Fifty Shades of Scott
I haunt bookstores. Always have. Often, whatever errands I have will be arranged in such a way as to allow the maximum amount of loitering-time between the shelves of one store or another—or, if not a bookstore, then at the very least the local library. These are ordered worlds that I understand and am comfortable in. And if I don’t walk out with some sort of hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback, graphic novel (Marvel Comics, naturally), newspaper, magazine, Moleskine, textbook or tchotchke I will be, I admit it, insufferably crabby for hours afterword.
So. Imagine me then at one of my usual posts at the closest Big Box Bookstore this past Saturday (because we have no local independent stores close by), browsing the shelves and seeing—quite unexpectedly—copies of my novel, Wilderness, up on the shelves for sale. It takes me a moment to process the sight because I’ve been working for such a long time toward this one particular moment—seeing my book for sale in an honest-to-God store—and, besides, it’s not supposed to be out until next week. So I stand there a little dumbstruck a moment before making a little, explosive sound comprised of some strange arrangement of consonants. Something like “btthhggg” or “bllrrhh.” Some sort of ‘b’ sound, at any rate. After which I swiftly squat (my last name’s Weller so I’m used to finding myself at the bottom of most alphabetical systems of arrangement) and give the book a good, hard poke with one finger to assure myself of its actual existence. It feels solid, tangible, but I poke it again, just for good measure.
At the Information Center, I introduce myself to the employee manning the station. His name is Scott and I thank him profusely for carrying Wilderness, profess my surprise at seeing it for sale early and explain how it’s my first book and that I’d worked hard to get it published and to keep myself fed while doing so and how exciting it was for me to finally see it on the shelf and words are spilling out of me and I’m sure I’m coming off a little crazed and Scott looks at me and says, “Um.”
When I ask to see the manager, to thank them in person for stocking the book (competition over shelf-space being what it is) Scott tells me it’s their day off. “I could, I guess, get the assistant manager?” Somehow he makes a question of it.
Still flush with excited achievement, I tell Scott sure, I’d love to talk to the assistant manager and, that if it would help sales, I’d happily sign a few copies since I was, finally and incontrovertibly, a local author. Scott looks a little crestfallen, a little overwhelmed. “Well, she’s at lunch,” he tells me.
“Well, that’s all right,” I say (it is not all right).
Scott looks relieved but the kicked-puppy look that I’m sure is on my face makes him offer: “You could call next week, I guess. Sometimes they let you set up a little table by the front door and sign stuff. Sometimes. Um. I guess.” By now, Scott’s figured out I won’t be buying an e-reader from him and is looking over my shoulder at the line lining-up behind me.
I thank Scott for his time and go back to stand in front of the new releases. Wilderness is still there; right beside Seal Team Six: Outcasts but no one’s bought a copy yet and I’ve been here nearly ten minutes already. I give it another couple pokes and look around a little desperately but there’s no one else close-by save Scott who’s helping another customer find a copy of one in series of books with the words “Fifty” and “Shades” in each of their titles.
After he’s finished, Scott comes over to stand a good six-and-a-half feet outside my personal comfort zone. He looks over the New Releases shelf with me a moment before finally asking, “So, which one is yours?”
I tell him it’s right down there beside Seal Team Six: Outcasts and Scott bends over, picks it up and turns it over where he can’t help but see my crowning glory: there, in white text on a lustrous bronze background, is praise from Annie Dillard. Annie Dillard. I wait for him to fall to his knees and weep, to usher me in some Roman-like triumphal procession into the break room to interrupt the assistant manager between bites of her sandwich and show her that here, right here, is local talent, but all Scott does is flip open the back flap, compare my author pic to my actual, scruffy self and put the book back in its place. “That’s pretty cool, I guess?” Somehow he makes a question of it. “I knew a guy who wrote a book once.”
“Well,” I tell him. “It’s quite a thing.”
“Um,” says Scott, spotting a customer looking over an e-reader. “Okay then,” he says and, with that, he is gone.
In the end, my darling wife scoops up three or four copies of Wilderness and places them farther up the shelving food chain—nestling them in the rarefied air between lucky authors whose last names begin with Cs and Ds. And at the counter she talks me up, as she always does, and when she mentions Scott’s apparent ambivalence toward my apparent genius, Dep, the woman manning the register, rolls her eyes and says, “Oh, Scott…he’s always like that. I don’t understand him.” And then, bless her heart, she takes up Wilderness, looks at it and looks at me with a gentle smile before placing my book carefully into a plastic stand at the front of the store to better advertise it to all who might be curious.
For my part, as we leave I look over the little tables and chairs that await my presence at some later date, assumedly after the manager’s day off or the assistant manager’s lunch. They look a little lonely, a little sad, but that’s all right.