NEW YORK 2003. Day two.

Success! I found an immerser! You know what I mean - those water-boiling devices that go against everything your mother ever told you. You plug one end into the socket, and stick the other end in a glass of water. And nothing happens: amazing. I shorted out the entire 7th floor of a Mexican hotel with one of these things; I’m never without one. But I always leave them behind. I always fear they’ll be found in my luggage, spotted by a baggage searcher unschooled in the ways of Immersers, and this will cause me problems. No big loss; they’re six bucks at the store. Or at least they used to be. I can’t find them at the Walgreens now. I forgot to get one at the airport. And so I woke today in pain: 15 dunkable bags of coffee, and nothing to botherate the water.

There’s room service, but not when I’m paying the freight. The room service menu had a $20 breakfast that didn’t just have eggs, but fresh eggs prepared anyway I liked, double-smoked hickory bacon, bisected toasted bread with individually wrapped butters, my choice of coffee or tea. More adjectives that items on the plate, in other words. Having served this meal at one point in my life and charged $1.98 for it, I am not in the mood to fork over a Jackson - plus three-dollar room service fee, and 18% tip. The coffee, I knew, would be a tepid half-pot, the toast cold, the eggs devoid of flavor or moisture. Sorry. And what’s with a room-service fee for room-service? It’s like a dollar surcharge per drink at the bar. Hey, what’s this? “Bar fee.” For what? “I dunno. Cost of runnin’ the bar, I suppose.” Isn’t that supposed to be built into the product? “Look, you gonna pay or do I have to call someone?” Will there be a 37% call fee? Okay, okay, I’ll pay.

Anyway. I hit two drugstores last night; no immersers. But I found one at a Times Square Duane Reede tonight, so I’m happy. (It should tell you something about the ubiquity of the D-R drugstores that I didn’t say the Times Square Duane Reede, but a Times Square Duane Reede.) I was on my own this morning, though. I went across the street to a deli; the cups were so hot I couldn’t carry them more than six feet before I felt my fingerprints start to evaporate. Had to stop, get out something to shield my fingers. All I had in my pocket were some loose dollar bills, so I used those. For some reason it felt rich and irresponsible, like lighting cigars with currency.

Meetings today. Went to the new Random / Crown building up Broadway by the David Letterman theater. Nice place. So new you can still see the suction-cup marks on the windowglass. Met some folks, including the Big Guy who’s head of the entire shop. Met one of the editors who works on some celebrity books. Three shelves, each with one manuscript. Each manuscript had the author’s name on a little tag. The manuscripts were stacked in piles.

I looked at the manuscripts - my stablemates! - and I was suddenly presented with perhaps the best line of the year, if I may be so immodest. You judge. I pointed to the pile and said “As God is my witness, I hope that’s the only time I ever see Heidi Klum under Tom Green.”

Well, I thought it was funny. Off to the important business: lunch with the editor at a steakhouse called Gallaghers. Old New York at its finest. Meat in the window. A walk-in humidor - meatidor? - with gigantic chunks of cow on shelves. PIctures on the wall of dead sportsman and long-dead horses (In some alternate universe where they eat horses, perhaps old manly joints have pictures of cows on the wall). It’s dim enough so you can’t make out any of the images. Doesn’t matter; you get the idea.

When the meat and wine and gossip was done, it was back to the office to talk about the next book beyond “Desecrators.” I had a few ideas, and we were working on what to do first; I excused myself to find the restroom - and on the way back, swear to God, I got The Idea. I mean, THE IDEA. I knew the moment I went back in my editor’s office and said THE IDEA, we were golden. So I said THE IDEA, and bang! / shazaam, he got it. We almost did a little dance on the spot, so perfect was the concept. And no, I’m not telling. The website will be up in 04. That’s all I can say right now, other than this: it’s the perfect synthesis of website, Bleat and Backfence. If all goes well, I’ll be kicking out a book a year, which is what I wanted to do anyway. Three more Institute books for a total of five, then some column compilations - by 2006, I’ll have about 1200 Backfences under my belt, and I think we could glean a column out of those.

Dinner with my agent at Jewel of India, and no I do not want to hear about better Indian restaurants. I like Jewel of India. In fact I love it, and I go there every trip for the vindaloo. It’s now my annual vindaloo. My agent recently moved back to New York from Minnesota, and that’s fine with me. It was nice to have an agent in town, but it’s nicer to have one in the town where they actually sell the books. It never hurt him before; after all, one of his clients recently had a #1 book. Al Franken. Yes, my agent handles Al Franken, and my editor publishes Ann Coulter. It’s a small world. A happy, cheery, everyone’s-a-buddy world.

I’m writing this in the hotel bar, and now it’s time to go upstairs and call home. My least and favorite part of the day. Every ring is ominous: ring one THEY’VE BEEN MURDERED ring two AND DISMEMBERED ring three ALSO THE DOG ring four OHMYGOD THE ANSWERING MACHINE! Then my wife picks up, and my first words are always Whew, I expected the police. Like they’d be sitting around the house waiting for me to call.

The waitress just delivered the bill.

I almost want to stand up and say “do you all know how drunk you all could get for $24 in a Wisconsin tavern? We’re talking seven beers and a personal Tombstone with everything, and change left over for pinball!” But this is New York. You pay for the ambiance.

Tonight’s ambiance: an insistent gong, and the PA announcement that someone has reported a fire on the 50th floor. We’re told to stay where we are.

I just looked around the bar - everyone is waving for the cocktail waitress. Perhaps they do this every night just to goose the lobby-bar revenue.

Well, who am I to prevent the hotel from tipping into insolvency. Might as well stay for a while longer.

Of course, if I wait another half hour, and there’s still no answer at home, I’m really going to freak out. Unless I call from the lobby phones. But my phone card is in my room.

The waitress just returned and asked if I was ready to pay. No! My family’s dead! Ripped to chunks by a murdering burglar! Another Belvedere, stat, while I process this unimaginable horror!

That wasn’t quite how I phrased it, but I think she got the idea. Because now there’s Belvedere #2 on my table. The alarm is still sounding.

Bada ying, bada yang.

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