Monday, February 09, 2009
New York Book Tour Diary 4: Adventures In the Flesh
By Thursday, October 16, the fourth day of my Amorous Woman book tour, I was getting used to the New York noise and the East Coast time zone, but three consecutive nights of drinking and fine dining were making me feel partied out. Still, the excitement of the trip kept me buoyant as I strolled out through the still-summery morning over to French Roast, a casual French bistro on West 11th Street for a business breakfast meeting with Yvonne Burton of Japan-US Business News, whom I’d met at the Nichibei Exchange. In fact, I was planning to have dinner at the same restaurant later that night with my erotica writer buddies after my first reading at Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “In the Flesh” series, but when Yvonne and I were deciding where to meet, it did seem like the perfect place to suggest for breakfast. Little did I know exactly how many hours I’d be spending there altogether, but again I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Business.” I’ve always been on the outside of that life. I’ve taught businessmen, been ogled by businessmen, wrote dirty stories about businessmen, even married a businessman of sorts, or at least a guy who once wore suits and ties to work and enjoyed many meals at fine restaurants on expense accounts. This was my first official working breakfast, and I wondered if I could pull it off. But of course, there was nothing stiff or formal about it. Yvonne had shown herself to be a warm, intelligent and insightful person the Tuesday night before, and she was even more fun to talk to one on one. She had a whole list of leads for me to check out for promoting Amorous Woman, but I was also glad that I could be supportive of her project, a memoir about her experiences in Japan, which would definitely rise above the usual clichés. Fairly fresh from writing my own first book (I don’t count my dissertation and the subsequent monograph), I was able to give a few suggestions about longer projects that seemed to be helpful. Yvonne’s positive energy was contagious and before long we were planning how we could promote better understanding between America and Japan through our blogs and books, one idea sparking another. It was truly a nourishing professional meeting—and I’m lucky my first, if not my last, was so inspiring.
A celebrity sighting alert--apparently Tom Hanks' son was sitting at a table nearby and he's a regular in the Village. I turned, discreetly, to see a young man who sort of resembled Forrest Gump reading a newspaper. And yes, in all of my travels, this is the closest I got to a real eyeball full of celebrity once-removed. Somehow, given my own mixed feelings about celebrity worship, it seemed appropriate. (Although I wondered briefly how much it must screw up your head to be the spawn of celebrity, famous only in the sperm that created you, but that's for another blog....)
It was late morning by the time we said goodbye and I knew I had to do something to pass the long afternoon before my first public reading at “In the Flesh” that evening. My sister had a lunch date at the trendy Balthazar in Soho, and I decided to walk over with her and do some window-shopping. The sky was clouded over and a light rain was falling, but I enjoyed seeing New York in its different guises—gray and gloomy seemed appropriate to the season.
As I mentioned before, I often came to NYC in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was in college and even lived there for a summer, so I see nearly every part of the city in several layers: what it is now and what it was then and who I was then as I walked these streets. In those days, Soho was gritty cutting edge, now it’s a New York version of Rodeo Drive. Still, I found plenty to amuse myself as I browsed the Taschen store and bought myself one of their erotic art books (a professional necessity). I wandered through a fancy stationery store admiring the vintage-style Halloween ephemera and stopped in at “The House that Harry Potter Built,” otherwise known as the Scholastic bookstore.
Before I knew it, it was time to return to Balthazar, to meet my sister and her friend for tea. Balthazar is yet another famous place to lunch thanks to “Sex and the City” (or perhaps the trendiest predated the show, but the place continues to bustle). French bistros are not my first choice for dining, but I liked the atmosphere of the restaurant. It had a dusky golden glow that felt like Paris at Christmas, and a savory scent of fresh herbs and roasted meat filled the air. While my sister was away for a moment, I took out my camera with the intent of capturing the scene. “Put that away,” she hissed, before I had a chance to snap. “Lots of important people are here and it’s rude to take pictures.” I looked around from our corner table and saw no one I recognized (even as spawn of fame), although I’m hardly on the inside track with New York movers and shakers.
I did manage to convince her to take some pictures of me down near the restroom, which was very retro in style, including the lady who handed me a towel to dry my hands and obviously expected a tip (I did tip, remembering my faux pas with the clerk at the Beverly Hills Hotel, check out my blog post "This Place Was Made for Sex").
By now it was time to head back home and get ready for my exciting erotica-reading evening. I planned to wear my “lucky” cheongsam, but the gray sky made me opt for jeans for travel with the dress wrapped safe and dry in a plastic bag. Oral Sex Night at “In the Flesh” was really the heart of my trip. I’d been wanting to be part of the event for so long, plus I would be sharing the microphone with some wonderful writers: Tish Andersen, Heidi Champa, Emerald, Tsaurah Litzky, Michelle Robinson, Daniel Maurer and Fiona Zedde.
Best of all, I’d be meeting some of my favorite writers, not to mention super-cool people I’d gotten to know in cyberspace—Jeremy Edwards, Helia Brookes, and EllaRegina. The cyberbuddies (Heidi, Emerald, the Jeremys and I) planned to make a real party of it, meeting first at Moby’s teany café on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side. This was a part of New York that had not undergone gentrification since my early days. The decaying tenement buildings, signs in Chinese, and garbage twirling down the alleys took me right back to 1979 when my sister lived in a loft on the Bowery (I may blog about that, too, later. There was much material for an erotica writer there!)
Teany was, well, teeny, and it took but a moment to spy Jeremy, Helia, Heidi and Mr. Heidi sitting at a long table right inside the entrance. Before long EllaRegina joined us, and low and behold, she does look exactly like the Washington Square Arch in a dusky fog, there and not there, a disembodied voice as humorous and eloquent in life as it is on the page. Emerald, on the other hand, made her entrance in a stunning emerald-green satin dress, as sparkling and lovely as a good erotic tale, prompting me to retire to the restroom (which wasn’t too icky) to change into my blue satin gown to keep her company in the glossy clothing department.
What can I say about finally meeting in the flesh fellow writers with whom I’d shared the pains and pleasures of the writing life so intimately online? Well, perhaps it is best described in this way—there was one split second when we were strangers in the traditional sense of the word, meeting for the first time. But a moment later, it’s as if we’d known each other in the old-fashioned way forever. The conversation flowed smoothly over trendy iced teas and in the blink of an eye, it was time to head over to the aptly named The Happy Ending Lounge so we could claim seats before the crowds descended.
Fortunately we did beat the crowds and staked out prime spots right next to the microphone on the red faux leather benches and red-upholstered barrel-like seats surrounding the tiny tables. Happy Ending Lounge is the perfect setting for reading erotica—shadowy booths and low lighting, a long curving bar, all in all the sexy nightspot of New York legend. I made the rounds with my erotic fortune cookies and bookmarks, as did the other authors with books (I suspect the clean up crew had piles of the swag to recycle). A few wonderful cyber-friends from other writing groups had made the trek into the city—I got to meet Don Capone, Russell Bittner and Robin Glasser in the flesh as well. By start time, the place was packed, with people sitting on the floor and crowded around in the hallway.
I was feeling a bit nervous before the reading as I always do, my “game” mindset, but fortunately, the readers who came before me distracted me from my own worries. The lovely Emerald read her mesmerizing story from Tasting Her, “Rain Check.” Her smoky voice was a perfect match for the give-and-take dynamic of the story of a woman who is slowly seduced into a luscious oral encounter. But don’t take my word for it. You can see and hear Emerald read in her lovely green dress on Youtube!
Another highlight for me was hearing Tsaurah Litzy read from “Tony Tempo” in Tasting Him. I’ve been a fan of Tsaurah’s work for many Best American Erotica’s past (I’m not sure if she is the author with the most published work in the series, but she’s a strong contender for the title). Her prose is always full of humor and pizzaz, but in the flesh, she is an amazingly theatrical and riveting reader. It would have been a tough act to follow, but fortunately, there was an intermission for the audience to freshen their drinks—and perhaps have sex in the restroom if “Second Date” from X: The Erotic Treasury is any indication.
I came next, so to speak, and read the hot spring scene from Amorous Woman, which involves oral pleasures with a twist. For some reason, my intro which sets the scene from the novel was edited from the Youtube tape, but you can get the “flavor” of the reading. I have to say it helped a lot to have my “posse” cheering me on with their smiles and friendly faces.
I’m always relieved after my performance is done, so I could just sit back and relax and enjoy Heidi Champa’s sultry voice reading “This Just In” about some intriguing behind-the-scenes action in a newsroom. I’m a big fan of sex at work scenarios and this one definitely pushed the right buttons for me. Since the story appeared in Tasting Him, you might guess what sort of buttons or rather zippers were pushed for the satisfied characters.
When the official reading was over, we all got the chance to mingle and meet the other writers and friends. Don Capone and I posed for our official Zoetrope photo (yes, Don, the camera does add a few pounds).
Then we were off to the after-party at French Roast. The temperature had dropped just enough to creep under the deep slit of my dress. Maybe winter was coming after all?
The waiter guided us to our private nook in the back of the restaurant—the ideal hideaway for dirty story writers to talk shop, complete with our own restroom in the corner tucked behind a red velvet curtain. Before we ordered, I changed back into my jeans and Cirque du Soleil shirt from Las Vegas so I could really kick back. We ordered red wine and our fashionably late dinners. I tried the vegetable plate, others ordered the pasta, although EllaRegina’s was too cool and she asked the waiter to warm it up by “asking a dragon to blow on it.”
Laughing and bonding in a way only smut scribblers can (you know, I think we really do have more fun than most people), we took a group portrait. EllaRegina is that ineffable architectural form hovering above us—you can see her if you squint really hard. Jeremy is doing his impression of the blank page and Helia, as always, is riveted by the written word.
What can I say—I had a great time and took full advantage my chance for a tete-a-tete with everyone. Suddenly it was 2 am and most of our party had to head back to hotels. I was still jazzed, plus my “hotel” was a five-minute walk away, and as EllaRegina maintains her monumental duties twenty-four hours a day, we decided to stay and finish up the second bottle of Malbec.
A young waiter who hailed from Georgia told us, nicely, that we had to move to the main restaurant, which meant I was sitting one table over from where I “networked” with Yvonne some eighteen hours before. Day Donna and Night Donna, different yet the same. It all seemed so profound at the time.
EllaRegina and I had no shortage of artistic topics to discuss, but by four or so, I realized I needed to have some more food or I’d be sick. So we called over the waiter and ordered Caesar salad and French fries—what was I thinking? All of that oil—I should’ve ordered French toast or something. I think we sort of flirted with the youngster in attendance, but I maintained enough cool not to give him advice about my days as a green girl in NYC as my drunken tongue was tempted to do. I did however, feel a rather terrifying fellowship with those middle-aged guys in their cups who say provocative things to fresh-faced waitresses. I didn’t do it, but I can see how it happens.
Caesar salad at five in the morning. It was a first for me, and although I’d pulled all-nighters for party purposes a few times in my life, it had been a long time (probably the night Herr Doktor and I drank several cups of real coffee at night while staying with friends and we stayed up all night talking in their guest room bed, which was fun until about 11 am the next day). EllaRegina walked me back to my lodgings, but I realized that my brother-in-law would already be up and ready to start work. So I took out my contact lenses and weaved over to my sister’s house where I collapsed face down on her sofa. A slightly disreputable and very provocative literary reading, an all-night party in a bistro that paid homage to the Left Bank, passing out in a drunken stupor in my day clothes—I was definitely well on my way to becoming a dissipated Greenwich Village native. And it only took a few short days in New York City.
Coming next—Brunch with Emerald, the secret lives of taxi drivers and more literary boundary-busting at Bluestockings.