I have to call Sina. I don’t want to. Staring at her card, I even believe that I don’t like her name. I recall the Sino-Soviet disputes of the 1980s…or maybe the 1970s…and decide that her name reminds me of that era. Still, I call. She is in the store. That is why she speaks to me. I don’t know what I expected, but this is what happens. The books. I remind her about the books. Yes, she says. She remembers. We spoke about the books only a couple of days ago. I am trying to get enough air, my breathing limited by, well, lack of breathing. This whole thing is making me shallow of breath. Not to mention shallow of soul. What can I do, but make a date, a loose one, to drop off the books? Fine, Sina tells me. She adds that she has to leave at 2:15 PM to pick up a kid early from school. Now I decide she is okay.
Thing is, I have been consigned to consignment. Kepler’s Books is Menlo Park’s Broadway…at least for a writer. One aspires to have a reading there. Naturally, on the way to the dais…or whatever someone in a wheelchair occupies when holding forth at a bookstore…one passes a nice display of, you guessed it, one’s books. And, what the hell, being an author and all, you might just glance off to the side and acknowledge them there, book after book after book. All of them yours. With your title and your name. All looking terribly fresh, because they have been freshly restocked, such are the sales of your book.
The problem is that reality is a moving target, and fantasy is a fairly stationary thing that blossoms in childhood and creeps slowly, very slowly, forward, if at all. So, dreams that began to coalesce out of a 1950s youth in the Upper Sonoran desert can still hold sway in 2012. Which is why, despite pleas from my publicist…and I do have one, honest…it has been made clear. Kepler’s isn’t stocking my book. But you’re a local author, a couple of friends have pointed out. And, readily agreeing with this observation, I add that I am also a local customer. In fact, I have been waltzing in and out of this bookstore for more than 30 years.
Yet now that I am a local author…Kepler’s is a local casualty…of the times. They are a changin’. And for independent booksellers, they are not very good, and Kepler’s has a rich history of being nice to local authors…a practice which has nudged them toward bankruptcy. And these are the facts of mercantile life, 2012. Consignment. You want to sell books? You bring them in and sign some papers…and then they go up on the shelf, right?
Nope. This is the other thing. The thing that Sina explained just the other day. You want shelf space? Fine, you pay for it. To be exact, $150, to get on the local authors’ shelf. Which, with a mental wave of the hand…my real waveable hand currently on the wheelchair joystick…I dismiss. No way.
Why not, Jane asks? Sell 10 books, retail, and you have paid for the shelf space. I cannot wrap my mind around this notion. Look, I want to tell her, you want shelves…pointing out the overcrowded ones ringing my apartment. Pretty soon, the world being what it is, we are going to be charged for air. Shelves? Fucking shelves? I wait until the neuropeptides have subsided enough, then e-mail Sina. Sure, sign me up. Sell me a space on shelf.
It’s not all about me. Life seems to deliver this message now and then, but it’s often hard to believe. Somehow I thought that after all the work of writing a book…well, I wasn’t thinking, was I? That’s why God invented sales departments. One department does the production. Another does the sales. Not to mention the delivery department. The inventory department. Any good company has people handling all these functions. And so should mine. A little multiple personality disorder wouldn’t hurt just now.
Which is why, in the fullness of time…that is to say, about 15 minutes from now…the delivery department will load up. The transshipment, via my lap, being dispatched to Kepler’s. Receiving is around back, Sina advised in an earlier e-mail…although neuromuscular circumstances being what they are, we have worked out an arrangement. Vis-à-vis the front door. Ask for Receiving.
Ask for a fuel surcharge, I am thinking, as the electric vehicle loads itself with books, still in the carton. Something about this seems ridiculous. Way too small time. A lap full of books. The carton a lap dancer…or a lap dog…and surely at 65, I am on my last lap…and not exactly lapping it up. Problem with anything carried on the lap is that it tends to slip. Especially if one is bouncing over pavement and bracing the shipment with an arm mostly out of neuromuscular action. Never mind the fuel surcharge.
This electric delivery is, I finally realize, green. I do not believe that a battery-powered vehicle has transported a single shipment of anything to Kepler’s on this particular day. Or anywhere in Menlo Park, for that matter. Of this, I can be proud. All electric. Hand-delivered. Lap bounced. No extra charge.