My life as a literary nobody (an update)

A few months ago I got an email invitation to a big party to be held at a trendy nightclub in New York City to commemorate Salon’s tenth anniversary. This was on account of the articles I’ve written for them over the years (see “stuff John wrote” in the little box on the right), one of which I later found out had been selected as one of the “Best of Salon 2003”. I figured I might get to hobnob with some high-octane literary people, maybe make some connections. You never know what might come of such things. So the big day came a few weeks ago and I drove down to Manhattan for this damn party. Hung around the dark noisy nightclub where I couldn’t see a thing or hear myself think. Didn’t know a soul who was there. I talked to a few people; a few short conversations. I even talked to Joan Walsh, Salon’s editor-in-chief. For about 11.5 seconds, that is, until a literary Somebody came by and Walsh turned away from me (the nobody), and posed with the Somebody for the cameraman with the big tripod that he was lugging all over the place and spazzing into people with. Which I thought was rather rude of her, actually, even though it was a noisy party and that kind of abrupt conversational focus-shift does happen at parties like that. I just stood there like a dork for about 2 minutes waiting to see if Walsh was going to resume the conversation that she left mid-word. Finally I took the hint and mosied along. At least the photographer didn’t offer to take my picture, which is good on account of I still have that bad tooth and I look like crap when I smile. Everybody who was a somebody was dressed in stylish black. I too was wearing a black sweater, but it didn’t count because I was also wearing “cheeno” pants and fake topsider boating shoes that I got at K-Mart in Manahawkin for $14.

It cost me thirty damn dollars to park the car. I missed most a day of work, too, between the going to and the coming from New York. My boss wasn’t too crazy about that. Here’s an account of the only significant connection made.

Inside: some more dead ends and projects that went nowhere.

Famous novelist manque (imagine accent aigue over that last e)

For several months now I’ve been trying to write an entry about the novel I almost wrote for Random House. See, about a year and a half ago an editor called me up out of the blue and asked me to submit a manuscript (based on his appreciation of my self-published novel). So I worked on a new book for several months. The editor and I exchanged several dozen emails about it and he said lots of complimentary things. He took me out to lunch in New York and then a few months later treated me to breakfast in Boston. He said he liked where my new book was going. I fantasized that my big break had come and that I was going to become a real successful novelist, just like Fanny Flagg and Nora Roberts and St.John Clarke. But I never got offered a contract and I decided that actually I did not have the time and energy to work on a novel while holding down the day job and being a husband and father. So I quit working on the novel. It was a thriller about a bioterrorism lab in Boston. I rather liked it, actually. Maybe I’ll resume work on it some day.

That’s the story I’ve been trying to write for several months. (Now you see why it took so long: it’s boring, and there’s nothing to it. Silly me, I was trying to make it interesting!) I guess if I had more literary cachet it might have been more interesting. Big Author Puts Project on Hold!

Meanwhile, back in Loebner’s world. . .

In New York I stayed at the apartment of Hugh Loebner (who was out of town at the time but graciously mailed me his keys). Loebner was the subject of the aforementioned great Salon article which so impressed Joan Walsh that she talked to me for 11.5 seconds. Although I had had extensive correspondence with Hugh during the writing of the article, I had not met him in person until few months ago when I was a judge in the 2005 Loebner Contest (and also was his guest). A couple of things happened at the contest that were mildly interesting–for example there was a tiff between Dennis Shasha and Richard Wallace which resulted in Shasha’s indignant early departure (and forfeiture of the $100 judge’s honorarium) and Wallace’s subsequent bending my ear with paranoid theory about Shasha’s having been sent by NYU to sabotage his chatterbot–and it’s also mildly interesting (for reasons that will become evident if you’ll go back and read my story, in which, among other things, I opined that I had always wanted to give Marvin Minsky a pie in the face) that since my 2003 article came out I’ve become pretty closely involved with several members of the Minsky family, including my boss’s boss, who is Marvin Minsky’s son-in-law. So I thought I should write a followup story about being a judge in the Loebner Contest, the Minsky coincidence, and similar, but really, there isn’t much to say there either (although some of the 2005 transcripts are pretty amusing, I think) and so I punted on that idea also.

It’s perhaps worth noting that one of the other Loebner judges was pretty hot. (That photo is not the best, but even so you must admit that there’s something special about them brainy chicks that makes “normal Hawaiian” look “hot”.) We chatted and I gave her a copy of Cheap Complex Devices and sent her a followup email, but she didn’t answer.

By far the most interesting conversations of that “Salon” evening were with (1) the Egyptian kid with the late-night hot food stand at 28th and 9th (and his patrons of various nationalities, mostly speakers of Arabic), and (2) with the taxi driver who drove me from 28th to 98th. He was from Senegal, and we spoke in Wolof and Pulaar.

In Conclusion, let’s quote some Emily Dickinson

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise — you know!

How dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!

One Comment

  1. That Dickinson quote is crying out for an emendation to “blog”.

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