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Pity Party

In Process on September 17, 2009 at 7:37 pm

Columbus Day, Noon.

When I click open my inbox the name pops up. I’m not sure how to feel. Excited, but also nervous. This agent has shown interest once before, the only one so far. I breathe in, staring at the name in the inbox. This needs to be good.

I open the message and read it quickly. It’s the exact opposite of what I’d hoped for. A diagnosis of a tumor when you’re banking on that lump being a zit.


I feel like one of the indians on Hispaniola in 1492. Cut down. Blown away. Unknown and primitive, awaiting disease. Maybe I should go down to the corner pub, load up the jukebox with country songs, and drink the day away. Like Richard Buckner sings, “Pour the last year down my throat”. Come out a few hours later like the guy I saw the other day, the one who staggered out the door and barely caught himself before stumbling into the crowded intersection. That would definitely improve this situation.

I’ve always wondered why many artists who make it proceed to disintegrate into a haze of drugs and alcohol. Like the guy in Motley Crue who writes about being slumped on his bathroom floor and shooting heroin into, among other places, his thing. I used to think it was excitement and momentum over their success. I now realize that it’s pure relief, at least at first. Years of missteps, frustration, and wondering how long a body can survive on ramen before rickets set in – it packs down in the soul like a cannonball, just waiting for the fuse to be lit.

Note to self.

You know something’s amiss when you find yourself wishing you’d wake up one day with a burning desire to be an accountant. Join some humorless vocation where things are linear and logical. Junior Accountant to Senior Accountant to Comptroller, finally morphing into Golf Course Retiree before the heart attack.

Maybe I need to change my approach. Jane Austen is hot right now. Not Jane Austen’s books themselves, which would make sense given her obvious talent, but books about women getting together to read Jane Austen. Given the millions of choices out there, why would you want to read that?

Perhaps I could jump on this gravy train with a new approach. Come at it from a completely different angle: four guys with a host of problems – substance issues, car problems, too many children by different women – form a book club. They all agree to read Austen, with each guy choosing his own book to read during the month. At the end of the month they regroup for intelligent discussion, but chaos breaks out when it’s revealed that one guy is reading the memoir of Tracy Austin, the tennis star. Tempers flare and they don’t talk to each other for days. But then they work through their issues and emerge stronger, filled with love and renewed self-awareness.

Well, hell, this isn’t something that can’t be overcome by a pity-purchase and a huge cup of coffee. I hop into the car and head down the road to a bookstore. Halfway to my destination, I get honked at for driving the speed limit. I’m getting better at handling these affronts – I just picture the sound from the horn turning into big block letters that say “I NEED COUNSELING”. Glancing in my mirror, I see a Mustang with the side-view mirror hanging down against the door.

Ten minutes later I park and walk to the bookstore.

It’s closed for the holiday.

Screw Columbus.

I stare at the door, considering the fact that Hitler was a failed painter, but he still managed to make something of himself. Most people didn’t approve, but the guy definitely made waves. That alone is reason to support small, independent art.

The bakery next door is open and I head in for a couple of pints of coffee. It’s crowded, with the only free table sitting in the back, in the kids’ room. I should know better, but I ignore the messages. I want coffee.

I grab a seat and start reading the paper. Maybe a good accident story will lift my spirits by way of comparison. My mind drifts from the paper to a story I overheard at Powell’s, told by a book seller. Some guy managed to sell his book and held a party for his friends and family to celebrate. It was a raucous, boozy affair. Later in the night he hopped on his motorcycle and proceeded to drive it off a bridge.

Note to self II.

I’m broken from these thoughts when two women with a child enter the room. While the women vainly attempt to socialize in peace, the kid picks up a large Tonka truck, mutters something to himself, and starts slamming it on the ground. He looks at the busted toy and then breaks into a pout.

I know how you feel, little guy. Don’t worry, it’ll get better. NOT!

I ramble out of the bakery, wondering how I became a forty-year old man with an allowance. I’m not asking for a lot here. I just want to get the thing published, sell a few million copies, get some plastic surgery and then choke on my own vomit. That’s all. Dropping into the car, I realize that I’ve walked out with the in-house cup. I debate walking the endless block back to the shop. Screw it, it’s too far. I promise myself that I’ll bring it back sometime later.

Driving back home, I recall something I read about a woman whose second book had just been published. She was upset because the publishing house was comparing her work to that by male authors, well known ones at that. Hey, call me the Ruth Madoff of verse or compare me to Charles Manson, I can handle it. Maybe we never run out of things to complain about, even as things improve, and shove our gratitude under the carpet like dog hair. I think the rest of us should bundle our rejection letters and send them to this woman for Christmas.

Maybe this is a marketing problem. I just need to get creative to open a few doors. Three ideas come to mind:

Creative Marketing Idea #1
Marry a rock star. Gender of target is less important than degree of dysfunction and exposure. The more of each quality the better. Ideal candidate: once-big-but-now downward-arcing, rehab-weary rock veteran hanging on by a string. Organ transplant a plus. A year later release a tell-all book, tapping into the “He did that?” crowd by appearing on morning news shows and daytime TV. Throw in a Peeps eating disorder to generate sympathy and broaden appeal.

Creative Marketing Idea #2
Hike into forest with small chainsaw. Use saw to gouge out chunks of wood in base of old-growth tree, with cuts suggesting attack on tree by a small pack of beavers. Slip leg under tree as it crashes to the ground, and then hack off leg with chain saw. Bounce back to car and return home. While recuperating in hospital write inspirational memoir titled ‘The Audacity of Hop’.

Creative Marketing Idea #3
Sleep with governor. Again, gender of target flexible. After media explosion, hole up in apartment for week and then release press statement. Something like “I met secretly with Mr/Mrs X while finishing my book, now available on the web at …”

Something feels right when I enter the coffee shop near my house. A guy at the counter is talking about his experience last night. He woke up in his VW bus at 4am, roused by a thumping noise. Lying on the foam mattress he heard a ‘shump, shump, shump’ coming from outside, at the rear of the vehicle. He rolled out of the bus and found a guy with a gas can at his feet, sucking on a garden hose that was plugged into the gas tank. He chased the guy on foot for two hours, continuing the pursuit mostly for fun, and then stopped for breakfast.

When the conversation shifts to movies, I note that you can always tell if a marriage is doomed by watching a couple pick out a movie at Blockbuster.

We laugh. I don’t care if it sells, it makes me tick. Humor always brings me back to where I should be – squarely in the here and now.

Thomas Sullivan‘s writing has appeared in 3:AM Magazine and Dogmatika, among others. He is the author of ‘Life In The Slow Lane’, a memoir about a hair-raising summer spent teaching driver’s education, which is available here.