Sometimes You Just Need More Hands

It sat in a bag on the floor of my garage for years, along with six bags of sand. After our Writers on the Edge group folded four years ago, as the last writer standing, I inherited this folding booth we bought to sell books at the Farmer’s Market. Get it out of my garage, said the woman who used it last. So I moved it to mine.

The bag looks like a golf bag, even has wheels, which is reasonable because the dang thing weighs more than my 75-pound dog.

One day while cleaning my garage during the COVID shutdown, I decided to take it out and set it up in my back yard. It would be fun to sit under the canopy enjoying the shade on a hot summer day.

This turned out to be another thing that’s nearly impossible to do alone, especially with my exceptional mechanical ability. It took me two days to set up my tent. Plus an extra trip to the chiropractor. I’m still celebrating replacing the spark plug in my lawnmower. I have a broken window blind hanging catawampus and a kitchen cabinet door also hanging awry. I ordered new curtains yesterday. Screwdriver in hand, I stared at the cabinet door for a while and decided I’d better call a professional.

But okay. Setting up this booth couldn’t be that hard. Other writers did it. I slid it out. White legs, blue cloth top. I carried it out to the far reaches of the lawn while the dog watched, curious about what her crazy housemate was up to now.

One two three four legs on the grass. Great, now push and lift and . . . nothing. There must be a trick. Were there instructions in the bag? No. Wait. A sticker on one white pipe said, “To open, hold and lift here.” I held, I lifted. Nothing moved, except maybe the beginning of a hernia. I pushed, I pulled. I raised the legs. I lowered the legs. I turned the whole thing sideways and upside down. It remained about four feet by four feet and about up to my neck as the cloth top flapped in the breeze.

Sweating, I ran in to trade my sweatshirt for a tank top and to check YouTube for instructions. They were there. YouTube has everything. So here’s these two guys in khaki pants and polo shirts, one on each side. They pull apart, lift up, and bazinga, there’s your booth. Apparently, this requires two people.

BUT I found another video for how to do it alone. Here we go. This guy put the booth up in his patio. He kept saying it would be easier with two people, but he seemed to have no problem. Legs, legs, legs, legs, get underneath, push, fasten down your canopy, and bazinga, here’s your booth.

Okay. I went outside, tried to get underneath. Lifted, pushed. Nothing moved.

I kept having this fantasy of someone showing up at my gate. They’d call, “Yoo-hoo!” and I’d answer “yoo-hoo!” back and invite them to help. We’d get it up, so to speak, in a jiffy, then sit in the shade on my plastic chairs, sipping iced tea or beer, whichever suited my helper.

It’s very quiet out here in the woods. Visitors are unlikely during these COVID times. I saw nobody but the dog, a butterfly and assorted bees. I surrendered. I toppled the structure, stuffed it back into the golf bag and shoved it under the table on my deck.

Meanwhile, I got my clippers and my leather gloves, forced open the stuck gate the gardeners had somehow forced open the other day and started clipping bushes like a madwoman, tossing vines onto the dog hovering nearby. She refused to move. Gosh, I was best entertainment she’d had in weeks. Somewhere under 20 years of wild growth was a raised garden bed bounded by yellow-painted brick. When we first moved in, I grew strawberries there and tried to grow vegetables—they were eaten by critters. Maybe I could try again. I was feeling the urge to garden.

Something bit my arm. Something snagged my leggings. I knew it was ridiculous trying to push back the forest. I didn’t care. I needed to accomplish something, preferably outside, away from the Zoomputer. When the compost cart was full and I could see a nice clear patch of dirt and enough brick to sit on, I decided to take a break. I couldn’t get the gate to latch so I stole a green bungee cord from the golf bag and wrapped it tight around the posts. Then I lay on the cool grass with the dog. It felt so good I considered staying there forever—or until winter, whichever came first.

How did you spend your Sunday?

 

Me and Tom Hanks Selling Our Books

WW authors at Wordstock
Kerry Blaisdell, Jack Estes, John Dover, and Sue Fagalde Lick at the Portland Book Festival      Photo by Gail Pasternack

 

It’s 5 p.m., and the Portland Book Festival is winding down. Where once one couldn’t move for the crowds, now there’s space between the bodies. Formerly known as Wordstock, the festival has once again drawn thousands of book lovers to the Portland Art Museum and surrounding venues. Everywhere you turn, someone is giving a talk, reading from his or her books, offering services for writers, or selling books. People bring their babies and their kids, hoping to turn them into readers. Food carts line up selling tamales, pizza, donuts, and other goodies.

In a world where half the people say they never read books, it’s wonderful to see so many celebrating the written word, even if they wander around in a word-stoned daze, making it hard to move. We stand in line for the readings and talks, for food, for coffee, to buy books, and to use the restroom.

Now, with the festival ending in one hour, it’s getting easier to breathe, but it doesn’t bode well for sales. With several other Willamette Writers authors, I have drawn the last shift for selling and signing my books. My book bag is heavy coming in, but I hope it will be much lighter going out.

We stand behind the table, behind our piles of vastly different books and exercise our best selling techniques. Debby Dodds flashes her technicolor smile and plays her connections with seemingly everyone in Portland to sell her young adult novel, Amish Boys Don’t Call.

Jack Estes, whose wonderful books are about soldiers, shouts out, “Do you know any veterans?” because, well, who doesn’t, and tomorrow is Veterans Day. Sometimes the question backfires. People are like “What? Why?” Plus, people don’t give Veterans Day gifts. Maybe they should.

John Dover, creator of the “jazz noir” Johnny Scotch series, plies his local connections and offers readers a good time with his books and stories. Kerry Blaisdell hands out free calendars to lure people to her urban fantasy novel, Debriefing the Dead.

Me, I pass out postcards with the cover photo from Up Beaver Creek. “Would you like a pretty picture, something to look at and de-stress?” Mostly women accept it. A few turn it over, read my pitch and come back to take a look at the book. Success.

Since our table sits under the Willamette Writers banner, we give out information about the organization, about the various branches, our program for young writers, and our literary magazine the Timberline Review.

But it’s a tired crowd, with going home on their minds. It’s getting dark outside. Their bags of books are already too heavy. Many don’t even glance in our direction. Some dart in to grab the leftover Halloween candy set between the books. And some stop to chat. And chat. And chat. I want to scream, “Move on. You’re blocking my books. I don’t want to carry these damned things home.” Just as I wanted to scream when I was on the other side perusing the booths, “Pass on the right!” and, “If you’re going to stand still, get out of the way.” But I don’t scream any of those things. I smile and offer up pretty pictures.

My photo technique works. I sell a book. The buyer hands me a credit card. It’s the first time I’ve used the credit card app on my phone. Will it really work? It did when I practiced at home, but . . . Look! It works! I hand her my phone. “Finger sign here, please.” How crazy is that? In a minute, I get an email saying $15.00 has been deposited into my account. Magic. Somebody else buy a book. Let’s do it again!

Up until this year, I have not accepted credit cards. Cash or checks only. But that’s old-fashioned. Now we all have our little card readers on our phones. Zip, zoop, sold.

That one sale is it for the night, which is as good as any of us except Debby does, but as John Dover notes, this is not about sales. It’s about shaking hands and making connections. It’s about getting people to take our cards and our swag so that they might go home and order our books or at least remember our names.

It’s also about being with other authors after the solitary process of writing our books. We compare notes. Best and worst selling experiences. Bookstores that treat authors well or treat them badly. Places we might give talks. Favorite flavor of Ghirardelli chocolate squares. (Mine is mint.)

And it’s fun. I think of myself as shy, but I have spent the day talking to strangers, putting myself “out there.” “Hey, you need another book!” I hear myself shouting. I’ve turned into a huckster.

Afterward, walking the six blocks to the parking garage, my bag is no lighter than it was coming in. I couldn’t resist purchasing one more book from a Facebook-only friend I finally met in person. I don’t mind. My feet hurt, but my heart feels good.

It has been a long day, which started with standing in line with approximately 2,000 people for over an hour in 36-degree weather outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall to see and hear Tom Hanks talk about Uncommon Type, his new book of short stories. The ticket price included a copy of his book. We grab our books from the thousands piled on tables in the theater lobby and cuddle them like kittens. Tom Hanks does not have to stand behind a table with postcards and chocolate bars trying to get people’s attention. It helps if you’re an Academy Award winning actor.

Tom Hanks’ hour-long talk was fabulous. It was funny, sweet, loving, and wise. I’m in love. We all are. Last night, I dreamed about Tom and his big gray dog walking up my driveway. I greeted them like old friends, casual, not star-struck at all—until my sweet Annie dog turned into Cujo and attacked his dog.

I’m so sorry, Tom. Would you like a pretty picture of Beaver Creek?

***

  • Fun fact: Back in the early 90s, Tom Hanks spent a night camping in an Airstream trailer on my grandfather’s property at Seacliff Beach, California. Or so says my father, who is not impressed with all this book nonsense, but thought it was pretty nifty that I got to see Tom Hanks.
  • The Coast branch of Willamette Writers meets this coming Sunday, Nov. 18 at 2 p.m. at the Newport Library. Rachel Barton will lead a free poetry workshop. Everyone is invited to join us for lunch at the Chowder Bowl at 11:30 that day where we can chat and fill up on chowder. PM me or email me at coast@willamettewriters.org if you’re coming to lunch so we can save you a seat.
  • I just discovered this is my 500th post! That’s a lot of blogging.