Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pigs in a blanket

This is what I do when I’m in a small-talk situation, like a publishing cocktail party somewhere high up in a rented Manhattan party space looking westward to the setting sun and the rest of America where people read books because they like to, not because they have to. Up there among the red tails and incinerator exhaust is not a good place to talk turkey. So I shoot myself in the foot. Metaphorically, of course, though sometimes I think, goddammit, I wish I had shot myself in the foot because the pain of professional ostracism hurts so much worse. Surely worse than an effin corn or ingrown toenail, if not an actual bullet wound.

Like the time I said, Amazon’s okay, it’s done a lot for the industry. It forced us to get our act together. Everybody else was talking about the weather or some inconsequential book deal and eating dried turds masquerading as spring rolls. I thought to myself, screw the weather. We’re surrounded by the effin weather every day but where would we be without Amazon? Up shit’s creek is where we’d be. In a canoe without a paddle even.

Maybe I’d had too much merlot. Which isn’t hard to imagine -- drinking three or four glasses of a third-rate red tends to ease the pain inherent in a small-talk situation even if it means trading that pain for an eight-hour headache later on. Oh shite the-throbbing-pillow syndrome.

Other times I don’t quite shoot myself in the foot even when it looks as though I’m about to. Instead, I put my effin foot in my mouth. Ach! -- those rank and blistered dawgs, incarcerated in worn and stinky running shoes, what used to be called sneakers when we were all a little less full of ourselves, it's hard to believe that they belong to this body. They're so bloody bony and calloused. At the end of a work day, high above the city of bookish dreams, those dawgs have started barking, yowling really, and -- goddammit -- there I am, obligated to enter a small-talk situation and attempt to come out of it without those selfsame dawgs in my mouth. And I fail, miserably.

It is one fuck of a predicament, is it not? I mean, what is wrong with Amazon? Aren't they selling books? Customers certainly seem to like them, why can't we publishers? They make it so easy, poot. All we've got to do is exercise our good taste and let them take care of the rest.

These small-talk situations, endemic as they are to the publishing industry, reliant as it is on "building relationships," usually wind-up in a cul-de-sac. As dark and dreary as something out of Poe. Wherein one stands around with nothing left to say. Though sometimes I'll add, just for effect, Ah yes! indeed. The weather. The fucking weather is something else, isn't it?

Because if I start talking about Amazon, the long faces come out like toadstools after a tempest, and the bared fangs, and the rolling eyes, and the pain of getting ostracized by one's colleagues is too much to bear. I mean, it's such a small industry, publishing is, really only a few hundred movers and shakers, they're the real gatekeepers, the rest just cogs in the wheel, no matter how well-intentioned, and if you have a falling out with the movers and shakers, you're dead effin meat. You might as well slice off your balls and swallow 'em along with your feet, or go freelance and pray someone notices your CV.

It's an effin cottage industry pretending to be all grown up. I mean, everybody knows everybody else and they know who's still got balls, that's for sure. Just like everyone knows who's just running out their days until retirement with lunches and meetings versus those who are really working, trying to draw up a new business model that'll take into account those Darwinian shark-like entities like Amazon and Apple that are kicking butt and eating someone else's lunch.

Before putting my foot in mouth -- the foot I've already shot to shit -- I'm encouraged to get sentimental for a moment or two, along with the rest of the gang. Yes, it's time to refill our glasses and raise our voices. We extoll the virtues of smallness, hankering for a return to the halcyon days of mom-and-pops, when Fifth Avenue was festooned with bookstores, and printed newspapers carried a multitude of reviews, all of which were positive and jolted people into buying. Our eyes glisten and spittle runs down our jowls -- oh lord we were so lucky, weren't we?, to have been there in the old days. When books were books and one's goddamn feet didn't ache so much.

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