A Postcard from Tour: Seattle

Welcome to The Fishbowl

Screw the lofty trad goal of reading your work at New York’s West Side Y.  Nowadays the big names are vying for the Amazon Fishbowl.  In Seattle, at the base of Capitol Hill the Amazon empire has built a gleaming complex.  Near the Gatsby-era Camlin Hotel, in a former neighborhood of dive bars and light industry the whole neighborhood has gone Amazon.  And at the center of all that progress is a round tower of stone and glass called the Amazon Fishbowl.

And being asked to appear at the Fishbowl is America’s equivalent of a command performance at Buckingham Palace.  Actors launch their new films there.  Bands kick off tours and new music promotions.  Writers read.  The day-to-day schedule of appearances is a who’s-who of talent from around the world.  And in 2016, I’d been headed there to kick-off the tour for my graphic novel Fight Club II

First you dress up.  This is a dressy event.  It’s a lunchtime talk to a core group of Amazon insiders.  The flight from Portland to Seattle is under thirty minutes.  You hardly reach cruising altitude and you’re already making your approach to SeaTac.  And the small puddle-jumper planes make the trip every few minutes.

This would be the first stop on a 24-city tour.  You never look as snazzy as you do on the first day of tour.  Blazer.  Slacks.  Starched shirt.  We took off, we landed.  I reached my messenger bag from underneath the seat in front of me.  The padded cloth bag felt freezing, the way items pressed against the cabin wall can sometimes get freezing cold.  I held it in my lap as we taxied to the gate. 

Only then did I feel the wet.  The bag was soaking.  A cold brown liquid dripped from the seams.  My laptop, my notebooks, they were sodden with . . .

I sniffed:  Coffee.    

As we stood to disembark the plane I asked the man who’d been seated in front of me, “Did you have a very large coffee?”

He looked at my dripping bag and asked, “What are you asking?”

I asked, “Did your coffee spill?”

He asked, “What are you getting at?”1

I asked, “Were you drinking an iced something with a lot of whipped cream?”

He asked, “What?  Are you a lawyer?”  He turned and fled up the aisle.

On the carpet near his seat lay a grande-sized cup.

Should this ever happen to you, do not under any circumstances leave the plane with your soaking bag.  By the time you’ve carried it to the baggage claim office no one is responsible for anything.  Not your dead laptop.  Not your cleaning bills.  Or the clouds of flies drawn to your sticky bike messenger bag.  No, you must report such screw-ups to a member of the flight crew.

Otherwise, resign yourself to a bad toss and soldier on to the Fish Bowl.  That’s how I came to stand before the gods of Amazon coffee-stained and swarmed with flies.  On the bright side, let me introduce Chuck’s Eternal Law of Book Tour.  Book tours either begin badly and end well.  Or, they begin well and end badly. 

By Ann Arbor, Michigan, Fight Club II had hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list.  It lingered there, inching up and down the top ten, for six months, until the Times dropped their bestseller list for graphic novels.2

And yeah, I’d spent the whole tour sticky and stinky and shooing away flies but after that first careless coffee-spilling asshole, everyone else seemed like saints.

Thank you.

1

This is dialog from the real world.  Not the clever tennis match lines that we volley back and forth in fiction, this was escalating into evasive, hardly concealed fury.

2

A friend told me, “You broke the Times list, dude.”