2005-04-05 - 12:21 a.m.
I wrote this email to my family this morning:
After having spending probably too much time in my apartment, in front of a computer and writing about myself, I'm going to continue, here, writing about myself, but this will be about myself in another country: Canada, home of the polite and land of the cold.
First thing: I did not, not once, suffer a relapse of the killer tooth syndrome. This has happened several
times before. This syndrome flares on plane-ride descents, when the air pressure inside my head rises and wants to release itself through my ears but is somehow unable to. The air pressure is highest in my teeth, for some reason. I understand physics enough to know this doesn't make any sense (the air pressure, on descent, should be higher outside my head and should want to push air in through my eardrums, so...) but it happens nonetheless. I did some research before I left and found out that if you do the
hold-your-nose-and-close-your-mouth-while-blowing-out trick, it should relieve the pressure inside the head and all should be well. I did this, about three hundred times, just to be sure. My ears clicked a lot and the air bubbles did not get trapped in my
lower, left-side molars. So that's a good start to a trip to the other side of the continent.
Vancouver is wet. And shiny. And lots of Asians live there.
Nobody seemed to have cars, so these electric buses (with the
trolley-style arms up in the air that run along overhead
electric cables) rumble up and down the downtown streets, all
day. Also, there are lots of pretty girls in Vancouver. And
mountains frame the city, and these mountains are forever
shrouded in low-slung wispy clouds that look like thick,
stagnant cigarette smoke. They are, however, much prettier than
cigarette smoke and don't smell like anything at all. Also,
everything is in bloom. The flowering trees were flowering and
the tulips bloomed in every available tiny patch of dirt, found
in the the plazas of office buildings and in little parks that
fill the spaces between the buildings.
If you like to drink dark coffee from cafes on the ground floors
of metal-and-glass skyscrapers, if you like to get asked for
change, if you like forty-five and misty, if you like umbrellas, if you like pine trees all around, if you
like pedestrians waiting for the white man to light up before
they cross intersections, then Vancouver is your place.
Thursday. I checked in and I think the concierge (who was a man)
was hitting on me. I was not wearing my brother's favorite shirt, the pink one that he says is my gay shirt. When I got to the conference, about six
blocks away, I talked with some Canadian publishing people, told
them where my hotel was, and each one of them made a face and
said I should not walk around there at night. I, however, knew
that if the hotel's neighborhood were to be transplanted to
Baltimore that it would be considered one of the best parts of
town, good for tourists and business-types always talking too
loudly on their cell phones.
I talked with as many publishers and editors of journals as I
could, trying to get a handshake and name in edgewise as
hundreds of other students and writers and talkers tried to do
the same. The first one I recognized was the nonfiction editor
of the Mid-American Review, a respected journal from Bowling
Green State that had rejected me several times, but always with
encouraging words saying send more stuff. This guy was a prick,
however, and though he remembered my name, was rude and acted
put upon. I repeated my name several times and also the title of
my book. I did exactly this with about forty other people
throughout the weekend. The other thirty-nine were much more
I attended workshops on selling a nonfiction book
and learned much about what to do and what not to do, how to
word a proposal so that it arouses the maximum amount of
interest from big New York publishers. I took lots of notes. These kinds of workshops are depressing if you listen too hard.
That night, I met up with some ODU professors and we went to a
part of town called Gastown. Here, I did not get hit on by men
but I did order and eat a swordfish steak that was very good.
And I drank an on-site brewed India Pale Ale that was very cold.
This was all done on an enclosed patio with big gas heaters that
made the plastic covering overhead fog up. We could see the
Vancouver skyline from our table. After that, I went to a talk
by a Canadian novelist named Alistair MacLeod. He rambled about
how Canadian writers are affected by the climate. I guess I sort
of already knew that. He kept saying things like, "So and so
writes about how the snow piles high like a such-and-such. A
writer from Key West would never write that line." I thought:
yes, you're right about that. And then he said the same thing
about five minutes later. He was a nice old guy with a Scottish
accent. He talked a lot about snow. Since I was going on about
three hours sleep (my flight from Norfolk left at 7 am and I was
still recovering from the trip to Albany, which went really
well--no tooth syndrome there, either) I went to bed around one
in the morning, somehow left the TV on and woke up what seemed
like seven minutes later, when the sun was out, sort of, behind
Friday. I did all the agents-and-New York publishing workshops
this day, all morning. I had also stolen about three pounds of
baked goods from the hotel's continental breakfast (croissants,
muffins the size of a fist, apples, bananas, cheese danish
deals) and carried these around for lunch. At lunch, the sun
came out for an hour and I walked across the street from the
conference hotel, to a park in front of the Vancouver Art
Museum, where I ate said baked goods, checked out the flowering
green stuff, and refused about three inquiries as to whether or
not I had any spare change, which I did but declined to part
with, since all I had were Canadian two-dollar coins, which are
copper-colored in the middle and silver-colored around the rim.
I think the queen of England might be on these coins, and that's
sort of weird. I did more shaking hands and talking with
publisher-types Friday afternoon. For dinner, I walked down by
the harbor (like Baltimore's with the expensive restaurants and
things but prettier in the same way that a mountain lake is prettier than, say, the pond by my parents' house. I ate the shit out of some sushi at a little place a
block from the water and the bill was nine-fifty Canadian, about
seven bucks. I was waited on by a Japanese girl who weighed
about eighty-five pounds. I did not, as the dude on Jackass
does, snort the wasabi. I again met up with the ODU guys and we
went to a reading. First was a Canadian poet who was a little
drunk. She said this to the audience. She pretty much did a
stand-up routine about America and Canada and threw some poetry
in so she could earn her check. She was a performer. Everyone
was laughing and her poetry was good, too, which was a bonus.
Then Michael Ondaatje ("The English Patient") read next and he was pretty bad. He read
like he had just chugged a bottle of NyQuil (his teeth may or
may not have been green, "giant fucking Q" style). Since I was with the professors, they
got me into a VIP reception for these two writers on the top
floor bar of the hotel (called "The Roof"), where there was an
open bar and food. I drank three kinds of Canadian beer, none of
which I'd ever heard of before. The ODU guys told me stories
(one of them has no sense of taste or smell, literally. He had
facial surgery when he was in his twenties and the doctor
accidentally cut the olfactory nerve. He said he orders food
based on texture. You might think he'd be a thin guy. He is not.
This is also the guy who played on the losing Indianapolis team
in "Hoosiers." He also played at Kansas with Wilt Chamberlain.
He was also a member of my thesis defense committee.) We went to
a dance party thing, drank some more and when I went outside I
met a beautiful, dark poet girl from Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I did not
ask her about the basketball team. I had a feeling that to do so
would have harmed the conversation.
Saturday. I went to readings and panels on nonfiction, run by
some of the guys who have accepted my stories. I went up and
said hello to this guy Michael Martone, who I'd emailed a week
before the conference, saying I liked his work and who'd said to
find him in Vancouver. I shook hands with more publishing people
and honed my pitch, which is a weird thing to do. I talked with a ton of
other students and found out about a ton of journals which I was
surprised to learn take the kind of stuff I write. I went to the
ones I've submitted to and told them they'd better keep an eye
out for my stuff lest I find them next year and slash their
tires. Actually, most of them were no-driving city-types so I
guess I'll just beat their Schwinns with a hammer or something.
I left for the airport around three on Saturday. I took a
prop-plane from Vancouver to Seattle. I got off the plane,
trying to figure out what I was going to do for the six-hour
layover in Seattle, when I heard my name on the loudspeaker,
saying "United Airlines paging passengers Doofus, Roofus, and
me." I walked over and he
said: "We're in the awkward positon of having overbooked the
flight to Chicago..." I'd heard people tell this sort of story
before and so I knew what was coming next. I'd already told
myself that I was going to do it, mainly because I didn't want
to take the overnight flight across the continent on which I'd
be unable to sleep. He said if I'd be willing to leave the next
morning (Sunday) at six, that they'd pay for a hotel room,
dinner, and that they'd give me $400 in United vouchers that I
could use for any flight in the continental US. I said yes. I
caught a shuttle to the hotel across the street, vouchers in my
backpack, and set the alarm for four in the morning. I went to
Also, "to make up for the trouble" of the bumped flight, I flew
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first class to Chicago and then to Norfolk. This was nice. I ate
food and drank bloody marys.
My friend picked me up and we went out for a beer. I was more
tired than he was. I slept well last night.
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