, once in January and
once in July, and I love how completely different it looked each time.
And I still think that having a beach right in the heart of the city
is one of the best ideas ever.
Of course, I’m going to see practically nothing of the place this time
the window of my taxi. I keep getting great tips for incredible places
that I absolutely must visit, but never get to use them. This is not
much of a way to sight-see, catching a plane every day.
My reading is at Barbara’s Bookstore, and it’s
an especially chatty, interactive crowd, which is
awesome. I like that I’ve done enough of these now to be able to
relax and have fun—in the early days, it was all a little too
nerve-wracking to do that.
In the long line of wonderful people who want me to deface their
books, I meet Joe, who rode 11.86 miles on his bike to be at the reading.
I know people who drove for many hours to make one of my readings
(I believe the record is 6.5 hours), but Joe posits that
nobody has ever cycled further than him. So there you have it,
people. The bar has been set.
“I smell worms,” says Mary.
Mary is my media escort for the day. We’ve just stepped out of her
car at FOX-6, ahead of my first TV interview in eight years, and
Mary can smell worms.
“Ewww,” she says. I look down and see that what I initially took
for sticks strewn across the sidewalk are indeed long
worms: dozens of them, hundreds. We have to pick our way carefully
toward the studio doors, and wipe our shoes of any collateral damage
when we get there. On the one hand, it seems a little disgusting
to be leaving a bunch of worms on the doorstep of FOX. On the other,
it feels a little appropriate.
I still can’t actually smell them, though. That’s got to be
some kind of super power: the ability to smell worms.
I’m nervous. I try a few calming techniques—thinking about
it being over already, telling myself nobody cares, remembering
that it’s only FOX, not a real TV network—but they have limited
effect. “Dress cute,” Mary advised me on the phone earlier. I don’t
think I packed cute.
I’m taken into the studio and miked up. Seen from behind, the set
looks like something cobbled together by
high school students for a play. Everything is scuffed, small,
and fake. Except the presenters: interviewing me is Kim Murphy,
and she’s lovely. She takes a couple of minutes to chat to me
off-air beforehand, helping me settle in and feel more comfortable.
And then, without warning, she’s reading from the auto-cue. It’s
here’s me on FOX.
I think I do okay, considering what a TV noob I am. I look pretty tired.
But I don’t stammer or freak out or stare too obviously at the cameras.
That’s a plus.
After the interview, Mary drives me to Madison. We stop along the way
to drop into bookstores and sign stock. This can go either way: sometimes
the person behind the desk is excited to meet me; sometimes
I am clearly about the fifth author to stop by that day, and the novelty has
well and truly worn off. Usually at chain stores it’s the latter, but at
a Barnes & Noble on the way out of Madison, I get my best reception ever.
By the time I leave, it seems as if half the store’s staff have been called
over to meet me. It’s like I’m famous.
Mary is kind enough to suggest I catch a nap on the way, and also kind
enough to not tell me if I snore in my sleep, or mutter, or jerk my
legs around. Apparently I can do that.
Last time I was in Madison, January 2004, a huge blizzard was blowing. I
fought my way to the store to find that endless rows of seats had been
set up, and nobody was in them. I think I ended up reading to about six
people, who were (of course) mostly sitting right up the back. That was
tough. If I get more than six people tonight, I’ll be happy.
But it’s a good night for a book reading, I’m told: not so cold that
you can’t bear going out, but not warm enough to want to do anything more
exciting. I can’t see how many people are here until I actually
step in front of them, but then it’s a pleasant surprise: there are lots.
The store guy tells me later that he counted 55, which makes it my
most well-attended reading so far. So all is forgiven, Madison. Thank
I can start to see differences in audiences. Tonight, I suspect that
many more people have read the book than usual. Four people down the
front are all reading along with me from their copy, which is kind of
funny; I’m used to one or two people doing it, but not a whole block of
them. It feels a little like taking English class.
There’s a long line of people to sign for afterward, and then I’m done.
That’s four down! I’m halfway through this tour already.
It’s here. The scratchiness in the throat. The sweating.
There are a million multiplying bio-agents in my head and they’re
all manufacturing phlegm.
I get up in the middle of the night to gargle antiseptic
mouthwash and discover that this stuff is much stronger
than back home. I think it actually dissolves my teeth a little.
But I’m prepared to take a little friendly fire. This throat
needs to be liberated.
The key to getting out of a hotel room on time is to corral all
your gear into one small area and not let it escape. It tries, of course.
When you’re not looking, your shoes sneak under the desk and your
wallet climbs onto the bedside table. Then when you’re chasing
them down, your underpants run giggling into the bathroom. You
have to be vigilant.
My dilemma this morning is that I have no dollar bills with
which to tip the guy who will inevitably try to lift my bag into
the back of the taxi. I’m not sure which is weedier: not saying
anything or launching into a big sad story about how I don’t
have anything smaller than a twenty because I lost my credit
card temporarily and blah blah blah. But luckily I manage to
get out to the curb on my own, and then the cab driver lunges
for my bag before the doorman can reach it. That’s good: I
can tip him with my credit card. Crisis averted.
I check-in but am not assigned a seat, instead being told to
see someone at the gate. In retrospect, I should have realized right away
that this meant a problem. But I’m still a little naive about flying
and assume that if you book a ticket, they’ll let you on the
plane. This silly notion is beaten out of me at the gate, where
a woman explains that the plane can only take 49 passengers
instead of the booked 50 because of weight issues. “And you’re
number 50,” she says. This strikes me as a little unfair.
I mean, I know I’m not a teenager any more, but there have to be
plenty of passengers with more significant weight issues
than me. Surely in this situation it should be surivival
of the thinnest?
The solution, apparently, is to get a passenger to voluntarily
give up their seat.
So I stand by the desk while she makes
a series of attractive offers to anyone willing to do so.
Nobody bites. Finally, when everybody’s on board but me, she shrugs and just prints me off a
boarding pass. I’m reminded of the movie French Kiss, where
Kevin Kline says:
says there is a crack in the engine, but not to worry, he
take off anyway.”
“Head through to Door E,” she says. “E,” I say, nodding.
“No, E,” she says. This is the sort of discussion that could
go on a while, so rather than educate her about Australian
accents, I just nod. Door E is down a stairwell eerily
reminiscent of my old high school, complete with chewing gum
stuck to the rail. Then I am told to wander out on the
tarmac for my plane. “It’s the gray one,” an assistant
I walk outside and there are about 18 gray airplanes in a row
preparing to take off. I choose the closest one and climb
aboard. It feels like catching a bus. “Is this Milwaukee?
Are we going to Milwaukee?”
The answer is maybe, because while we’re in the air, a
thick fog rolls over Wisconsin.
The pilot tells us we might end up in
Chicago. I’ve never been diverted before, so this seems
quite interesting, albeit something of a problem in that
a bunch of people are expecting me to be at a Milwaukee
bookstore in a few hours’ time. But that wouldn’t be my
problem, exactly. One of the wonderful things about being
on book tour is that other people are responsible for
figuring out where you are supposed to go and how to get you
there. It’s kind of like they assume you are a complete
moron, unable to do anything for yourself, and once you
learn to go with that, it’s very pleasant.
Our pilot, who has a deep Southern accent and clearly
isn’t the sort of guy to let little things like excess
weight regulations stop him from flying his plane his way,
decides to take a stab at a Milwaukee touchdown even though
he can’t see anything.
ground materializes out of fog about eight seconds before we
make contact, but it’s a pretty smooth landing. He talks the
talk, our guy, and he backs it up.
Milwaukee is cold. Not as cold as the last time I was here,
in January 2004, when everything was under a two-foot blanket
of snow. That was awesome. But still cold; colder than it
looked when I did a quick search on US temperatures before
I left home and tried to convert fahrenheit to celsius in
my head. Since I’m kind of sick, I don’t think I’ll be
doing any sightseeing on foot today.
I have a media escort here, Mike, whose job it is
to assume I’m a complete moron for the day. Mike is a
great guy, very easy to talk to, and he plays tour guide
as we drive around and I drop into book stores to sign
stock. “The only bad thing about Milwaukee is the crime,”
Mike says. “Crime is worse than it should be. But where
you’re staying, downtown, that’s safe. Well… relatively
I find the bookstores a little depressing, especially the
big Barnes & Noble store. There are so
many new books; endless shelves of them. And every hardback
has a carefully crafted eye-catching cover and amazing
quotes from allegedly rave reviews and is written
by a good-looking celebrity. I wonder how it’s possible
for a small, good book to fight its way out of this
circus. I’m glad I don’t have to see this very often:
the pointy, business end of publishing. I love writing
books; I don’t want to have to think too much about
My reading is at Harry W. Schwartz in Bay View. It’s a
new store, and I think the unfamiliar location is probably why people keep
trickling in at a steady rate throughout the reading. Either
that or because I initially posted the wrong address on
this web site. I’ve been changing the parts of Company
I read from stop to stop, but think I’ve got a good selection
now. Then we have a particularly good Q&A session, with
lots of great questions. Afterward, I sign books,
including about a dozen hardbacks for a guy who has laminated the covers.
He’s a collector, so I ask him how that works:
how does he decide how long to hold on to an author’s books,
and when it’s time to cash in? I’m particularly interested
in his opinion about when I’m going to peak, or if I already have.
But he says he’s the kind of
collector who can’t bear to sell his books. “I have 16,000
hardbacks,” he says. “My wife doesn’t especially like that.”
Back at my hotel, I have a fax from Martin at Vintage saying
I have a TV interview in the morning on FOX 6. Wow. I’ve only
ever done one TV interview before, a show called “Jersey’s Talking”
with Lee Leonard on my first ever book tour in 1999, and I’m
sure I was completely terrible. I will try to do better tomorrow.
Finally I call home and hear that earlier today
Finlay crossed her arms for the first time. Crossed her arms!
That sounds hilarious. I need a picture of that.
I wake at 7am and don’t feel like heaving. This is a big improvement
over this stage of my last book tour. I’m pretty pleased with how I’ve
adapted to the 17-hour time difference so far. The only issue I have is
appetite: it’s coming up on 24 hours since my last meal
and I’m not hungry yet. That’s just not right.
I pack up my stuff and leave my hotel, pausing only to try to check
my reflection in the TV. Honestly, this thing is the size of a surfboard;
I keep thinking it’s a mirror. I also swipe a hotel pen, because back
home I’m running low, having by now lost most of the pens I stole from hotels
on my 2006 tour.
I board my flight to Denver and settle in to my seat. The woman to my
left dabs at her nose, and with dawning horror I realize:
she has a cold. Over the next 90 minutes,
she sneezes, hacks, coughs, and wipes, while I try to breathe through
a pillow. I wish the check-in screen had mentioned that
during seat selection. I would definitely have chosen the “non-virus
bearing” area of the airplane. In fact, when choosing my seat I’d
ideally like to see little pictures of who’s going to be seated where.
That would be interesting. I would choose to sit near small but
But for now, I am stuck leaning to the right,
away from Cold Woman and her contagens.
Then the passenger on that side, also a woman, unexpectedly tells me:
“You have lovely eyes.” I don’t know quite what to say to this.
But I suspect I may have been leaning too far.
This is my first visit to Denver, and I like what I see: it’s quite charming,
the kind of size that’s big enough to be interesting but
not so crowded that you can’t stroll down the sidewalk without elbowing
somebody, or being mugged. It’s definitely spacious. I don’t think
I’ve ever seen
so much ground-level car parking. I imagine that if you tell
a Denver resident that in other cities they have entire buildings
for parking cars, one level above the other, their eyes would widen
I check in to my new hotel and go searching for food, since it’s now
a day and a half since I’ve eaten and my body has decided it’s ready
for something now. In fact, in between ordering a burger and it arriving,
I become ravenous. Then, eight bites in, I’m not hungry at all.
I’m getting a bit exasperated with my appetite. It needs to
figure out what the hell it’s doing, and get with the timezone.
My reading is at Tattered Cover, which is a completely cool bookstore
in a converted theater. It’s 25 or so people, very
warm and friendly, and I think it goes great. While signing books,
I notice a guy still in the seats, feeding a baby, and start to get
misty-eyed for home. Then the baby starts barking like a dog. It’s
coughing, but seriously, in the most eerily dog-like way. Not that
there’s anything wrong with that. As a parent, I completely understand
that kids do odd things. But people in line could very well be
under the impression that this guy is feeding a bottle of milk to
a swaddled-up pooch.
Beth, the organizer at Tattered Cover, has a surprise for me: an Advance
Reader Copy of Syrup. This is the first incarnation of my
first novel ever printed, back in 1999, and I managed to lose every
one of my copies many years ago. Since then I’ve been trying
desperately to get my hands on one. And suddenly I’m being given
one! Well, when I say “given,” I mean that Beth asks me to sign it
for her, and then I tell her this sad story about not having any
of my own left, and she caves in and hands it over.
On the way back to my hotel I stop off at a drugstore to load up
on bio-weapons with which to fight off any viruses I acquired
on the plane.
There I discover
that I have somehow lost my credit card. This is my second worst
fear on tour, right after running out of dollar bills and having
to endure the silent contempt of doormen, and I panic, because
if I have no cash I can’t even pay for a cab to the airport
tomorrow morning. I finally locate my card in my other pants, back
at the hotel, but only after spending my last dollar bill at the
drugstore. Oh-oh. Tomorrow morning could be tough.
Wow, I probably shouldn’t write blogs at 3AM. When I began typing
up yesterday’s post, I intended
to describe the rest of my day, which involved meeting
NationStates admins for dinner and enjoying some ice cream that was like
sex in a bowl, only creamier.
But it was the middle of the night (I’d woken and couldn’t find sleep
and after typing for a while, I
started to feel like the only person on the planet. Then thinking
about Fin saying “Neena, neena” tipped me over the edge, and
it all abruptly ended in a very melancholic place.
On Sunday, however, I am reminded that I am actually
incredibly privileged to be here, because today
is my first reading. And before that, I get to do the LA thing: take
meetings with movie people. First it’s the Syrup producers,
to discuss the next draft, then Steve Pink, who’s writing
the Company screenplay. Steve throws questions at me like,
“Okay, my problem with Eve is this: in the third act does she redeem
herself with Jones or should I have her sink deeper?” And I have
absolutely no idea. I can’t even remember the book properly any more;
I get confused between what’s in the final draft and what
I threw out several years ago. I wish I could give
Steve the kind of great story insights that only the
original author can provide, but I’ve got nothing.
While being completely useless to Steve, I have breakfast, or lunch,
or something. My body is still suspicious about what time it really
is, and doesn’t want to commit to full-blooded meals: it wants to
eat lots of small things, spaced about an hour apart. I order a bowl of oatmeal and
an orange juice, which unexpectedly shatters
my previous record for most
overpriced book tour meal:
it’s $53, excluding tip. Even the waitress is
a little embarrassed, and this is Beverly Hills. It may be difficult
to explain this one to my publisher.
In the afternoon I have my event at Book Soup. It’s at an odd time,
4pm on a Sunday, which I’m expecting will mean a smaller crowd
than last time. On previous tours this would have worried me,
since I’m still emotionally scarred from the experience of reading
to empty rows of seats on earlier book tours. It’s pretty hard
work to stand at a microphone when the only six people in the audience
have all chosen to sit at the very back of the 90 seats the bookstore
laid out. (Ah, Madison.) But now I think a small
crowd would be fine. More personal and fun, even.
I had such amazing turnouts on the hardback tour a
year ago; I think it’s made me less paranoid that a small crowd means
a freefalling career and
crawling back to Hewlett-Packard to beg for my old job back.
Twenty or thirty people show up, which is about perfect for the space,
and that’s when I realize I have to stop wallowing in homesickness. Because
how amazing is it to have people actually bother to come see you
and talk about how much they like your books? Most writers would
kill for something like this. I get to do it for the next eight days,
plus eat bowls of $53 oatmeal.
The reading has a great, casual feel; I talk a little about the
origins of the book, read a few sections, then answer questions.
It finally occurs to me why the publisher was a little reluctant to
send me to the same city I visited on the hardback tour: I need to come
up with something original for anyone who was here a year ago. So
one of the things I do is read a couple of pages from the new book
I’m working on, which I’m calling The Exceptionals. This is actually a little
nerve-wracking, because it’s still pretty raw and almost nobody’s seen
it yet. But it seems to go down very well, and a few people tell
me afterward how much they liked it. So I might do that at
my other readings, too. I just have to hope my editor doesn’t find
out and want to know why the hell other people get to hear about it
After the reading, I meet Dennis Widmyer, who runs the Chuck Palahniuk
web site The Cult
(and who read an early draft of Company for me, several years back).
I’ve lost track of the number of people who have told me at book signings
that they first heard about me at that site, so I probably owe Dennis half
my royalties or something. Instead I buy him a hot chocolate. Really,
it is a very nice hot chocolate.
And then back to my hotel. I’ve noticed that this tour seems to have
a much easier pace than the hardback one. There’s almost no media by comparison,
so I have time to do things like eat and check my
email. Man, that’s pretty sweet. The last thing I do on Sunday is settle down to
call Jen and Fin. It turns out that Fin has just woken from
her afternoon snooze in a foul mood and is screaming the house down.
Yikes. When I put the phone down on her howls, I get into bed and
watch a video clip I took before I left where she’s all smiley and
gorgeous. Ahhh. Bliss.
Yep. Not too bad, this trip.
“Daddy!” Fin shrieks, and begins to run toward me across the airport
hall floor. There are a million people around but no-one between
her and me, and she runs/staggers/falls toward me with a huge grin
on her face. I crouch down and she leaps into my arms. Her little
fists bunch the material of my sweater, trapping it in her miniature iron
grip. It’s so good to hold her again. It’s so good to smell her.
I haven’t seen my daughter since she got bored in the check-in
line, about an hour ago, and Jen took her off to play near the
fire engine that moves if you put in a dollar.
My quest was to avoid seat 48G. I was booked on seat 48G, but
I didn’t want it: thanks to SeatGuru.com I knew it was the row behind
the babies in bassinets, two rows behind the toilets, had
reduced leg room, and was in the middle section. Melbourne to LA is
a fifteen hour flight; you want a good seat. The only way to change
it, the travel agent told me, was to turn up early at check-in.
Which I did, to find that the line is already so long that it
snakes through several
other dimensions. Whenever I make some progress, an airline
employee wanders through the line and calls passengers on flights
ahead of mine to come to the front. This continues until finally
I am one of those passengers who needs to be called to the front,
which occurs exactly six places before I would have gotten there
anyway. By that stage, I don’t want their help. It’s like ascending
Mt. Everest and then with a hundred yards to go and the summit in
sight, my Sherpa offers to carry me.
The woman at check-in can’t change my seat. She says,
“If you want to do that, you have to get here early.”
So it’s time for goodbyes. I kiss my beautiful wife and daughter.
Fin says, “Bye-bye.” Last time, 14 months ago, she couldn’t talk.
She didn’t even have teeth. Nowadays she’s smart enough to come
to the bottom of the stairs, rattle the stair-gate, and yell,
“Daddy! Daddy!” until I appear.
I don’t even want to think about how much I’m going to miss her.
Once through security, I proceed directly to the gate, pausing only
to drop into the bookstore and see if they’ve got mine. They do,
but it’s on the very bottom shelf, filed under “W.” I can only
presume that some unethical author has swapped their books for
my prized “B” placement. Appalling. I take my books and swap them
for some novel that looks exactly like The Da Vinci
Code if you aren’t paying attention.
The flight itself is notable only for the fact that my seat’s entertainment
system plays all dialogue at near-inaudible levels. So I
can enjoy a movie for its visuals, background noise, and soundtrack,
but can’t hear a word anyone is saying, unless they’re doing it off-screen.
This strikes me as the kind of fault that is so bizarre someone
must have carefully engineered it.
Then it’s US Customs. Ah, Customs. How we have danced, over the
years. This time I notice that as a visiting alien, I am
granted certain rights; in particular the right to appeal any decision
by a Customs official. I know this because on the back of the Customs
form, I am required to officially waive these rights. This seems a little
like offering somebody ice-cream but only if they first agree to
not have any ice-cream. It seems to be getting more common lately
that the way I discover that I have various rights is when I’m asked to
One small thing really bugs me about LAX Customs. There are about two
dozen booths, maybe half of which are occupied by officials. Above
these booths are scrolling LED screens, which usually tell you
something helpful, like please present these papers, or don’t drink
and drive because you’ll die. (Seriously.) But on the unoccupied booths,
the screens advertise themselves. They scroll messages about how many
characters they can display at once (27), how vibrant their colors are,
and how simple they are to operate. Not so simple to change the default
messages, apparently, because it’s been this way for frickin’ years.
Customs asks me a series of questions about the purpose of my visit,
including a request for me to describe the plot of all three of my novels.
I’m not sure whether they guy is just curious or my entry
to the United States of American really does depend on having
sufficiently engaging storylines. But either way, he lets me go through.
The next guy asks me about my book as well, and takes a fancy to the
way I say “satire.” He says it himself, trying on my accent. On
one hand, I appreciate that anyone in this Gulag has a sense of humor.
On the other, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this guy can order
me stripped, probed and deported if I don’t laugh at his jokes.
I bet he finds his audiences mystifyingly less appreciative away
At my hotel, I am pleased to discover that Los Angeles is just how
I left it: all eating disorders, tiny dogs, and 70-year-old guys in
baseball caps. My first job is to find one of those hole-in-the-wall
stores that sells international phone cards, so I can call home without
bankrupting myself. But my hotel is in Beverly Hills, and this is hard
to do. If I wanted to whiten my teeth or buy diamonds, it’d be no problem.
But phone cards are very thin on the ground.
I finally find a Rite-Aid (medicine and booze in the one store!
What could possibly go wrong?), secure a card, and head back to my
hotel for a phone interview. On the way I’m passed by a fire engine.
If Fin was here, she’d say, “Neena, neena.” She likes fire engines.
I wish I could teleport my girls here. I wish there was no
time difference. I miss them so much already.
So I’m going to do another travel diary. That was fun
last time, and what else
am I going to do in my downtime, dance around my hotel room
naked and get drunk from the mini-bar? I mean, apart from that?
This will mean an increase in the number of emails you’ll get
from here (daily-ish instead of weekly-ish), if you’re
subscribed that way. If that will bother you, you might want to
change your preferences now.
(Unfortunately, no, there is no “Un-hear that sentence about
Max dancing naked” option.)
[ US Tour Details Here ] <— (note change of venue in Milwaukee)
Yesterday I received a letter from the Australian Department of Defence.
It is in fact from the Defence Security Authority section of the Department
of Defence. I bet they have slogans like “Defending the Defenders,” or
“Watching Your Back While You’re At The Front.” Or at least they should.
Anyway, they wrote to me because I have a friend who works there, and
… is currently undergoing a security clearance process for
access to extremely sensitive information. As part of the security
clearance process, it is required that we contact nominated referees
to ascertain the subject’s suitability to have access to this type of
Then there are a bunch of questions like this:
Are you aware of any matters of potential security concern with regards
to the subject? (Unexplained changes in work patterns or performance;
changes in personality; changes in their personal life)
Those are some pretty suggestive examples.
So naturally I’m thinking of writing something like this:
Not at all! In fact, just the other day
he said he’d never been happier, not since he met “the true
believers.” I think that must be a club you have there at Defence.
Anyway, he’s really been broadening his horizons—learning to speak
Mandarin, for example, and always dropping into the Chinese Embassy,
just to soak up some foreign culture! And I know he’s really looking
forward to his next vacation; he said he really deserves it.
Actually, what he said was, “Then everyone will get what they
deserve.” Then he rubbed his hands together and cackled. I think
he must be planning to get YOU guys presents, even though he’s going
away! Hope I haven’t spoiled the surprise! Ha ha!
It’s a nice feeling, knowing that I can destroy a friend’s career
with a few lines. I think it brings us closer together. I might ring
him up and tell him that, and suggest that this would be an appropriate
time to have me over for dinner, and spare no expense on the wine.
But I do wonder about this system. If I take this form at face value,
the method the Department of Defence uses to identify potential spies
is to get them to name a few friends who are willing to say they’re
on the level.
It seems to me that if you’re going to all the
trouble of infiltrating a hostile government and working your way into a position
of significance over a period of several years, you can probably arrange
that. I mean, I’m no expert on international espionage. But that
would seem like one of the basics to me.
Maybe Defence is right, though. It would be pretty stressful,
maintaining an ice-cool facade at work all day. Maybe after a
a hard day’s pretending to not revile capitalism, you might want to
hit a few bars with friends in your “THE REVOLUTION IS COMING” T-shirt.
Everyone needs to blow off steam sometime. If it were me, I’d always be having
conversations like this:
Them: “… which is why our country’s economy is so strong.”
Me: “Yes, exactly.” (mutters) “For now.”
Them: “It sounded like you muttered “for now” under your breath.”
Me: “That was gas.”
Them: “Oh. Okay.”
Me: (mutters) “Fool.”
One thing I’m looking forward to is discovering what wacky new
security schemes US Customs has come up with since I last visited. In
2006 they’d added fingerprinting and
digital mug shots. This time I’m thinking maybe they’ll swab
my mouth or get me to sing the Pledge of Allegiance. Or maybe they
have followed this route to its logical conclusion and now herd foreign
visitors straight from the airport to prisons, where any of us not
intending to commit terrorist atrocities can
fill out applications to be released.
Wow, that was pretty cynical, even for me. I’m not sure if that
struck the appropriately witty, feel-good note I want to
promote a book tour. But anyway. I have dates! And here they are:
- Los Angeles, CA
Sunday March 25th, 2007
- Denver, CO
Monday March 26th, 2007
- Milwaukee, WI
Tuesday March 27th, 2007
- Madison, WI
Wednesday March 28th, 2007
- Chicago, IL
Thursday March 29th, 2007
- Austin, TX
Friday March 30th, 2007
- Phoenix, AZ
Saturday March 31st, 2007
- Danville, CA
Monday April 2nd, 2007
[ Tour Details Here ]
As usual, I expect any outrage over ill-considered dates, places, etc,
to be directed at my publisher. Remember, they’re the ones organizing
this stuff. I’m just turning up and cleaning out the mini-bars.