Rule No. 1 of the Which Brings Me to You book tour is this: Don’t piss Julianna Baggott off. Why? Because Julianna is small and fierce and has pointy red cowboy boots, the tips of which I do not want to have to taste.
How long did it take me to piss her off?
Exactly four minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
Here’s what happened: We climbed onstage at the Attic Bar, our debut gig, and Julianna stepped to the mic—looking, if I may say so, rather striking in some black material, the name of which I do not (and will never) know—and began to read from the book.
So far, so good.
I was seated a few feet behind her, to her left, in an area best described as her periphery. As is my habit at readings, I decided to follow along with my own reading copy, which meant that when she moved from one passage to the next I was forced to do a certain amount of, well, flipping.
I didn’t think of this as particularly distracting, because I assumed that she would see that I was, in my own dorky way, paying extra special careful attention to her reading. But of course she had no way of knowing what I was doing. To her it just looked like I was browsing through the book—perhaps underlining the dirty passages for a second time—while she was reading.
And so, at a certain point, she broke off her reading and turned to me and said, in a tone of bemused (and amplified) wrath, “What the hell are you doing over there, Almond? Are you browsing the book while I’m reading?”
The crowd fell silent.
I looked at my coauthor helplessly.
Julianna raised her red cowboy boot in a gesture clearly intended to signify potential harm to my person.
“Sorry,” I whispered. “I was just reading along.”
I then tried—yes, foolishly—to show her that I was on the same page as she was.
“What are you doing now?” Julianna said. “Are you showing me that you can read, Almond? I know that you can read. I think everyone in this room knows that you can read.”
So, as noted, Rule No. 1 remains: Don’t piss the Baggott off.
A close second in the rules department would be: Don’t get really, really drunk before your debut reading.
Once again, I must insist that my getting really, really drunk was for the most part inadvertent. It had been a rough day and I hadn’t eaten lunch.
Also, because I was one of the readers, everyone—including Julianna’s own brother Bill—was offering to buy me drinks.
Also also, in the passage I was reading, the character was really drunk, so in this sense I was able to convince myself that guzzling the last of my three drinks right before I lurched up to the microphone was merely my way of getting “into character.” Method reading, it’s called.
Does this explain why, in the space of forty minutes, I consumed nine ounces of bourbon? No, officer, it does not.
But this alcoholic intake does help explain a few a things, such as why I did a lot of hiccupping during my reading, and why I sought protection by ducking behind Julianna when, during the Q&A phase of our performance, an overzealous Candyfreak fan began pelting me with fine Belgian chocolates. It should also serve as a partial explanation for why I scrawled the following inscription on one young woman’s book:
“Trust me on this: You look good enough to lick.”
It also helps explain why I woke up this morning with a migrainous version of La Cucaracha tappy-tap-tapping on my frontal lobes and a giant cigarette filter where my tongue used to be.
But listen, I’m not complaining.
A cup of coffee, a few Percocet, and I’m good to go.
Honestly, Julianna and I are having a nice time so far! We’re in that giddy honeymoon stage where we still have things to talk about, where the bad reviews are still just a distant cloudbank, where she has not yet, officially, assaulted me.
Love & aspirin,
I will confess that I had some high-octane pre-tour anxiety. While packing my suitcase it dawned on me that Steve will have groupies, no doubt. People will sway with lighters. They’ll chant his name and shout out his story titles. I’ll sing (off-key) back-up and then, when no one’s noticing—and who will notice?—I'll slip offstage and be done with it.
"Now, now," I told myself on the flight to Boston, "I’m exaggerating. Bookstores don’t even have stages." I reminded myself that I start every tour pessimistically.
A. There was a stage, which immediately struck me as a bad sign. The reading wasn't in a bookstore after all. It was in a bar. This was good news for my brother, who not only showed up but further redeemed himself by bringing a posse.
B. There were no lighters. No swaying. Thank God. But people do still, occasionally, throw candy at Steve when he reads. Evidently there was a horrific incident where Steve was on a panel and some overzealous literary fan had bad aim (literary fans aren't known for their eye-hand coordination) and an errant candy pegged Elizabeth Graver in the collar bone—a story I'd dismissed as literary hype, but now I believe. The candy was hard and, frankly, thrown with a little too much passion. Or maybe Almond fans can be a little vicious. Worth further monitoring.
C. I still ate the candy though. It was chocolate and individually wrapped—which would make my mother happy. She may have raised a daughter who's a traveling salesman (of smutty literature) but not one who will eat chocolates that aren't individually wrapped.
D. And the reading? Well, in retrospect, Steve and I may have started the viciousness—modeling it for the crowd. It's a kindly viciousness though. There's still plenty of politesse, a laminant that's bound to dull and eventually crack—you know, like pancake-house placemats.
And E. We were both a little drunk. This is what happens when you have readings in bars and a good brother buying rounds.
This is the first installment in a series of Postcards written by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott, coauthors of Which Brings Me to You (Algonquin Books, 2006), while on tour to promote their book.