September 20, 2015
When The Spy’s Son hit bookstores in spring 2015, my publicist set me up with a speaking gig at something called Town Hall Seattle. An excellent gig, she said, and potentially a big audience.
So when I climbed out of my car in Seattle that day in June to find a woman offloading boxes of books that choked the rear of an SUV, I couldn’t contain my excitement.
“Are those the books for tonight’s reading?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
Well, here it was. After three decades as a lunch-bucket journalist, my ship had come in. It was my turn to wow a big audience with a magical reading from my book. I had gone over my speech for months, nearly memorizing the excerpts I would read. Like a drummer working out accents on a snare drum, I had tried out different stresses on the punchier words. My plan was to grip the audience like Stephen King, romance them like Robert Bly, and leave them gasping for the next sentence.
I hiked past big columns into the historic venue, where folks scurried around setting up tables that would eventually hold a mountain of books. Off to one side of the vast lobby, I saw what appeared to be bottles of champagne chilling. I didn’t know it, but this was the entrance to the Great Hall, which held more than 800 people.
I found the woman coordinating my reading, and she said she would take me to the green room. The green room! My first. And as we walked across the lobby, she said my reading would be downstairs.
I must have looked terribly confused. I'm certain I stuttered something about all the preparations going on around us. Wasn't this for me?
“Judy Blume is reading up here,” she explained.
These words should have sucked the air out of my lungs. But I didn’t know who Judy Blume was.
Yes, folks, I’m an imbecile
I remedied this ignorance after reaching my lonely green room (a scene right out of This Is Spinal Tap, although it lacked the sad tray of hors d’oeuvres, or even a few spray-cheese stalagmites on Triscuits). I Googled Ms. Blume's name on my iPhone, discovering that she had authored twenty-nine books and was an award-winning novelist who had sold roughly 80 million copies of books aimed at children, young adults and adult adults. By all accounts she was the rock star of these genres, and her fan base would humble the likes of Prince, Justin Bieber and Jimmy Buffett. She long ago laid waste to Hunter S. Thompson’s maxim about fame and fortune -- how they are not nearly synonymous.
I sneaked a glance outside the green room, where I found a long line of women and their daughters and their daughters' daughters and a few men who seemed cheerful about being there. I decided to follow this line toward the literary oracle who commanded so much attention.
I imagined Ms. Blume’s imminent arrival upstairs: She would probably step out of a limousine, stemware in hand, cameras flashing, waving like a debutante as she glided onto a red carpet.
It seemed as good a time as any to grow very jealous of Ms. Blume and hope that her limo broke down or that she had developed terminal writers cramp from signing books. But by then I, too, was caught up in the excitement.
Eventually I learned that this assembly was merely the line to the ladies room. Almost every one of these ladies and obedient gentlemen cradled copies of Ms. Blume’s new book, In the Unlikely Event, and some of them lugged armloads of them. I later caught a glimpse of the table where they were displaying the book, and it looked as if they had attempted to rebuild the Great Wall of China.
I popped in and out of the room where I would read from The Spy’s Son, noting that my crowd had reached nearly twenty-five people and that if you counted me and the very nice man selling my book and the lady behind the bar and several Judy Blume fans who accidentally walked into my little reading venue after using the men's room it might have been as many as thirty.
I decided to go to the men’s room before my hour-long reading and found a line of Judy Blume fans literally being ushered into it by an officious young man with a headset. He was directing them into the men's room because Judy Blume fans apparently drink too much wine and, well, there were hundreds of them -- they needed an overflow bathroom.
So I held it.
My talk was in a room appropriately named (and I am positively not making this up) Downstairs at Town Hall.
When I was introduced, I walked up to the lectern and told everyone that I was very happy to be there. Then I asked them all to please stand and form a line so that we could all go upstairs together, where I would pay for our tickets into the Judy Blume show.
OK, I didn’t really do that. I gave my lecture, answered some questions, signed a few books and drove home.
In my head, I kept hearing the applause of that night. Mercifully, it had been muffled by the ceiling.
Judy Blume knocked them dead up there.