Memorial Day in the Hudson Valley. Warm, dry, lovely. I jogged (okay, hobbled on my sexagenarian knees) to Irvington along the Croton Aqueduct, through Dobbs Ferry. I passed two Memorial Day events. Small town commemorations right out of Norman Rockwell. There were several posters emblazoned “Support Our Troops.” I do. It’s the wars I don’t support.
Archive for May, 2010
Yesterday I went to BOOK EXPO AMERICA (their caps, not mine) at the Javits Center on New York’s still-undeveloped West Side. (I was working as Governor Hugh Carey’s speech writer when the center opened thirty [sic] years ago and wrote his remarks for the inaugural event–something to the effect that in another generation, this area will be unrecognizable. Guess what? It hasn’t changed a bit. Maybe in another thirty years, which won’t much matter to me, since I’ll be dead and gone.) Where was I? On, yeah, BOOK EXPO. Last time I was there was with my second novel,”Hour of the Cat,” which followed my first novel by eight years. I was at a signing booth. There was a long line in front of me. I was shocked and delighted. All these people for me, I thought. My fans. How wonderful. I had no idea. Then the volunteer assigned to help me with the signing explained that the line was actually the immense, endless overflow, extending down several booths, of people waiting for Donald Trump. Yes, the world’s biggest self-promoter, gas bag and real estate pimp. Several of those in line were kind enough to ask me to autograph a copy of my galley. This year, though the Donald wasn’t in sight, I went filled with a kind of dread about the death of reading, print, the book. I pictured a convention center with about six or seven sorry souls, deflated remnants of the baby boom generation, who were there because of forced retirement and nowhere else to go. But the place was full. There were lots of people who looked as though they’d been born after the presidency of George Bush, Sr. The headline in today’s NYT’s mentions “Anxiety Amid the Chatter.” But what I encountered was enthusiasm, passion, excitement. People still love books. They love to read. They want to meet authors. Many of them want to write books of their own and be published. I signed galleys. There were actually people who’d read some of my other books (and, no, they weren’t relatives). We talked. It was fun. I enjoyed it. When I left, I walked through the baking heat to Bryant Park, behind the NYPL. I drank a bottle of water. It tasted great. As my Uncle Joe O’Brien (he was the night clerk at the George Washington Hotel on Lexington Avenue and makes an appearance in “Hour of the Cat”) was fond of saying, “Dontcha know, kiddo, life is fulla surprises.”
I am a child of the 19th century. That’s the century before the last century. One of the supreme disciplines of the Catholic grammar school I attended in the Bronx was penmanship. Yes, penmanship! Twice a year, there was a Christian Brother who arrived at our school to inspect our penmanship books. The class with the best penmanship won a banner! I’ve always been proud of my penmanship, as my father was of his. (We attended the same schools. He graduated from St. Raymond’s Grammar School in 1918. I graduated in 1961. My niece graduated in 1978. We all had the same art teacher!) I’ve written all four of my books by hand. I was a speechwriter for over 25 years–for two New York governors and five chairman of Time Inc./Time Warner/AOL (OMYGOD) Time Warner–and wrote every single speech (thousands of them over the years) by hand. Many times I tried to make the transfer to a typewriter but couldn’t. My education and writing career had more in common with that of Charles Dickens (a court reporter/stenographer, don’t forget) and James Joyce (another veteran of parochial schools) than with today’s wired world. I feel like a stranger in a strange land in this terra incognita of Blogloggia. But, hey, here I am, fresh off the boat, an intellectual immigrant from time past who’s set foot on the land of the future, so forgive my ignorance/hesitation/confusion (the fate of all the freshly arrived). Goodbye to the 19th century. Hello to the 21st. I’m going to do my best to fit in. That’s a threat.