Dan fits the profile of a first-time novelist. Small, East Coast liberal arts college (Wesleyan), then tony MFA program (Iowa Writers' Workshop), then a move to Los Angeles followed by years of dead-end screenwriting efforts (the money is good) and a stint as a copywriter for a failed dot-com (the money was even better). A year ago, his agent sold his first book for a sum Dan refers to as "enough to live off for a year or two, but not necessarily to live well." Like any first-time novelist, his fears have shifted from Will I be published? to Will my book disappear without a trace?
"What I'm attempting to do here is really just advertising you can use," he said, cruising by Melrose. "My royalty is about a dollar per novel sold, so I might even break even."
I offered him his dollar back.
"No really," he said, "you can keep it. I have about 50 of them left."
Dan drove his beige Nissan Maxima into the packed underground garage and passed a minibillboard for the Hummer H2 bearing the slogan "Here's a Real One."
"People think those will make them invincible," said Dan. "I'll tell you what's empowering. Taking a dollar from a guy. What we're about to do feels almost medieval, one human being approaching another with something to sell. It's really strange that direct contact is now embarrassing, but to have layers of advertising isn't at all."
As we came out of the elevator, a plump teenager in hip-hugger jeans and a midriff-baring T-shirt ran at us, shrieking. A friend followed a few steps behind.
"Who's in there?" I asked.
"OZZY!" the guy barked as he stormed past. "OZZZZZEEEEEEE!" Turns out Ozzy and Kelly were here to sign copies of The Osbournes' first-season DVD.
Dan thought it would be slow on Tuesday evening, but with Ozzy on hand, about four dozen customers milled about inside the Virgin Megastore. He positioned himself near a book display in the record section. A big pile of Lucky Wander Boys sat between a quickie Jeff Buckley bio, All American Ads of the '60s, a Spider-Man graphic novel, and Cool Gardens, System of a Down singer Serj Tankian's reflections on life.
A smiling man approached. He was dressed as Kiss drummer Peter Criss — full makeup. The letters C-R-I-S were written from pinky to pointer. He looked a bit like an anthropomorphic, rhinestone-studded cat. Dan made his rehearsed pitch.
Hi, I'd like to give you a dollar. I'm the author ofLucky Wander Boy, a new book that concerns a man whose life is both saved and doomed by his mounting obsession with a game he played as a kid — an obscure, surreal and possibly not-quite-natural video game. There's a pile of my books on display here. It's the yellow one. Check it out. If you choose to buy it, consider the dollar a rebate from the author. If not, just spend it at a store where someone is likely to be interested.
"That's funny, I'm totally here to promote myself too," said faux-Criss. "I'm the guy who does the all-drums Kiss tribute. I also write and perform my own songs and am working on a movie script about my life called The Rock Star Who Won't Go Away." Near his mouth, there was a dribble of red blood makeup covering his white face paint.
Dan offered him a dollar.
"You know, music is my happiness and money is only what you need to make ends meet, but I'm struggling so bad right now that I'm living in my car, so I'll take it."
Ozzy shuffled by, his gait reminiscent of Bernie in the film Weekend at Bernie's.Dan reached out to Ozzy with a dollar.
"He's not signing anything!" said his bodyguard.
"No, no, I just wanted to give him a dollar," said Dan, dejected.
"This doesn't mean there's no rationale for the war. The rationale lies in future history, the history we'll probably never see and might not want to see — the history of a world dealing with an unchecked Hussein five years from now, or 10, to perhaps far more disastrous consequences. The war, then, is a gamble that the unfolding of history from a present which does not include this war would instead include a Hussein who threatens the United States and the world more than this war threatens us now. Such are the ambivalent possibilities of history that render ideology simplistic and foolish."