It’s all the rage to get yourself noticed in Manhattan. You make it here, you make it-well, you know how the song goes. Cliches are the enemy of the writer, but everything about a literary gathering in New York is drenched with cliches. It would be more of a surprise if it were in Omaha, unless you were Omaha resenting the hick stereotype of your not so little town.
I feel like I’ve been scammed by a literary con artist. I got the notice of this networking opportunity for up-and-coming writers like myself to meet with small press publishers. That’s why I’m here. But there aren’t any publishers here promoting themselves. Instead of people, tables and tables of books stand in as some bad surrogate. Some people mull about the stacks, some pretending to be interested by picking them up before they return them back to their wallflower status in the slush pile. Others don’t bother to feign interest. They just wind through the crowds, pretending there is somewhere else in the room that is more important to be. They pretend, because they never stop anywhere. But they make a big show of squinting at the material on the tables as though they are masters of discernment if only something was worth their time.
I would wonder why they are even there, but here I am as well. I wonder why I came to New York City just to look at some flea market book sale that acts as though it will be some instant major book distributor, if only someone would just add the right imported bottled water to its magic. Maybe that’s where the projection comes in. Isn’t it hip to say whatever it is that annoys you about someone else is something you haven’t accepted in yourself?
Well, I thought I was here for a small press book fair to promote how great a writer I am. A fledgling in my career, I still think I have to show up places to tell people about What A Great Writer I Am. All the while, I ignore the fact their eyes glaze over while supposedly listening to me. They are of course, too busy thinking about how Great They Are At Whatever to do anything but smile at me, and pretend they care. A whole bunch of whatever that everyone pretends is important, so that’s why we’re here in a stuffy closet on a perfectly sunny April day.
This is what you have to do to get noticed, I am told. Sell yourself, but stay humble. I look at all the zombies, and I imagine their minds full of the two lines of Tolstoy or Kafka or whatever other Important Literary Authors that they have handy, ready to impress. There’s a lot of pretending that a book fair in some obscure hallway stuffed away in downtown somehow means you have arrived. It’s got to be special if it’s in Manhattan. Even the hot dogs are special here, ever try one?
I am supposed to feel privileged, smile with pride on how a place like this is so accessible to me. Just a train ride away, and I am here, oh so lucky I am I can’t even know. Instead, I feel smothered. This place looks like someone emptied his closet and rented it out for the day so he could pay the utilities. Everything is stuffed on everyone else. I wonder if it is supposed to give the browser a sense of intimacy. Instead, I feel like I have been buried underground. I don’t know if it is me, but it feels like even the air got the hint and left the building for greener pastures like the subway.
I walk around with a portfolio, and look at the books myself. It looks like someone’s garage sale in suburbia. Over there, is a book on Costa Rica, and some guide to the Rocky Mountains, which I decide to purchase. Well, this sniff of mine makes me feel like I have made an effort. Hey, I’m something else, I supported another author. Yippie! Meanwhile, people keep bumping into me as they bump into other people. I can’t see how I am supposed to network with a bunch of sardines who are so sucked into themselves they can’t even see where they are walking.
This is the problem with what you are supposed to do with people who are supposed to be important. You are supposed to grovel. You are supposed to sound confident and yet realize your place. It’s like a bad rendition of high school where you are in some caste system that you didn’t sign up for. Except a place like this is worse because they think they are past all of that. They seem to have forgotten the basic lesson that all you needed to know was in high school. Their posturing contains the same insecurities they had, back when they pretended memorizing Emily Frost was some weapon against the lack of popularity and talent they fought against. They are here now, and they think this makes up for all of that way back when as they roam the closet without seeing anyone but themselves.
Someone glares at me. I don’t know why she does that. It’s only for a second before she turns away. It’s like she’s seen me mocking her, well, not her personally. But it’s like she doesn’t like the fact I’ve piled her up with everyone else in my snap judgment. It’s like she’s telling me, who are you to talk, you’re here too. Did you think any of us are here for the rousing entertainment?
Of course, I have no idea what it is she is really thinking. Who knows if she even saw me when she eyed me down. But people have a way of giving messages without blabbing away with their words, of which there are too many here piled upon each other to even grasp. The Rocky Mountain guide with its pictures of wide open mountainscapes seem to speak to me with its vastness. That seems weird enough to me, and makes me think the stale air here has finally zapped my brain of its last cell. But whatever paranormal psychobabble has occurred in that moment seems to reach me, shutting off all the yammering. What am I doing here? If you look at the mountain, does it really care if you got your chapbook of poetry published?
Like any stereotype of a good epiphany, at that moment a laser of sunlight blazes through the window and blinds my eye. I know where it is I want to be, and it isn’t here.
Back on the streets, the outside air refreshes me, even with all the pollution a city street can throw at me. I hear some metal clashing in a repeating pulse, and turn to discern the sound as it comes closer to me and I find its source. Six Oriental people in some colorful costume I don’t know the meaning of follow each other in a procession, the first two with cymbals, two clapping, and two with drums. I don’t know what it is that they are trying to tell me as they pass by me. But here they are, and I was just in time to see them. They disappear around a corner, expressing their percussive message to some other passerby that the universe has introduced them to.
I walk down the street with my mountain book in hand, looking up at the mountains that man has created here. It’s good to be out here to see them. A wind blows through the tunnel channeled by the buildings, and it smells of diesel and refuse. It sends a rush of the city through me, and I’m glad I came here. I stop to get a hot dog, complete with mustard and sauerkraut. It’s some hot dog, because one bit of it restores all the life that was sucked from me in the land of pretension I just left. But what did I expect? Because, you know, even the hot dogs are special in Manhattan.