So it’s early Friday evening, on the cusp of Gradeapalooza, which begins in earnest this coming week. But that doesn’t mean there’s been a lull…
As I had mentioned recently, I was scheduled to read at last night’s Noir at the Bar in Hillsborough, NC. The department was gracious enough to cover my tab, so I had booked a rental car from the local outpost of a national chain in order to make the four-hour drive. Note: I made the reservation back in March.
As it happens, I was discussing awful poetry with my creative writers (No, really — it was the McGonagall Memorial Bad Poetry Festival, my effort toward the carnivalesque after having spent the semester trying to help my kids get better) when my cell phone went off. It was the rental agency calling to inform me that they didn’t have a car available.
You see, this is Masters Weekend, and Mondoville is about 60 miles from Amen Corner. So for this weekend each year, hotels and yes, rental cars within about 100 miles of Augusta are overbooked at premium rates. I get it — supply and demand and all that. Still, I had made a reservation weeks in advance. But no matter. They didn’t have a car, but they might have one that afternoon. (The call came around 10:15 in the morning.)
“Um, I’m supposed to be in the Raleigh/Durham area by 6:30 or so this evening.”
“Oh, I’m sure we’ll have one by then.” (Unless it came with a teleporter, I’m not sure that would have helped, but never mind.) “Tell you what, Mr. Moore — can you call us back in a little bit? I may have more information by then.”
Fine. I finish the class, print out the story I’m supposed to read, warn Eryk Pruitt (host of this particular N@tB) that I may be running late, pack my gear, and head home, where my bags are already packed, lacking only reliable transport to the gig. So I ring them back. No, they still don’t have any cars. No, they don’t really know when they’ll have any, but the manager has gone to Real City, in the hope of bringing the necessary rolling stock to Mondoville. The operative word there is hope — it’s Masters Weekend, you know.
So I call the other major chain with a Mondoville location and ask if they have anything available. Why yes, the person on the phone tells me. You need to pick it up at noon? No problem. So I call Rental Agency A and cancel the reservation, which they do with the customary protestations of sorrow.
I say goodbye to the Spawn, tell the N@tB gang that things are copacetic, throw my stuff in the drum hauler and boogie on over to Agency B. “Hi, I have a reservation for noon?”
“Why yes — it’s right here on my computer. But we don’t have any cars.”
“But the person to whom I spoke 30 minutes ago said that there were cars at this location.”
“I’m sure he did, but you were talking to someone at the call center in Ulan Bator. Here in Mondoville, we got bupkis. After all, it’s –”
“Masters Weekend. Right. Are you expecting any to come in today?”
“Well, we might have one around 3:30, but that won’t work for you, will it?”
“Not really, no.”
So the clerk checks with a location in Real City that’s about a 45-minute drive from Mondoville, and would take me farther away from my goal to boot. But it doesn’t matter. Masters Weekend. Bupkis.
By this point, I’m sweating like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News, but as I’m beginning to wonder how large a bite I could take out of Agency B’s reception desk, the clerk says, “You know, there is a mom-and-pop rental agency on the outskirts of Mondoville. Would you like me to see if they have anything?”
Why yes, yes I would. So she looks them up and calls. And discovers…
One car that had just been turned in. They haven’t gotten it all cleaned up and such but —
“Does it have four wheels, an engine, and air conditioning? Sold.” A ten-minute drive later (Because Mondoville is a small town, the outskirts are pretty accessible. Call them out-miniskirts, I guess.), I’m there, and a few minutes later (and about an hour-to-90-minutes behind schedule), I’m behind the wheel of a Jeep Patriot with 4 drops of gas in the tank (“Under the circumstances, you don’t have to bring it back full.”) and I’m heading for North Carolina. I get to Hillsborough with enough time to throw my stuff into my hotel room and hustle to the King Street Pub — the venue for the night’s reading. Turns out I’m the second one there. Go figure. I even had time to say hello to two log-time friends — Cheryl Ryle, a high school classmate of mine now living in Durham; and Leah Quinlivan, a college classmate who interrupted a visit with a friend in nearby Greensboro to come out for the evening.
So here’s to both the mom-and-pop agency and the resourceful clerk at Agency B. All the same, if I’m ever in Ulan Bator, I’m looking for the Agency B call center, and I’m bringing a 2×4. And I may also napalm Augusta National.
As for the reading itself, it was a really good time. Tracy Reynolds showed up in full femme fatale regalia and did her usual stellar job as MC. David Terrenoire led things off with a suitably dark scene somewhere south of the border, involving a local caudillo, some teen revolutionaries, and a narrator from the US Department of State. J.D. Allen then gave us a quick thriller pitting a heroine against an overconfident hitman, with a nicely delivered twist at the end. Next up we had Scott Blackburn, with a scene at a murder victim’s funeral, narrated by the victim’s somewhat alienated son.
S.A. Cosby closed the first set with a hilarious story called “The Tao of BBC.” The narrator is an African American male exotic dancer and occasional professional cuckolder, so the BBC had nothing to do with British Broadcasting. And honestly, a story in which the hero clubs the bad guy into submission with a large… um… marital aid seemed perfectly in the spirit of the evening’s occasion. (Mr. Cosby also recently inked a two-book deal with a major publisher for a nice advance, so you may want to keep an eye out for him.) Meanwhile, I swapped him a copy of BGW for his new one, My Darkest Prayer.
After a brief intermission, Eryk led off the second set with “The Deplorables,” one of the stories from his recent collection. It’s a little bit of East Texas/Rough South domestic tranquility, complete with a happy ending… of sorts. We then got to hear from J.G. Hetherton, with the story of a somewhat unprepossessing cop who is left with his girlfriend’s dying grandfather. And it gets worse. Again, this was a terrifically funny story, and I look forward to more of Mr. Hetherton’s work.
I was the penultimate reader on the night, which was probably just as well. You see, during the rental car shuffle I mentioned above, I left the print copy of my story in the drum hauler, a fact that I realized about the time I crossed the North Carolina state line. Now, I’ve noticed that lots of readers these days go on stage with an iPad or similar tablet, and I’ve seen more than a few who read their work from the screen of their smart phones. But this wouldn’t really work for me. First off, I don’t have a tablet. Secondly, while I do have a phone, my hands are big enough that trying to manipulate text on the screen is just asking for a cerebral hemorrhage. So here’s what I did:
The story I read was “Rough Mix,” and you can find it in Lawrence Block’s latest anthology. The audience seemed to like it — I hope you will as well.
Dolores “Doley” (Rhymes with “cannoli”) Chandler closed the evening with a semi-autobiographical story about a six-year-old’s unusual relationship with her much older sister. After that, it was time for the traditional group pics and gladhanding before my return to the hotel. It was also a bit warm in my room for a while, and I woke up in a sweat once or twice before the AC got things down to my preferred cryogenic conditions. And apparently between the warmth of the room , my time in the spotlight, and my earlier rental car panic, I must have lost a fair amount of fluids, because even later in the evening, I was awakened by cramps in my calves and (a new first!) my ankles. So I’ve been pounding down beverages all day today, both during my trip back to Mondoville this afternoon and…
This evening’s big event (and a reason I hurried as best I could to get home today), which was a dinner celebrating Mrs. M’s birthday. She, the Spawn, and I went about twenty miles up the road to Clinton, SC’s Blue Ocean restaurant. Longtime readers may recall that Mrs. M and I discovered the place for our anniversary last year, and the experience was sufficiently pleasant that Mrs. M didn’t hesitate at all in choosing it for tonight’s meal.
Once again, we were more than satisfied. Mrs. M had grilled salmon and shrimp, while I went for fried Alaskan Whitefish fillets and the Spawn played it safe with a 1-lb.(!) chopped sirloin. (When you have a history of severe food allergies, as the Spawn does, you tend to order conservatively.) By the time we were done, Mrs. M was unable to finish the slice of strawberry cheesecake she had awaited for days. Fortunately, a family member was able to knock back the leftovers. Even more fortunately, I was that family member.
So now we’re back home and relaxing a bit, which isn’t a bad way to spend a Friday evening. But wait! There’s more!
I woke up this morning (Da DAHH Da DAH Dum) and discovered that over at Out of the Gutter, Kevin Lear has debuted a column listing “Bad-Ass Books.” I was delighted to discover that Broken Glass Waltzes found a place on his inaugural list. Read the whole article here, and if you still haven’t picked up a copy of BGW yet, you can remedy that as well.
So since I read one of my rock and roll stories last night, and since Mr. Lear was good enough to offer kind words for BGW, I think I’ll bust out a little music to wrap things up. The Emperors were a sextet from Long Beach in the mid-60s, with occasional lineup changes due to military commitments and the like. Early in their career, they specialized in pre-Beatles-style frat rock, and were noted for their rather dramatic tonsorial statement:
The above is the sleeve for a single the band released on the Wickwire label in 1964. We’re going to hear the A-side, a cover of Australian Tony Parker’s “Blue Day.” The band continued in one form or another until the late 70s, when they put out an album on the Private Stock label as Emperor (not to be confused with the Scandinavian black metal band.) But here’s the song that got my attention this evening.
See you soon!