A month and a half later, I am picking up the story of the time I went to Maureen Johnson’s book launch and got to talk to Libba Bray right where I left off, sitting in a park and reading The Help at about 2:30 in the afternoon.
If you’d like to read the story start to finish, which I highly recommend you do, you can start here with A Scintillating Story in Which Ella Nearly Loses a Boot, Takes a Train, and Eats Lunch and then move onto In Which Ella Has a Costume Change. Those links will open those posts in another window, so you don’t have to worry about having to find this post again.
Okay, done reading?
Great, let’s go.
I had chosen a bench half under a shrub, in an attempt to avoid the sun, and was instead rewarded with a healthy amount of leaves taking up residence in my hair, which optimistically, gave me the look of a wood nymph, but more realistically, made me look like I stuck my head in a shrub. I am nothing if not glamorous.
Leaves or no leaves, I continued reading The Help. Like with any good book, all it took was a few paragraphs for me to fall into a new world. The heat and humidity suddenly didn’t just belong to the city, and I was no longer sitting on an uncomfortable green metal bench. No, I was in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s, a few years before my parents were born, drinking lemonade and contemplating the injustices of racism and the poor treatment of maids by their white employers. I was hanging over Skeeter’s shoulder as she labored over the typewriter in her stifling attic bedroom and following around Aibleen as she did her ironing while watching soaps.
But then the spell was broken when a man in a suit sat down next to me and began to have an extreme loud conversation on his cellphone with his health insurance company. Next, a dog ran through the park chasing a squirrel, nearly knocking down several people in its zeal, and I was totally distracted. So I got up, stuffed the book back into my purse and went to go find the bookstore to make sure I knew where it was for later.
I found it, the store almost perfectly bisecting a long numbered block with a huge Maureen Johnson display set up right in the front of the store. But I still had almost three hours to kill. I owed my mother a Mother’s Day present, the result of an agreement where she would tell me what she wanted when she found it, and it seemed like thanks to the power of texting pictures and calling her, I might be able to find something for her in one of the many boutiques in the area. And indeed I did.
Right next door to the bookstore was a very large art supply store. I went in, enticed by the neoprene laptop cases and my love of paint color charts. (While I may not be a very good artist, I have always been fond of art supplies and lucky enough to have family members who are very artistic, namely a mother who is known for her impressive gift wrapping and card-making skills and an uncle and aunt who are architects who also spend a lot of time drawing and painting and designing.) Speaking of my mother and gift-wrapping (And I’m talking about the fancy type of gift-wrapping here, not the I-got-this-pretty-paper-and-tied-a-bow wrapping. She spends all year visiting stationary shops and buying sheets of beautiful wrapping paper, tissue paper, stickers, ribbons, and cardstock. My favorite picks of hers so far this year have been a piece of incredibly soft paper that looks like eyelet fabric and some textured rice paper. This Christmas, I’m going to take pictures of the presents so you can see.), right to the right of the door they had a gift wrap section, with sheets draped on at least ten displays. Of course, I immediately called my mother.
After about ten minutes of debate, I selected three sheets (pictured below) and got them wrapped up in brown paper, also purchasing some funny sticky notes and jars to give to Maureen Johnson. Whenever I know that I’m going to meet someone whose work has really impacted me and that I really enjoy, I always feel like I need to bring them a present, to have some sort of tangible way of them knowing how much I care.
With that shopping done and a very excited mother waiting for me at home, I walked north again, towards another park to purchase dinner and read. I am not sure if many of you know about the glorious burger place called Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, but if you don’t, I highly recommend that you make its acquaintance posthaste. It’s part of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group that also runs other amazing restaurants like Grammercy Tavern and Union Square Café. Being somewhat of a hamburger and chocolate milkshake fanatic, I was throughly ready for dinner even though it was only four in the afternoon.
Some man had been collecting Venti-sized Starbucks coffee cups and was in the process of creating an amazing mobile like structure in a storefront. He was seated in the lit window display on a short, worn wooden stool, cup in hand, holding a thin paintbrush, painting a beautiful swirl of dark blues over the green mermaid logo. A palate was at his feet, covered with thick globs of paint, and there were scattered rolled up, but still carefully and tightly capped tubes of paint, covered with dried paint fingerprints and flecks. I would have paused and watched him, but the young children with their noses pressed up against the glass, fresh out of school, nannies holding their backpacks, seemed to be bothering him, so I walked on. Maybe someday soon I’ll walk past that store again and see it completed, cups twisting about on their strings as they are buffeted about by the air from heating ducts. But more likely than not, by the time I’m back in that area of the city, the cup mobile will be gone, part of only an endless tide of seasonal window dressings.
The park was crowded, the way it always is, so I walked its perimeter looking for an open space on a bench, trying to avoid eye contact with the homeless people begging for change. One followed me for a while, but there really was no reason to be scared. The whole park was full of people and if anything remotely bad would have happened to me all I would have needed to do was scream and thrash about and someone would have come to my aid. Besides, just because someone is homeless does not mean that they are a bad person or have any intent to harm, they are simply in need of aid. (However, I would advise you to rarely give money to them on the streets because in many cases they use it to further their drug habits. Instead, hand them unopened food or donate to organizations that help the homeless.)
I bought myself a hamburger and chocolate milkshake and settled down on my second green metal bench of the day and read as I ate and drank. Finishing The Help, I moved onto skimming one of the Maureen Johnson books I had brought along for her to sign. At some point some man sat down next to me to talk on his cellphone and then when he finished the call, which I hadn’t been listening to, he apologized for using so many curse words that he thought I would be upset by, judging by the “innocent” book I was reading. And then he started asking me about the book and myself. So I did what I very frequently do when on airplanes and made up an alternate persona.
Now there is uncomfortable I can put up with, and there is uncomfortable that really creeps me out. And maybe it’s because I am automatically and somewhat unreasonably distrustful of adults who start talking to me in parks in the city (unless they have young children with them or are asking for directions), but I really did not want to continue talking to him, no matter how normal he seemed. So I made my very speedy exit from the park and went back to the bookstore even though I still had close to an hour before the book launch.
And it actually turned out to be a good thing that I left when I did. When I got to the store around ten minutes later, there were already plenty of people there and it took a while for the store to get the book I reserved. I don’t normally go to events alone, and it was strange to be standing with no one to talk to in a room full of people chatting. But it sure made for fantastic eavesdropping. A few more minutes of standing around awkwardly later, it became apparent that hardly any of the other people knew each other before the event, either.
And that’s what I like about books: they bring people together. Every person there felt passionate enough about Maureen Johnson and her books to go to go to a bookstore for her book launch even though it was a school/work night. Some people even drove from Massachusetts (a state I will never spell properly, despite my sometimes residency) and Delaware. That means that they would be getting home quite, quite late! And yet they came because people love books, and people also love Maureen Johnson.
And let me tell you, even if Maureen Johnson wasn’t a fabulous author, I still would have gone to any event she hosted, because Maureen Johnson is hilarious and so much fun. She’s got a very funny blog and is amazingly fun to follow on Twitter. She tweets constantly and is known for such gems as:
But she also tackles more serious topics. Today, she was talking about Penguin deciding to stop allowing libraries to atop lending ebooks and the scrutiny books aimed at women are placed under, specifically Twilight.
I’ll leave the story here for the night, and pick it back up again tomorrow. That post is already written and has been set to publish at eight p.m.
(Note: This is the second time I’ve written this post, as the first copy was destroyed when my computer crashed. Thankfully, this version is far superior to the original. I’m beginning to think that my blog was conspiring against me to improve the quality of my work.)
For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)
And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.