Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I am in a rush. I have just given a talk in Oakland, California and I have to dash to the airport to fly all night so that I can arrive and give a talk in Niagara Falls, New York. I only have 38 minutes to get from venue to the plane. I am in a panic because I am sure there will be hundreds at my talk in Niagara Falls since my first book Too Close To the Falls takes place there. It is my home town. That always draws a crowd.What if I don't make the plane and the audience are all left looking at a blank podium. It will give new meaning to Thomas Wolfe's line You can't go home again. (Little did I know at the time,I actually had nothing to worry about. I had fewer people in Niagara Falls than I had in Oakland where I didn't know anyone.)
Breathless I arrived at the gate and threw my bag on the security belt. There were two pretty young girls in their early twenties in front of me and the security guard said, "have a nice trip girls" and smiled. I am next and the smile faded from his face and now he has gone from looking jovial, if a bit lecherous, to looking like he is doing a Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry imitation and he says, "Do you have any metal parts?" I say, as a joke, "Like that metal plate in your head?" as I walk into the frame where they check you over with the magic wand. Suddenly all of the machinery stops whirring. The conveyor belt is no longer running. The guard, a white haired male in his 60's like I am a white haired female in my 60's, glare at one another. He says "Come with me." I realize I have been, as my mother used to say to me, 'digging my own grave' I decide it is best to explain my 'humor'. I ask how come he didn't ask the girls in front of me if they had metal parts? If you can't do racial profiling how come you can do ageist profiling?"
He no longer looks at me or listens to me. I am now only a talking metal part to him. He motions to two very large black women and says only two words, Strip search. I am taken into a small room and as the woman pulls on her robin's egg blue gloves, she shakes her head and says "Who did you piss off?"
I emerge from the room assured that I will never feel the same way about robin's egg blue rubber gloves, and there is the bad Dirty Harry imitator. Now he calls me to the side of the conveyor belt and he has decided to go through my suitcase. He finds a number of copies of my book in the suitcase and asks in an accusatory tone "So you like to read I see? This was said as though we were in Turkey and he'd just found a kilo of hash. I nod in the affirmative. (Once you've had the blue glove treatment you learn humility.) He has a trainee with him and I can see he is showing off for him. He says, "How come you keep reading the same book?" ( further evidence he has a medal plate in his head) I explain that I wrote it and when he looks dubious, I show him my picture in the back of the book. He takes about five minutes to check out each detail.( There are so many Catherine Gildiner impersonators out there you can't be too careful.) Then he asks what the book is about and I say it is a memoir. Then he says "Who's it about?" When I say 'me' he laughs as though the idea of anyone reading about me is unfathomable. He shakes his head and says to the trainee, "It takes all kinds."
After all of this I have of course missed my plane. I run to the gate anyhow and lo and behold they are late loading so I get on. I am so late that everyone is all belted in. They think the plane waited for me. I say to the woman next to me "I was strip searched at security.". She just looks at me and says "TMI" and does not utter another word for the flight and the other people give me a stare that said 'what is wrong with you? You are not even a Muslim and you held up the plane.
Friday, November 19, 2010
On my book tour for my memoir that just came out in the States called AFTER THE FALLS I went to Oakland, California. The day I got there everyone in Oakland was told to stay home and the police closed the Bart subway system. I was bewildered since I had flown thousands of miles from Toronto to give to talk to people who were not allowed out. Bad Karma.
When I asked the doorman of my hotel why there were police on every corner and the streets were empty, I was told that Oakland expected a race riot. A Black Man had been shot and killed by a white officer. A trial ensued and the judgment, which was a light sentence for the white cop was handed down on this day of November 5, 2010-- the same day as my talk. The doorman said "Everybody knows that policeman deserved more time than he got and the community is going to rise up and tell the world about it." I said "I came out here to give a talk and now no one will come since they have been told to stay home." The doorman yelled, "Sorry honey. I guess it is not all about you today!" He had a point.
So as the evening approached, I packed my speech to give to an empty room in my bag and headed on the vacated police lined streets to my venue. As I drove down the huge forlorn highway a policeman pulled me over and asked where I was going. When I told him, he suggested I turn around and go back to my hotel and stay in until morning. I told him in no uncertain terms that I had flown thousands of miles to give this talk and I planned to make it to the book store no matter what and if no one was there, I would talk to myself. He nodded and said to another approaching policeman, 'No point talking to her. She thinks she some bell of the ball at some book store."
It was probably the only night in years that there was no traffic. I pulled onto a narrow side street and saw the small independent bookstore in the Montclair district of Oakland. It was bigger than a shoe box and smaller than a real room. I'd say it approached the size of a box car. When I walked in people screamed and shouted my name. There before me were a gaggle of girls that I'd gone to high school with at good ol' Amherst high over 40 years ago. They had 'gone out west in the 60's. There were also many others who came from hours away and all congregated at the small store. They had braved the ominous atmosphere and made it to the store.
Then the owner introduced me and told the following story. The previous owner of the store had loved my first book called TOO Close to the Falls and had actually managed to hand sell 500 copies. For those of you not familiar with book sales that is an amazing amount. She kept asking an employee to read the book. However the employee, who was also a stubborn Irish Catholic, refused to read it saying things like "just because you liked a book doesn't mean I will." Then the owner got cancer and the employee read the book as a tribute to her and loved it. When the owner died, the employee bought the store and continued to push the book, just as the previous owner had. They are now up to 700 copies sold.
I just loved this store and the people who ran it. I don't think there is any store in the nation who has sold 700 copies of my book and that includes my home town. It was such a joy to walk into a shop off a desolate street and see such warm hearts. Thank God for the independent book store and this one in particular. At first I though the title of the store called A GREAT GOOD PLACE TO BUY BOOKS was hokey but by the time I left I thought the name was inspired.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Ok so my first stop on my hard cover AFTER THE FALLS book tour was Seattle. Naturally it was a gorgeous city-- everyone knows that from Sleepless in Seattle. If you didn't see that movie then you are from another planet. Speaking of another planet, it is the home of Microsoft and Starbucks. Everyone's clothes smell like a bitter roast venti.
What I noticed about the city was how natural women looked. I had just left New York and Toronto where almost everyone my age ( I am almost a national institution) dyes their hair. No one my age has gray hair in Toronto except for me. People often comment on it--saying how nice it is, etc. Really they are thinking --why oh why does this woman not dye her hair!
Once when I was a psychologist I had a patient from Iran. On the last day of her therapy she wanted to thank me so she gave me a package of hair dye from L'oreal. She was completely sincere when she said that she figured I had no idea that I could dye my hair at home and she assumed I had no idea about the hair dye products available in the drug store. As she said, 'otherwise why would you have white hair?" She just had the nerve to say what most people thinking.
It was great to be in Seattle. Even at smart restaurants women had natural gray hair and very little makeup. They were not burned-out-hippies in tie-dye shirts and stone washed jeans, but really stylish women who decided to look their age and not pile carcinogens on their head every six weeks. They also wore comfortable loose clothing and flat shoes. Many of the shoe stores didn't even have high heels. (not kidding)
All of this time I thought that I was odd in Toronto marching around with my white hair looking like Mrs. Claus. Once in Toronto I lost my cell phone and someone got on a loud speaker in a large theater and said "Will the woman with white hair come to the counter. We have your cell phone." If I lived in Seattle they would never have gotten away with that message.
It was also strange to see no one with a face lift. Everyone over 50 looked just like they were over 50 and not like tired stretched 35 year olds. It was great to be with others who were not trying to look younger. Shockingly they only wanted to look good, comfortable, relaxed and their real age.