Monday, September 21, 2009

Seven Minutes in Heaven with Jonathan Ames

This is as a good a time as any to mention my run in with Jonathan Ames back when “I Love You More Than You Know” came out. Groupies lined up to stake their claim in an autographed copy. I’ll be honest, I’d never read any of his stuff so there was no way I was going to impress him with quotes from his favorite author.

Sometimes I’m really sweaty-palmed and cottonmouthed when I am in the presence of royalty. Other times I can be a bit of a jackass. I’m not sure how we got on the topic of candy bars, but I filibustererd on lamenting the fact that Whatchamacallit was a dying breed. Find me a corner bodega that’s got a box of them and I’ll trade you my lucky rabbit’s foot. The point was I had unusual candy taste. I think Ames appreciated that. When he looked at the book in my hand “Motherless Brooklyn” he got a little stinkeyed. Wrong Jonathan! Yeah, I know, but Lethem’s my homeslice.

I had the itch to have him sign it, but didn’t. Then I went on about publishing in indies. I said it was fine for him to work with the Big Houses. He’s a household name for crying out loud. I wasn’t asking him to do an air violin for my schmaltzy spiel, but I wanted him to see where I was coming from. He tucked his arms to his chest and let his pumpkin orange brows scrimp.

“Go with your gut kid,” he told me, emphasis on the go.

That’s what he wanted me to do all right, but I didn’t take the hint. I mentioned Uncle Walt self-published “Leaves of Grass” and that Joyce got bounced around trying to place “Ulysses”. I’d be in fine company if I had their stick-to-itiveness and bald-faced determination or I’d be like a gazillion other schmoes with his book collecting dust.

I came to my own merry conclusion and when I stepped off the line I could see he was relieved. But, it was better to be bugged by my mellow yellow consciousness than to shove a manuscript in his face. There’s always those humps who try to push their crappy book on a famous author. Not me.

Before I left, I freshened up in the john. American Standard urinals lined the neutral gray wall. I have a short story in Nexus, Wright State University’s journal, by the same name. It’s about a janitor who wants to make the most magnificent toilet in the universe, a flush to be heard throughout the ages.

Who do you thinks putzes in when I’m taking care of business? The author kept his distance, three pisspots away. And then I breached restroom etiquette, sidling up to the Amesmeister.

“I’m going with your advice,” I said. “I’m sticking with my gut.”


“Yeah, I think so. I’ll keep you posted.”

I could tell he wanted me to get the hell out of there, but he went over to wash his hands. He wasn’t even rushing and took his time lathering the soap onto his unique lifelines. Before I knew it, we were in a handwashing showdown, Spaghetti Western style. I washed between the crevices of each finger, cracking a knuckle every so often to the mellifluous swish of water in the marble basin. He patted his hair with water on the sides until the wings slipped behind his ears. I bopped the soap dispenser for another splotch and rub-a-dubbed. I soaked my hands until my finegrs were good and prunish. He shook his hairy wet fingers and I dried my hands along the back of arms and elbows.

I made a false start like I was going for the door and instead grabbed a roll of paper that made my hands stink like butcher paper. Ames, clearly miffed, but relieved, shuffled off and I trailed, a few paces behind him.

We didn’t say goodbye, shake hands or anything, but I have to say if I never met him in person I’m not sure I’d ever pick up one of his books.

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