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I don’t know what’s worse: the bookstore in another city has the new book, or they don’t. If it’s absent, then you can pretend they sold out – sure, that’s the ticket. But: you’re missing sales because they haven’t restocked. C’mon! Let’s get going! Fly, my monkeys! Of course, “sold out” could mean that someone wandered in and bought all two copies. If they do have the book, then it means it’s not selling. It might as well be bolted to the shelf. The idea that it could be selling like honey-roasted nuts – no, honey-roasted crack-dusted nuts – is a possibility, but, well, let’s be honest. It’s just what it is. It’s not “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” or “The Four Personal Assistants From Your Last Tour You Meet in Hell” or “The Thirty-seven Gas Station Attendants You Meet in Purgatory, All of Whom Have Had to Take a Leak Since 1926” or whatever piece of bathetic slice of pseudo-spiritual is standing atop the charts these days, arms akimbo, shouting in triumph. It’s just a little picture book. The best you can do is find them face out, so the cover shows. It helps. People’s eyes skate over spines, but they linger over covers. For a second, at least.

In Chicago I went to several bookstores to see if I could find it. Borders was the first. They’ve decided that the book belongs in the Home Decorating section instead of the humor ghetto. I found four copies and took them down to the desk at 11:30 PM and asked a clerk if I could put them in the big humor display on the ground floor; the clerk nearly wet himself. I – don’t – know! I don’t have the authority! He looked around with the expression of Peter Lorre cornered in an alley, and I pressed the point. C’mon! There’s a big gaping hole in the humor display. And it’s a new book. You’ll sell ‘em all, I promise. He gave in. Thanks! I said, and I bought a book just to show we were pals.

Downtown at the Michigan Avenue Borders I took advantage of the crowds and moved the book without asking anyone. No one noticed, since the store had the human density of a Soylent Green distribution center. It was worse across the street; millions were streaming in and out of Water Tower Place, which gave me both claustrophobia and agoraphobia, these twin familiar terrors compounded by the idiotic din of some drummers who had set up on the corner for the express purpose of deafening everyone. I shopped for a few hours, resisted the desire to see if the repositioned books had sold, then went back to the hotel.

It was the sort of hotel where the elevator opens and you note that the floor number on the door frame is a trapezoidal sticker commonly found in hardware stores. It was once an apartment building, and as such reminded you how small private spaces used to be; a cot, a hotplate and a pot to piss in. The whole place smelled of cigars – dead cigars, ghost cigars, cigars from Cuban plantations long ago abandoned and paved over to build Soviet missile-launching sites. In an attempt to modernize the place and give it that Hip Boutique Hotel cache they painted the stairwells pink. Put your ear up to the wall and you can feel the building shudder with sobs.

Just as well, since we didn’t spend much time there. It was a wedding weekend, which meant a groom’s dinner, a wedding party, and a brunch, the three Stations of the Cross of holy matrimony. A grand time was had by all at each. The dinner ended, as expected, with half the menfolk dragging the groom off to a bar for One Last Night Of Doing Nothing Unusual – in this case, drinking shots in a bar so loud they had a janitor on duty to swab up the rivers of blood that ran from the patrons’ ears. I have no idea why we put up with this. If we were all sitting around drinking moloko plus, staring at Bog and his angels dancing in the ether, I could understand why the music was designed to pound you into a catatonic state, but most people seemed to be talking. Or trying to. I had a long and detailed political argument with a fine fellow from Chile – it spanned two bars – and the final toll was apparent the next day, when I discovered I had completely blown out my voice shouting over the music. I had a Brando-type Godfather croak until Monday, and to make it worse I knew I hadn't changed a single opinion. Next time I'm just going to play the pan flute and nod to whatever they say.

But before I blew out my voice I went to the Barnes and Noble across the street from the hotel. Humor ghetto: no book. Home decorating section: no book. Damn. A clerk noted my crestfallen aspect, and asked if he could help; I told him what I was looking for, and he guided me to a table – a table! Where the book was on display. It was surrounded by tottering stacks of other new books. Only three copies left.

“It’s been selling really well,” he said. “People have really been saying they like it. And they say it’s a lot like this other book, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, ‘The Gallery of Regrettable Food.’”

Oh, it does not get any better than that. Except maybe it does: I went back the next day. All the copies were gone.

He actually believed me when I finally told him it was my book, too. I think.

This is an unusual week – in addition to working on the next book, and getting this thing out in diminished form each night, AND writing all the other columns (hope you enjoyed yesterday’s brave & controversial Pro-Christmas Backfence; can’t wait to see the pesky mail that one earned) we’ve been stuck at home, since my wife’s car is in the shop, again. Flat tire / bad rim. I haven’t gone anywhere. All day with Gnat, who’s on school break; it’s just like last summer, and I’m enjoying every second. Today we were straightening up my wife’s office, cleaning out old toys Gnat no longer wants, playing games with her twin Swedish sheep (don’t ask) and enjoying the waning day. She wanted me to read her a book. And of course you have to, because 4:10 PM Tuesday December 14 2004 will never come again, and there’s no better way to say hello and goodbye to the moment than to read a story to your daughter.

Then we did triage on old books to see which ones she wanted to keep, which should go. I agreed with all her choices, save one; I remembered reading that one two years ago on just this sort of day, in this room, in this pale winter light. A wonderful tome: Being a Treatese on Triplet European Waterfowl As They Confront the Variegated Manifestations of the Light Spectrum. I slid it out of the give-away pile. It’ll go in the basement. Deep in a box. If she finds it some day, it will be enough to know I kept it; that should say it all. I don’t know who wrote it – I don’t know if books like that are written by anyone, seeing as they’re mostly nouns. But if I read his or her obit some day, I’ll look for the books at the Barnes and Noble. And turn them face out.