By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Last night, I dreamed about me. I was showering, getting ready to do a reading at Elliott Bay Book Company here in Seattle. I was hurrying, late as usual, but not panicked. In fact, I knew the crowd would wait for me. They’d grow anxious, sure, and maybe a handful of them would leave if I were to be, let’s say, half an hour late. But as I washed my hair, I wondered exactly how long the crowd would wait for me to show.
A few years ago, I took a train to Eugene, Oregon, to do a reading, but the train was delayed. I was 90 minutes late to the reading, but in the meantime, while I was sweating it out on the train, stopped at some switch, the crowd stayed. In fact, some of the audience members stood and read from my books. They decided to read for me until I could arrive to read for myself. Nobody left. That’s what the bookstore employee told me when I finally did arrive.
“Nobody left,” she said. “I can’t believe it. Nobody left.”
She was breathless, amazed, maybe aroused. She was very attractive. I wondered if she’d have sex with me simply based on the fact that nobody in the audience had left. As I shamble through my literary life, I often meet women who’d have sex with me simply based on the fact that I’m good with metaphors. No, that’s not quite it. Women find me attractive because a lot of people have decided I’m good with metaphors. There’s been a consensus reached on my ability with metaphors. Can a consensus serve as an aphrodisiac? I don’t have sex with these strangers, but I do revel in the fact that I could have sex with many of them, dozens of them each and every year.
Still showering, I was now aroused. I’d sexually excited myself based on thinking about how sexually exciting my fans can find me. How narcissistic is that? But then again, doesn’t everybody know that narcissism is an aphrodisiac? I didn’t have time to masturbate, so I quickly finished my shower, got dressed and drove to Elliott Bay Book Company.
Whenever I read locally, fans will often wait outside the bookstore to greet me, to have a few minutes of private time, to give me gifts or tell me secrets or make offers or demand favors. It’s the price to be paid for a public life. I accept it. I’m always polite, but one has to keep moving, keep walking, don’t pause, don’t stop, or you’ll never break free.
However, I was surprised to find that nobody was waiting for me outside the bookstore. No fans. No matter how big my career gets, I also assume it’s going to end the next minute, next hour, next day, next week. Who knew that narcissism and self-pity are such close cousins?
Hurt, confused, I wondered if my fans had deserted me. I walked into the store, saw a few employees — familiar faces — standing behind the registers, and I waved. “The reading is downstairs,” one of them said. What a strange thing for her to say to me. Of course I know the reading is downstairs; I’ve read here 30 times. Maybe she’s just being funny.
So I walked down those gorgeous wooden stairs into the basement of Elliott Bay Book Company and I heard a familiar voice. It’s not that I’ve heard this particular voice before. But I recognize the rhythms, syntax and vocabulary. That’s a reservation Indian man talking. A rez boy. Am I that late? Has the crowd decided to read for me until I arrive to read for myself? Is this Indian guy exaggerating his Indian accent as he reads one of my stories or poems?
I feel honored by it. I wonder if I’ll get a standing ovation when I step into the room. But wait, that guy is reading a new poem of mine. A poem about Jimi Hendrix. How can he be reading that poem? Nobody has that poem. That poem is only in my computer and in the folder of poems I’m holding in my arms. Nobody has seen that poem except me. How did this guy get my poem? Is he some weird computer hacker/poem stealer? Jesus, what’s going on?
And then I turn the corner and see him, the Indian guy onstage. He’s taller than me. His skin is much darker. His black hair is twisted into perfect braids. I’m jealous. I mean, yes, I’m a handsome guy, but the man onstage is gorgeous. He looks far more Indian than I do. Everything about him screams Indian. I feel inadequate in his presence. How am I going to read my poems after he has already read my poems so well? But then he sees me. He stops performing.