We can’t stop sneezing. There’s so much smoke and haze in the air. I wake up and blow my nose and find clumps of blood. Breathing is no fun these days.
Shopping is no fun, either. Supporting the strike means you can’t go to Albertsons, Ralph’s, Pavillions or Vons, which means two options: Gelson’s/Mayfair, which is so expensive it makes you question the real need for kitty litter; and Trader Joe’s, whose kitty litter options run from “organic cedar pellets normally used for rabbits” to “hope and a prayer.”
This means trips to Petco, which isn’t close by. It happens to be next to a Barnes and Noble, and every month when we go to Petco to pick up all of the supplies necessary for all of the cat holes in our house, I stop by the store and offer to sign their stock. This past week I couldn’t find any copies. I asked the information desk, and she said they had seventeen copies.
“They’re not up in the fiction section,” I said.
She pointed at the fiction section, which was a floor up from where we were standing. “The fiction section.”
“Yes,” I said. “I was just there. And I checked a few places, but I didn’t see any.”
“We have seventeen copies. You should be able to see them.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I can’t find them.”
She sighed and went up to locate them, wondering how someone so stupid could get a book published.
She was gone for some time. She came back down to her desk and called a manager, who took her to the side as they talked. Every once in a while they’d shoot a look in my direction and then go back to talking. I’d seen this scene before. On ER.
The woman walked back behind her desk and motioned for me to come closer. “Our records show that the seventeen copies are currently in transit.”
“They haven’t arrived yet?” I asked.
“They’re in transit from the distributor.”
“It’s a re-order?”
“I’m sorry. They’re in transit to the distributor.”
“You’ve sent them back.”
“Yes, that’s what it appears has happened.”
Seventeen signed copies are on their way back to the distributor. There’s a chance that B&N would just send them to a different store, one that ran out and ordered. But maybe not. It felt like getting cut from a team. Sent back. Turned away. Over. Finished.
And then I proved I still had the strength to ask a stupid question. “So I guess you guys aren’t planning on ordering any more.”
She shook her head, grinning politely.
We went to The Grove to see Mystic River/Mister Gruber/Misty Quivers. I stopped by their B&N, a place where I’ve signed many copies over the past few months. A place that has sold out and re-ordered a few times.
Not one copy.
I didn’t bother asking if they were planning on ordering more. I didn’t want to have someone make that face at me again, that “Poor little author” face.
I don’t even know how to feel about that. At first I freaked out and got depressed, because that’s one’s immediate reaction to rejection. My agent answered my frantic email thusly: “It is natural that re-orders will slow down as time passes unless customer demand stays high or builds.” There’s news coming that might re-build customer demand, but not immediate. How long should I expect a book to last in stores? I don’t know anybody else who hasn’t bought this book yet. I don’t know most of the people who bought it in the first place. I’m still getting email from people who just found this book, who are just discovering online journals, and that’s how I know that my book is still out there, that people are finding it and reading it.
I have no conclusion or witty reaction to this news. I’m just reporting it. Maybe in a month I’ll know how to process it.
When we went to see the movie at The Grove (this is a large outdoor mall filled with the most-expensively dressed hoochie teens I’ve ever seen), we asked the box-office woman if she would validate our parking ticket. Here’s the best response to that question: “Oh, no! You don’t have to get validation. You just pay two dollars for four hours.”
In other words, No. They don’t validate. But look how she made it sound like we won something. We get to pay for parking! How fun!
Back to the store strike. We normally shop at Trader Joe’s anyway, but due to everyone having to shop there this month, the normal problem we have — the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s parking lot is impossible to park in due to a lack of spaces and spaced-out stoner vegans (unused to driving their roommate’s SUV’s) attempting to parallel park — has become The Worst Parking Lot Of All Time. This lot is also for our video rental store, so it’s been unavoidable. At any minute of the day there are three cars waiting for a parking spot, five cars trying to back out of their spaces, five cars trying to leave the lot, seventeen pedestrians waiting to use the crosswalk, traffic backed up on Hyperion (a busy street) on either side of the lot, and a group of petitioners banking on everyone’s frustration — “I’m so mad I want to sign something! What’s this? Let strippers give their lap dances? Fine. Whatever. As long as they aren’t trying to shop here right now!”
It is beyond maddening. This parking lot renovated last year, doubling the size of the lot. Somehow the lot is even worse for it. Now there’s nowhere to park at all. They created a lot for the workers. Then it got even worse! The more parking that’s available, the harder it is to shop there. Can’t go to Ralph’s, you’ll get spit on. Can’t go to Gelson’s, costs half of your rent. Can’t go to Trader Joe’s, unless you’ve got a Jetson’s car.
And I’m inhaling ash. My head has been hurting for days. My nose is bleeding.
Oh, California! Your skies are crumbling on top of me, your Santa Ana winds rush hot onto my face, and I kneel before you, begging to find a kitty litter that doesn’t make me broke.
Oh, California! I long to see your clear blue skies, to inhale the slightly less carcinogenic haze I’ve grown accustomed to (I rarely need my inhaler now!).
Oh, California! When will a woman be able to park her emissions-tested Civic in a decent space near her hippie mart, walk right in and purchase a fresh baguette without having to fight a patchouli-soaked woman for it? Will Arnold give me that right? Will Arnold make my Trader Joe’s parking lot the peaceful daisy-chain it so longs to be? Will Arnold fight for my right to shop without tears?
Oh, California! Your fires burn with the rage of millions of saddened voters, who fear for our fine state. You destroy what he will not fix. You give us the dignity of fire, of flames, instead of watching a bodybuilder/action star destroy the very same environment with a simple swish of his pen.
Oh, California. With every drop of blood that falls from my left nostril, that’s followed by the intense, ice-pick stabs of pain over my left eye, I will remember that you are hurting, too. You are weeping. You want my parking to be validated. You want me to be able sell books, books you will surely burn, books that destroy even more trees than the ones you are ridding the world of as we speak. I will keep my own fire burning, deep within my chest, and I will remember your anger, and I will share your anger with the world.
Get the fuck out of my Trader Joe’s, you Los Feliz/Echo Park/Atwater Village/Burbank mooching motherfuckers. I need some asparagus!
A Supermarket in California
by Allen Ginsberg
What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!–and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
(I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.)
Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely.
Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe?