I spent nineteen weeks on bedrest when I was pregnant for Baby Augusten, and that was one of the only times in my life I’ve ever consistently watched television. I didn’t particularly want to, but when I tried to read, the movement of my eyes back and forth across the page made me vomit. I loved it when Gwen Stefani said she couldn’t wait to have another baby because pregnancy is so romantic. One friend of mine was unremittingly constipated during her first pregnancy, and the only thing that helped was if she sat with her feet up on a paint can (gallon size). She was so mad at her husband for her condition that she made him sit in there with her during the entire arduous process, which is, indeed, like dancing in the rain with your beloved while Sinatra sings ‘Around the World.’
I would watch NOTHING but crime shows: all the Law & Orders, all the CSIs, and every possible documentary on Court TV about serial killers. I’m sure this was good for the baby. I also sang him old hymns, but then realized they were all about blood of Lambs, and Rugged Crosses, so I gave that up. The point is I absolutely fell in LOVE with David Caruso, in that way you fall in love with someone who is just . . . off? And he doesn’t know it? But you’re sitting across from him at the Pizza King in Richmond, Indiana and you can’t help thinking, “What IS he?” I confessed my love for him to my niece Abby, who said, with great sincerity, “WHAT?!? Where do you think that man learned to act, K-MART?!?”
So here I am and in case you were wondering about all those shots of Miami in the program and how everything is so gorgeously colored it makes you sad and hungry at once: yeah, that’s computer-generated. Coral Gables itself it exquisite, though. MOST IMPORTANTLY: on the flight here I talked for the entire trip with a couple named Aldine and Otis, who were leaving in the morning for a cruise. Aldine’s older daughter arranged the trip for her mother as a 60th birthday gift, which suggests to me that Aldine raised that child right. These were two of the finest people I’ve ever met – I say that sincerely. They were entirely open-hearted and genuine and smart, and if Aldine ever does stop working so much, I would like for us to be neighbors so I could go to her house every day for cookies. It’s possible they’re my new best friends, AUGUSTEN, SINCE YOU SAID INGRID MICHAELSON IS YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND. Here’s what they were like: you know how you have friends to whom you can say ridiculous or raunchy or inane things and it’s all just fine, and then you have friends to whom you can reveal the deepest things in you without a moment’s hesitation? They were the latter kind. They made my heart sing.
Here’s a funny story. When I was sixteen I had an emergency appendectomy, and while I was recovering my sister and my high school boyfriend went out to get me some gifts. They were at the drugstore and a true Hoosier Sasquatch walked in and ended up in their aisle. Tim’s eyes got wide and he gestured with his head toward the man, and Bigfoot had the worst plumber’s butt EVER. And he was HAIRY, like his back was hairy and his partially revealed buttocks were covered by a pelt. As you may know, Melinda is not the most subtle person when she finds something amusing, and I believe she bent double, snorted, dropped what she was holding, and began gasping for air.
Sasquatch headed down another aisle and Tim insisted they follow him. By this time Melinda was deranged. Then they stood behind him as he paid for his, I don’t know, weasel jerkey, and as he walked out the doors of the store, HIS PANTS COMPLETELY FELL DOWN AROUND HIS ANKLES.
Oh what a funny story this has always been! Melinda is laughing right now ha hahahahaha! Except today I landed in Miami and as I was getting off the plane I thought, “Why are my pants slipping down?” My arms were full, I had my computer bag, so I just kept walking, and I was about, I don’t know, fourteen miles from baggage claim, and I HAD to check a bag because it had a dead rabbit in it and I couldn’t very well run that through security, and as I walked with my arms full, my pants just kept slipping and slipping. I was frantically going over the morning. I had deliberately chosen these pants. They had NOT come from the fat section of the closet, where I keep the blue jeans I wore during my fourth month of pregnancy, that time right before you have to begin wearing Hand-Crafted Amish Barns. I began to perspire a tad. By the time I reached baggage claim, my pants had declined upon my person to such an extent that you could see the whole of my underwear, my hipbones, and a birthmark known only to my mother.
Everyone in Miami has been extraordinarily kind to me, which makes me wonder if my second pair of pants has also fallen down.
Books & Books is owned by Mitchell Kaplan, whom I consider to be one of the most important independent booksellers in the country, along with Nancy Olson, Richard Howorth, Tom Campbell & John Valentine, and the owners of Powell’s Books in Portland. Honestly, the store, which has two separate wings divided by an outdoor wine bar, looks like the soaring interior of some of the most beautiful rooms in the New York Public Library. His stock is immense – gorgeous covers facing out all the way to the ceiling. The reading went very well; as with my last two events, the audience was so silent I began to worry that some of them had passed. No one moves or breathes – it’s very strange. I know it has something to do with the intensity of the story and the language, but the reaction has been very consistent.
I was very aware of one man in the audience, who was listening particularly closely. He came up to me afterward and it turned out to be Phillip Smith, a visual artist who has written one of the most compelling memoirs maybe ever. The lovely editor Peter Borland sent it to me as a blurb request, and even though I don’t have time to blurb anymore, I would have not only offered an entire paragraph, I would have donated blood and cut off all my hair for Wigs For Bald Babies. We’ve had a correspondence since then, and when he introduced himself I jumped up from the table in utter joy. You know how there are people like that? You are just instantly kindred? We spent the rest of the evening together, and our conversation was of the sort that makes life worth living. Phillip isn’t actually a writer; he’s a painter, so the fact that he was able to capture the absolute unearthly wonder who was his father is doubly interesting. Order it right away, particularly if you are trapped in empiricism or repetition or stuckness, because this book, which is entirely factual (believe me, I can spot a lie in a memoir faster than George Stuteville can lose a golf ball in a pond), defies everything we think we know about life. I was heartbroken when I finished it, not just because the ending is so moving, but because I missed him, I missed Lew Smith, a saint and a healer and a miracle-worker. I thought of how the poor, humpbacked Apostle Paul must have felt: “He was just here! I could have met him, spoken to him, and it’s too late, he’s gone! And I’m extremely unattractive and I really don’t like women, and I’ll probably end up in jail and then I’ll invent a new religion entirely counter to the one that Jesus intended, BECAUSE I AM JUST SO DARN MAD. And oh, what Sermon on the Mount? I don’t seem to have a copy of that.”
Mitchell gave me an entire bag of gifts – great books, and a t-shirt, and a canvas tote bag, and he was in all ways the soul of generosity and kindness and graciousness. He didn’t even BLINK about the dead rabbit on the podium. The last time we were together was the last time we saw Larry Brown before he died, so it was a bittersweet (but mostly sweet) reunion.
My flight leaves at ten in the morning and I get to spend the weekend at home, so I can celebrate my daughter’s 24th birthday. I’ll probably do other stuff too, like maybe eat some cereal, or look for a belt, some stuff like that.