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My cover is gray. Well, a lovely faded slate blue.

Today while I was signing stock I noticed that one copy was a completely different color. It was BRIGHT blue. The bookstore guy said that that was the one that had been in the window.

How weird! I would have thought it would have got more faded, not brighter. Science is strange…

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This is what it’s like when I do a reading:

“Come on,” Nick said, tugging my arm. He dragged me past the plesiosaur and iguanodon skeletons, and unlocked a stairwell. He prodded the elevator button within. It had one of those old iron grilles, which he shoved aside for entry. He pressed me against the back wall of the box and kissed me.

He has lovely hands. Later, when the people making “missing” posters asked for a detailed description of him, I uselessly went on about his perfect hands.

When the lift went ping at the top floor, he stalked out down a long, dingy hallway. I trotted after him. I’d forgotten that he has an office up in Earth Sciences–but of course he would. It’s a tiny space, nothing more than books and a coffee maker and a desk and a lock on the door, which is enough. We perched on the desk and he pulled my face to his.

I don’t think he meant for much more than petting–he doesn’t seem like someone who would rush anything. But when he unbuttoned my shirt,

[Audience gets nervous. How far will this go?]

I said no. I’m certain I did, but it got muffled in his cheek. So he undid the next button. I shoved his shoulder, hard, and said no again. He was surprised, I think. I was too. I mean, it’s fine to say no to anything, but this was abrupt. He leaned in to kiss me again. I don’t think he deliberately ignored me; I think he was just on a roll. So was I, frankly. I kissed him back, which was disorienting–he had a right to be even more confused. It was all so…

There was this line. I wanted to be on one side of it. I tried to stay there, and haul him back there. But he couldn’t see the line. All he knew was that I was still leaning into him. He kissed me all down my neck, and then lower, down into where my shirt was open from the first two buttons.

[Audience worries further. Will more buttons get undone?!]

It made me crazy, in a good way, and it made me angry, which was strange. I shoved him so hard that he was suddenly standing; I had pushed him off the desk onto his feet. I leaned over the other side of the desk and vomited into his rubbish bin.

[Audience LAUGHS. This unnerved me the first time it happened. It’s not funny, is it? I think it’s relief that they’re not going to have to listen to an all-out sex scene read aloud in public!]

It had papers in it, not crumpled, just all smooth and rounded, clinging to the side of the basket. I vomited in it, and then over it onto the floor.

[Audience inappropriately laughs again.]

The sounds were horrible. I tried to stop. I covered up my mouth but just ended up with stuff on my sleeve.

[Audience inappropriately laughs again.]

Nick put his hand on my back. I elbowed him off. More stuff came out of me. I didn’t think I’d eaten enough for it to go on this long.

When it finally stopped I held still. A minute flipped on his clock, one of those old “digital” clocks that has the numbers on little cards attached to an axle.

Nick said something. I made a noise to cover it up and bolted. I didn’t wait for the elevator, instead I lurched onto the stairs, which I hadn’t realized go on forever. Every corner I turned there was another flight down. I passed the museum level by mistake. Then the ground floor stopped everything.

Through the window in the stairwell door I saw a dozen students gathered, for a club or a meeting. My shirt was still open at the top. I turned to the wall and buttoned it up.

I wanted to brush my teeth. I wanted to change my clothes. I went back up one flight to get my jacket from the window seat in the gem room. On Trumpington Street I started running.

[Once at this point an audience member memorably shouted “Yes!!”]

It’s weird that authors don’t routinely get more info about their book’s distribution. I never asked, so this isn’t a complaint. I just find it funny that I’m making like a detective to figure out what’s going on. My conclusions:

1) The Whole World is getting great treatment in Borders pretty much everywhere: front table for three weeks, and face-out on the shelves after, every store I’ve seen. Thanks, Borders buyer, whoever you are!

2) Barnes and Noble is a bit more hit-or-miss. Some places it was face-out on a new fiction shelf, but not all. I was pretty unnerved, though, to discover that some stores never carried ANY copies. I thought earlier this week that a store had sold out, but it might be that it never had it. Here’s the weird thing, though: one B&N guy looked up The Whole World’s B&N distribution on the computer, and was impressed. So, when I found yet another one that didn’t carry it, I asked about their system. I’d been under the impression that chain stores had their decisions made nationally. But, I learned, that distribution is decided on a community basis, with books chosen specifically for each store. On one hand, I’m disappointed to not be everywhere (especially the California town where I once lived), BUT It’s smart to be targeted, isn’t it. So, upon, reflection, I say: Thanks, B&N buyer, whoever you are, for putting so much thought into finding my audience.

And while I was discovering all this yesterday, two things happened:

I went into a Starbucks for some caffeine, but the line was too long. I figured I could get a drink at the next bookstore instead. As I headed out the door, a man (probably the manager) asked me what drink I wanted. I gestured to the line, and said with a smile that I couldn’t wait (my mom and kids were in the car). He said that he’d get it immediately, what did I want? So I said a single-shot iced mocha, and a girl made it for me. No one in line revolted, which is a huge surprise all by itself. I gave the girl three dollars, but the manager(?) chased me down to return the money. I am neither young and hot, nor old and frail. I have no idea why he bought me a coffee, but it sure was nice!

Then, inexplicably, my shoes fell apart. Seriously: first the left one cracked in half, then the right one, then the right heel fell off. ??? They had elastic straps that held onto my feet despite the damage, and I didn’t dare remove them until I was home and ready to throw them away. Moral of the story: Don’t wear your party shoes to drive–carry them in a bag!

G has taken the boys to the aquarium with friends. I phoned him three times to report:

1) At Borders in Sunnyvale, I learned that today is the day my book is no longer “new.” After three weeks on the front table, it is now shelved in “Fiction and Literature,” presumably not just here but across the country. When we went to find copies for me to sign, we discovered it face-out and eye-level already. We have the pretty cover to thank for that bit of luck.

2) At Barnes and Noble in San Jose, it has sold out. Hope they order more! The man who looked it up for me on the computer seemed pretty impressed by its distribution. That’s good to know–I’m totally in the dark about how many places are carrying it, and in what amounts.

3) I passed by the street my sweetie lived on long ago when we were engaged. I wanted nothing more than to fling open that apartment door, find him there, and make out on the couch.

Dear Book,

Do you see the out-of-character things I do for you? Ironing. Hairspray. Full eye makeup.

You’re welcome.

–me

I just used the men’s room. Oops! (Yes, I got walked in on. No, I didn’t notice a single urinal.)

And, earlier this week, I left a bookstore with my hands full. I had a cake boxed up for a party, and a bag dangling from the fingers holding it, a glass bottle of Coke in my other hand. I needed the caffeine and the cold; I was jet-lagged and we were in the middle of a heat wave.

So I got to my car and had to get the key out of my front jeans pocket. There was no place to put anything down, and I figured I could just slide it out.

I poured that bottle of Coke right into my pocket.

That’s how spacey and hyper and distracted I am.

And I laughed about it immediately. Despite being a mental case right about now, I’m having a great time.

Here I am in the States, so far with 4 events behind me and 19 more to go. I had a little gathering in NYC with people who worked on the book, a book club meeting in Staten Island, my first bookstore event, in my hometown, and then a book party in my college town. It’s been a blast, and my concerns over embarrassing myself have been completely overridden by the warmth of old friends.

That left the other fear: driving.

I had been timid getting my license in the first place. I waited until I was 24, and only got it then because that was the age my sister got hers. Until then I could just say, “Hey, my sister didn’t drive at my age either!” I hated learning to drive. I swore and I cried. But once I got used to it, it was fun. I even drove across the whole US by myself, twelve years ago when we needed to get my car from my single life in Massachusetts to my married life in California. That was a grand trip I wouldn’t trade for anything! (But perhaps in reliving it I’d skip breaking down in Nebraska.)

When we moved to England, our priority had been a home that was walking distance to most of what we’d want to do. Years of California must-drive-everywhere had made me crazy. So, I didn’t *need* to learn to drive in England. And, truth be told, I didn’t want to. It would be starting from scratch all over again; the swearing and crying were just under the surface whenever I contemplated it. It’s not just the “other side of the road.” The signage and symbols and colors are all just slightly different. Roundabouts are my nightmare. The upshot is that I haven’t driven in YEARS.

The way this itinerary worked out, though, I had to get from NJ to Pittsburgh to Ohio to DC on my own. And Amtrak and Greyhound had impossible schedules. We reserved a car rental. I felt the panic rising. I threw some CDs in my suitcase.

On Sunday, my sweetheart dropped me off at Newark Airport’s Hertz. I waited in a long line, then, finally in the car, took a few minutes to try to figure out the seat positioning and how to open the gas tank. I asked the guy at the exit booth how to get to 78. I reminded myself “BeeGees”: B for brakes, G for gas, from left to right in that order. I put my foot down on that right pedal.

Jersey is my home turf. 78 is the highway near my house. It all came back: This is how you drive. This is where you go. And the CD–Chess–was one I hadn’t played in a decade, not since our first child was born. I sang along with the kid-unfriendly lyrics and cranked the volume.

The day before, we’d stayed in my childhood home. I’d taken my kids to get pizza where I used to get pizza, and ice cream where I used to get ice cream. The hairdresser who gave me feathered hair in the 80s blow-dried my hair smooth for my bookstore event. My first grade teacher and high school English teacher and department head of my grad program were all there.

And then I was driving, to my teenage music, which I’d once listened to on tapes in a bulky Walkman.

And I wasn’t afraid of anything.

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."