“I’m able to be what people want me to be when I’m behind the bar or playing music, but I’m not a performer by nature, so it’s not an easy transition. With comics, the joy I feel when I’m drawing comes through.”
Cartoonist Leslie Stein joins the show to celebrate her new book, Time Clock (Fantagraphics)! We talk about her amazing diary comics (recently collected in Bright-Eyed At Midnight), why she picked a really weird name for her ongoing comics project (Eye of the Majestic Creature), the artistic benefits of boredom, finding her style(s), drawing for online vs. print (and color vs. b/w), her strategy for surviving comic cons and festivals, how she got a gig publishing comics at VICE, the disconcerting discovery that she had an audience, and how she strikes a balance of cartooning, being in a band, and tending bar! Give it a listen! And buy her newest books, Time Clock and Bright-Eyed At Midnight (my personal fave of all her work)!
“I’ve been thinking about this one project for five years, and that’s been keeping me from starting it. I feel like it could be amazing or it could be terrible, and I just have to spend a few years on it to figure that out.”
This episode was recorded at the School of Visual Arts, where Leslie studied. Past guest Nathan Fox, chair of the MFA Visual Narrative Department at SVA, offered us a space to record. SVA’s low-residency MFA Visual Narrative Program includes two years online and three summers in NYC. The program focuses on the growing need for original content creators in advertising, video games, picture books, graphic novels, film, comic arts, illustration and animation, and it prepares artists and authors to become innovators in the ever-evolving art of visual storytelling. Now go listen to the show!
“I started diary comics on a whim, which is how I approach everything.”
About our Guest
Leslie Stein is a cartoonist and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the comic book series Eye of the Majestic Creature, as well as the author of Bright-Eyed At Midnight, a collection of diary comics, both published by Fantagraphics Books. She regularly contributes comics to VICE. She plays music with Prince Rupert’s Drops.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission of the artist. The conversation was recorded at the School of Visual Arts on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same setup, inside a closet in Des Allemands, LA. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Stein by me.
“These days, we tend to think of identity as something chosen; we put on certain masks or we identify as this or that, culturally, ethnically or politically. Bellow is interested in something much more basic: who we really are.”
David Mikics joins the show to talk about his wonderful new book, Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art (Norton). We get into Bellow’s legacy, his fall from academic favor, his transmutations of life into art, David’s humorously accidental introduction to his work, what Jewishness meant to Bellow, whether Philip Roth was right when he told Bruce Jay Friedman, “Saul Bellow am de daddy of us all,” and more! Give it a listen! And go read Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art.
“Bellow once said that the reason writers had such messy personal lives is because they didn’t know what to do with the afternoon.”
We also talk about David’s experience as a professor, why writing is harder for today’s students, what it’s like to teach course called, “Is Life Worth Living?” and “The Human Situation”, which science fiction novels warped him as a youth, why we need Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, what contemporary books look like they’ll last, and why he eventually came around on Faulkner. Go listen!
“Canonicity is not where you find it, but where you make it.”
- Rachel Hadas (2014 and 2016)
- Bruce Jay Friedman
- Jules Feiffer
- Harold Bloom
- Langdon Hammer
- Edward Mendelson
- Willard Spiegelman
About our Guest
David Mikics grew up in Carteret, New Jersey and Atlanta. He went to college at NYU and earned a Ph.D. at Yale. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife Victoria and son Ariel, and teaches every year at the University of Houston, where he is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English. He is the author of six books, including Slow Reading in a Hurried Age (Belknap/Harvard) and Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art (Norton), and is a columnist at Tablet magazine.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at David’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. Intro was recorded on the same setup. Photo of Mr. Mikics by me.
“What would young, pre-Trainspotting Irvine Welsh think of you now?”
“He’d think I was a total wanker.”
Irvine Welsh has created unforgettable characters in his novels, beginning with the cast of Trainspotting in 1993. We caught up in his Chicago home and talked about writing, boxing, the art world, the White Sox, the creative flourish that’s seen him publish three novels in four years, the perils of success and exhausting your autobiography, the periods of life he’s interested in writing about, his first meeting with Iggy Pop, his childhood and the school-days’ balance of being a reader and being a jock, the narcissism of online living, Trainspotting over the years, Edinburgh’s failed gentrification, the ways that America’s friendlier than Scotland, and more! Give it a listen!
“I think it’s good for me as a writer not to be hanging out with writers all the time.”
We also talk about his critique of global capitalism, the problems with permanent austerity, American and UK tabloid culture, standing up David Bowie (twice), returning to Ulysses every few years, the ways William S. Burroughs helps rewire his brain, and the great anonymous allure of the first-time novelist.
“Instagram is like Methodone to Twitter’s heroin”
Then Dmitry Samarov rejoins the show to talk about his memoir-in-progress, his paintings, his latest readings, and his decision to jump off the social network treadmill. This episode also includes my justification for being a New York Yankees fan, as well as my problematic relationship with superhero comics. Give it a listen!
We mention quite a few books in this episode. Here’s they are:
- Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
- Glue – Irvine Welsh
- Marabou Stork Nightmares – Irvine Welsh
- Filth – Irvine Welsh
- The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins – Irvine Welsh
- The Complete Richard Allen, Vol. 1: Skinhead, Suedehead, Skinhead Escapes – Richard Allen
- A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
- How Late It Was, How Late – James Kelman
- The Busconductor Hines – James Kelman
- Jernigan – David Gates
- Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America – Jill Leovy
- The Letters of Ivor Punch – Colin Mcintyre
- Ulysses – James Joyce
- Cities of the Red Night – William S. Burroughs
- Where To?: A Hack Memoir – Dmitry Samarov
- Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab – Dmitry Samarov
- Experience: A Memoir – Martin Amis
- A Childhood: The Biography of a Place – Harry Crews
- Ask the Dust – John Fante
- Fante: A Family’s Legacy of Writing, Drinking and Surviving – Don Fante
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon
- Forest of Fortune – Jim Ruland
- Streets in Their Own Ink: Poems – Stuart Dybek
- The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis – Lydia Davis
- Can’t and Won’t: Stories – Lydia Davis
About our Guests
Irvine Welsh is the author of Trainspotting, Ecstasy, Filth (adapted for film in 2013), Glue, and Crime, among other works. His latest novel is A Decent Ride. Welsh is also producing movies and writing screenplays. A native of Edinburgh, he lives in Chicago and Miami. You can find a more extensive bio at his website.
Dmitry Samarov was born in Moscow, USSR, in 1970. He emigrated to the United States with his family in 1978. He got in trouble in first grade for doodling on his Lenin Red Star pin and hasn’t stopped doodling since. He graduated with a BFA in painting at printmaking from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993. Upon graduation he promptly began driving a cab — first in Boston, then after a time, in Chicago. He is the author of two books, Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab, and Where To?: A Hack Memoir. Go check out his paintings, and maybe buy some.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald. The conversations were recorded in the homes of Irvine Welsh and Dmitry Samarov on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on the same equipment in a hotel room in Washington, DC. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro.
“The biggest thing I learned editing The Getaway Car is that a working writer’s work is never done.”
Let’s kick off 2015 with a podcast about one of the 20th century’s great America writers, Donald Westlake! Our guest, Levi Stahl, is the editor of The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany (University of Chicago Press). We talk about his history with Westlake’s crime novels, why Parker is Westlake’s greatest achievement, why the author wrote under so many pseudonyms, what it was like to be a working writer and how that concept may not exist nowadays, and what Westlake project he’d love to bring into print.
We also talk about Levi’s day job as publicity manager for U of Chicago Press, his advice for people looking to get into publishing, why he loves twitter, how the internet has helped and hurt book criticism, what makes him put a book down, what he’s learned about book marketing over the years, his favorite menswear store in NYC, how he can support both the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs, and more! Give it a listen!
About our Guest
Levi Stahl is the publicity manager for the University of Chicago Press. He has served as the poetry editor for the Quarterly Conversation, and has written for the Poetry Foundation, the Chicago Reader, the Second Pass, the Bloomsbury Review, the Front Table, the New-York Ghost, the New York Moon, and McSweeneys Internet Tendency. He tweets at @levistahl
Credits: This episode’s music is Life of Crime by The Triffids. The conversation was recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Stahl by me.
Library of America was having a 20% off sale a few weeks ago. Also, they discount the books on their site AND they’re a non-profit doing the Lord’s work, so I kinda splurged.
If necessary, I can explain myself:
- Thoreau – Walden – I never read it, and there’s a seminar on it this May at St. John’s College.
- Dos Passos – USA trilogy – I never read it and who knows?
- Saul Bellow – They were selling all 4 collections of Saul Bellow’s novels as a group for $115 (before the 20% discount), and I figured I need to add more heft to my 20th century Jewish writers shelf, alongside Philip Roth, Bruce Jay Friedman, Bernard Malamud, Joseph Heller and James Salter (nee Horowitz).
- Susan Sontag – Essays of the 1960s & 70s – I never read her, and really have to correct that.
- Philip Roth – Nemeses (novels 2006-2010) – I own these books separately, but I have the rest of the Roth L.O.A. collections, and I’m a completist.
- Writing Los Angeles: A Literary Anthology – it was only $9.95, and I’m now interested in LA after a my trips there this year.
Why don’t you come by and check out the library sometime? And go buy some books from the Library of America!
“You would be surprised at the level of craziness and hostility that exists in the literary world if you share a different opinion than somebody.”
Last week’s guest was quintessential bookman Michael Dirda, and this time around we have Jessa Crispin, founder of Bookslut! Ms. Crispin recently stepped down from blogging at Bookslut after a 12-year run, which is like 500 years in internet-time. We talked about that decision, the advice she’d give her 23-year-old self, the downsides of learning to write online, why lack of ambition was key to Bookslut’s success, her take on the state of book reviewing, her upcoming book, The Dead Ladies Project (2015, from University of Chicago Press), how she learned to love Henry James while nursing a breakup, and more!
“It’s been my experience that in your hour of need, the book that you need to read will find you.”
We also discuss how she escaped the Outrage Machine by moving to Berlin, how she pared her library down to 17 books, why joining the National Book Critics Circle was her biggest mistake during the Bookslut era, why Belgrade was her least favorite city to visit, and why she’s more afraid of reading her blog archives than her old margin notes. Bonus: I accidentally mix up William Safire and William Buckley!
“It isn’t the case of ‘I’m only going to review the nice things’; it’s more the case that I can cultivate the world that I want to live in. I can invite people in rather than constantly defend the gates.”
About our Guest
Jessa Crispin is the editor and founder of the literary magazines Bookslut.com and Spoliamag.com. Her first book, The Dead Ladies Project, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, fall 2015. Born in Kansas, she has lived in Texas, Ireland, Chicago, and Germany. She has written for many publications, some of which are still in business. Her personal library currently resides in Berlin.
Credits: This episode’s music is No More Words by Berlin (see, because Jessa isn’t writing any more blog posts for Bookslut and she moved to Berlin a while back, and — oh, never mind). The conversation was recorded at a housesit in Brooklyn on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Crispin by me.
[This is the fourth in a series of long-ass rambling posts about my travels in Chicago and Toronto from May 3-9. Part 1 is over here and part 2 is over there. Now, where did I put part 3? Oh, it’s right here!]
Where were we? Oh, yeah: I had gone to bed at midnight, head pounding, anticipating a hangover to rival Informex in Las Vegas 2004. That time, my publisher, a sales-pal of his, and I started drinking sangria around 4 p.m. when the show ended, and kept going until around 11. That was the time I discovered you could be hungover while still drinking. The cab-ride to the airport the next morning was no doubleplusungood. However, the early-morning flight back to Newark was filled with TV executives, and they were all coke-burnouts, so my omnipresent sunglasses and greenish pallor went unremarked.
This time around? Sure, I’d taken the ibuprofen & Gatorade combo that served me in pretty good stead back in grad school, but I didn’t have high hopes.
And then I opened my eyes at 6 a.m. and felt perfectly fine. I was puzzled. I immediately ran my hangover-diagnostic, rolling my eyes up, down, left and right, waiting for the brain-crippling pain to strike. But it never came. I cautiously got out of bed, expecting to find that
- I was still drunk and couldn’t stand up straight,
- I was dead and that a bright white light was going to stream through the door of the hotel room and take me to that great mall in the sky, or
- I’d crapped the bed.
Astonishingly, it turned out to be none of the above. A miracle had transpired, right there in my overpriced hotel room in Chicago! I’ve long sworn by the notion high-end gins as being less damaging to one’s health than a Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray, but the two Hendrick’s at dinner were pretty sizable and (for me) quickly consumed. I didn’t recall pacing the North Shore & tonic over any appreciable length of time. And I’d neglected to mention the beers earlier at the conference, a couple of Sam Adams bottles courtesy of the nearby Massachusetts pavilion, because I didn’t want you to think ill of me.
With relative vigor, I strode into the bathroom and peed for about five minutes straight, during which time I checked my iPhone, which I’d left charging on the counter. It was there that I’d received the bad news to counter my awesome start to the day.
My pal Tom, who was planning to join us in Toronto for the weekend, had to cancel his trip. His mom (and travel partner for this junket) had taken ill the night before the flight to Canada, and he could neither compel her to risk her life on a plane or abandon her, what with it being Mother’s Day weekend and him being a decent human being. Beyond my worries about his mom’s health, this bummed me out because I was hoping to spend some time shooting the breeze with Tom during the trip. Also, he was supposed to moderate an all-star panel of cartoonists at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival during the weekend, and I knew how much he was looking forward to that. And then there was the panel we were supposed to moderate together . . .
He’d e-mailed 40 minutes earlier with the bad news and asked me to call. It was 4 a.m. local time for him, but I followed his orders. He told me that his mom had been able to rest once Tom had convinced her that she wasn’t “ruining everything” by getting sick. I’m sure the anxiety over a canceled trip exacerbated the health problems she was having. Tom was sad about having to miss TCAF, as well as dining & conversation with me and Amy.
A week earlier, he asked me if I’d be interested in co-moderating a panel with him during the festival. It would consist of the two of us interviewing one of my favorite cartoonists, Roger Langridge. Tom figured that I could focus on Roger’s earlier “alternative” work, while he would tackle Roger’s most recent project, an ongoing comics adaptation of The Muppet Show. I was thrilled to have been invited, but by the end of our conversation this morning, I had volunteered to conduct the interview solo. It’s funny how these things happen. Once we were off the phone, I wrote down in my notebook, “Pick up Langridge books!” I was only going to be home for about 10 hours between flights, and would likely forget something important; I’d need to read through some of Roger’s comics to put together some good questions for him.
Meanwhile, I still had another day of BIO ahead of me! The only appointment on my calendar had fortunately rescheduled from an 8 a.m. breakfast conversation to a 1 p.m. stop at my booth. Hungover or not, I was happy not to have a conversation about bio-manufacturing market issues before I’d metabolized my morning coffee.
Also, it’d give my skin time to settle down. Between the harsh soap of hotel sheets and pillowcases, and the need to shave every morning (I usually go 2 days between shaves), my face can get pretty scratchy and irritated in the morning. There are many little aspects of business travel that make it a pain.
So I packed, cleaned up, put on “final day” clothes â€” suit-jacket, dress shirt and tie and khakis, rather than a full suit â€” and headed out for the show. The stop for the shuttle-bus was gone, as our corner of E. Illinois St. was blocked off for some sort of Top Chef competition and taping. A cardboard cutout of Padma Lakshmi leaned against a production truck. I wondered if I could get it onto the airplane that evening. The new stop turned out to be around the block, and I shared the trip with another pal from the same Belfast-based company. His accent is easier for me to understand than Philip’s, but he’s a quiet-talker, so I was back at square one.
For some reason, the conference organizers had decided that the final day of BIO should run a full 9:00-5:00 schedule, a bizarre move considering that
- shows always have shorter hours on the final day, because that day is slower than molasses and it’s ridiculous to make exhibitors stand around with no one to see for 8 hours, and
- this would result in hundreds â€” if not thousands â€” of people streaming out to cabs and airport shuttles during Chicago rush hour.
My flight home was 7:15, and I already anticipated that I would have to get out of a traffic-stranded cab, grab my suitcase, and start running down the highway to get to O’Hare in time. Fortunately, my boss realized that it was a little unfair to have me on setup and teardown duty with my mini-vacation schedule. He paid the show organizers to take down the pop-up, pack it, and ship it back to us. This meant I could bolt by 3:30 or 4:00. I was relieved.
“It’s a pity you didn’t come to dinner with us last night,” my boss said. We nicknamed him Captain Zagat because of his devotion to finding great restaurants wherever we go.
“Where’d you eat?”
“We went for Italian,” he said. I looked puzzled; what with him being a goombah from NJ and all, I didn’t think he’d bother with Italian anywhere but home. “Yeah, yeah, I know. This is probably the first Italian restaurant I’ve gone to west of New York. But it was amazing! The only problem happened at the end. . .”
The dinner party was just my boss, my sales director, and my associate editor. The latter two headed off for the ladies’ room while Cap’n Z. settled the bill. The owner came by the table to talk to him, and he told her how this was one of the finest Italian meals he’d ever had. She chatted with him for a second, then suddenly ran away from the table.
He wondered what he’d said to cause that reaction. Then she came running back, carrying a glass of water from a nearby table. Apparently, when my sales director had gotten up, she’d tossed her cloth napkin on the table and it landed on a candle. The owner was able to douse it before the fire spread, but my team was pretty embarrassed.
I was glad I went with My Dinner With Sid instead.
As is my wont, I meandered around the exhibit hall on and off throughout the day. Most of my advertiser pals were happy to shoot the breeze, since most attendees had already blown town. I was trading travel plans with a pal of mine. He was headed back to the Pacific Northwest the next day, so I gave him the location of the lounge I hit the night before, along with the name of that amazing gin.
I told him, “At some point, I thought it was smart to get a flight home that lands at 10:30 p.m., then get a flight at 11 a.m. the next morning for Toronto.”
“You’re dumber than you look,” he remarked.
His new CEO, a smooth businessman near my age, was in earshot, and asked, “Why are you visiting Toronto?”
I thought for a moment about how to answer this. I could’ve just gone with, “I have family and friends up there, and my wife loves the restaurants.” After all, this guy represented one of our major advertisers, and I didn’t know him well enough to judge how he’d react to finding out the editor of one of the major pharma B2B magazines is also an indie-comic geek.
On a whim, I said, “There’s a comics and cartooning festival going on up there, and I’m moderating a panel.”
He brightened. “Really? There’s a fantastic comic store in Toronto that you have to visit!” he exclaimed.
I was flabbergasted, but was able to say, “You mean The Beguiling?”
“No, no! That’s good, too, but you have to get to The Silver Snail! It’s on Queen Street! It’s amazing!”
I told him I’d check it out, depending on how much time I had. He was heading out from the show, shook my hand, and left.
My pal stared at me, and said, “I don’t believe that just happened.”
“Neither do I! He likes comics?”
“Dude. That’s so bizarre.” He gathered up a few coworkers to tell them about the exchange, and all of them were incredulous. Between that and the discovery that my pal Sid went to college with my future sister-in-law, this trip sure kept me on my toes.
My 1:00 p.m. appointment rescheduled for 3:00 and, while it went well, we were often interrupted by the noise of people tearing velcro displays down, or sealing boxes with packing tape.
Around 3:30 the marketing director asked, “What time are you heading out?”
“As soon as we’re done talking,” I told her.
“Oh, my gosh!” said the VP of business development. “Why don’t you head out? We’ll talk more once we’re back in the office!” We traded cards and they left for their booth.
Here are the two biggest lessons I’ve learned in my <gasp!> 15 years covering trade shows for business magazines:
- wear comfortable shoes
- keep outgoing cards in one pocket, incoming cards in the other
The first is pretty obvious: you’re spending hours and hours walking through a lightly carpeted convention center hall. The second? Think of how dopey you look when you hand someone your card and then realize it’s another person’s card. You end up fumbling through a stack of jumbled cards, trying to find one of yours. It’s unprofessional and easily preventable: just keep your cards in one pocket, other people’s cards in the other. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
(Note: you could go with a fancy-looking card holder, but nobody trusts someone who uses one of those.)
Around 3:45, I closed up the booth, putting the remaining magazines out on the table, and headed for the cab stand. There was no line, which worried me. As it turned out, that was because every single person at BIO was already in a cab on the way to O’Hare. Seriously, the traffic was insane. I marveled at the idiocy of stretching the last day to 5:00 p.m., and was thankful that I wasn’t going to be there for it.
The 20-mile drive to O’Hare took more than hour. I put on my iPod, listened to The National, in anticipation of their new record, and watched the scenery, such as it was. The only noteworthy sight (well, the only thing I can recall) was a strange billboard for the Chicago Cubs:
It’s not opening day.
It’s opening year.
Year One? Eek! Apparently Pinella was overthrown by Pol Pot, the Cubbies are playing at Wrigley Killing Field and Carl Zambrano’s stint “in the bullpen” is just another version of the re-education camps. I can’t imagine what they’d do to Steve Bartman.
Anyway, the airport was uneventful. When I checked in at an e-kiosk, I was offered $200 to defer my flight till next morning. For a split-second, I thought, “I could change tomorrow’s ticket on Porter to a Midway-to-Toronto, and Amy could drive herself to Newark in the morning.” Then I thought, “Only if they add a zero or two to that offer.” They didn’t, so i spent some time in the Red Carpet Club (United’s version of the President’s Club), saw the news about some wild stock market gyrations, read some of that Mitchum biography, continued to marvel over my lack of a hangover, and chose not to tempt fate by having a Hendrick’s & tonic at the club bar.
I got in to EWR safe and sound, hit the ground running (well, relaxedly strolling) and walked in the door at home at 11:30 p.m., greeted by wife and tail-wagging, face-licking doggies, the latter of whom had no idea I was going to be out the door 10 hours later.
Next: Ame and Squalor Victoria
Before heading over to the McCormick Center for the second day of BIO, I made plans for dinner with my old pal Sid. We’d gone to the Graduate Institute at St. John’s College around the same time (I was 1993-95, and he was 1994-96). He’d seen my White Sox post on Monday (oh, and I forgot to mention: The national anthem at that game? That was sung by The Maytag Repair Man) and dropped me a line. We hadn’t seen each other in 15 years, so I was looking forward to catching up. I’ve been working pretty hard lately at not Doing All The Talking; I wondered how that would work out.
Meanwhile, if it’s Wednesday, then this must be Singapore! I had a 10 a.m. appointment with the Singapore delegation, which wanted to talk about the city-state’s biomedical initiatives and how I might be able to develop some good articles about the place. The three Singaporean representatives talked for a bit about the history of their home, the generational trends â€” founding generation was concerned with survival, second generation with building a middle class, third generation with entrepreneurialism â€” and the importance of moving from services to innovation. We were later joined by an American who was working for the group, and he gave me some western perspective on the business and social atmosphere. “You can get a green card there in two weeks! I’m not kidding!” he told me.
When the PR people for Singapore first contacted me six weeks ago, I had to do my standard check on far eastern countries that want publicity: do they hate Israel? A few years ago, I wrote about how Malaysia wanted to meet with me at BIO, and how that country’s stance against Israel â€” as in, it doesn’t and shouldn’t exist â€” put them on my “no fly” list. Singapore, it turns out, was quite the opposite; Israel was one of the first countries to recognize its independence, and the IDF may have helped Singapore build its army.
The conversation went well, concluding with an open-ended invitation to visit (on their dime, I think). I’m sure any such visit would end in my making an inadvertent transgression that leads to a judicial caning, but we’ll see.
From there, I hustled over to one of our advertisers. They had a new marketing team in place and wanted to talk with me about the state of their industry and their company’s place within it. That was an interesting conversation, because I thought the company had engaged in a flawed expansion strategy in the early part of the decade. It had gone through awful struggles based on one major acquisition gone wrong (c.2004), but even before that, I suspected the company was a house of cards.
We bickered a bit on disproving a negative â€” would the company have fallen into trouble without that big acquisition? â€” then moved on to the question about the viability of trade shows. Neither the new marketing director nor I knew if it made sense for companies like his to attend big trade shows (like BIO) anymore. For the past few years, we’d all seen attendance drop at the major events, and I’m convinced it’s only partly because of the economic slowdown. Companies exhibit at these shows to meet leads and try to develop new business, as well as to catch up with existing clients, keep up a presence, and otherwise keep abreast of industry happenings.
Some argue that, even though attendance at the major shows is down, but that the quality of the attendees is up. That is, the people who are attending are the real decision-makers, so you’re getting your money’s worth out of exhibiting. Others disagree and have withdrawn from a few major trade shows in recent years, which can have a domino effect: “If [X] isn’t there, then it must not be a major event anymore, and we shouldn’t be there either.”
I’m lucky, inasmuch as my presence at trade shows is for not-directly-commercial purposes. I’m there to make contacts, trade info, get story ideas, and keep up with our advertisers. Whenever anyone asks me, “How’s the show going?”, I tell them, “I’m not selling anything, so it’s going just fine!” Of course, we’re all selling something.
But it raises the question of where these contract service providers are supposed to make new leads, if not at trade shows. Print and online advertising are important, but the serendipity of an attendee walking by a booth and realizing, “Hmm, [company x] may be able to handle that assignment we need done,” is irreplaceable.Â At our own annual show, a much smaller affair than these multi-thousand attendee events (we have 140 exhibitors and around 350-400 attendees, depending on how good a lineup of speakers I come up with), we’ve had exhibitors tell us, “I wish we could pull out of [major show x] and just exhibit at your event. We get more leads here in one day than we do in three days there.”
So companies are re-assessing where they’ll exhibit and which shows deliver the attendee base they’re looking for, since attendance is suffering everywhere. More to the point, they’re trying to develop new models for how they make connections.
Which brings me to my evening with Sid.
I caught the shuttle back from BIO around 5:30 (no Uganda Limited this time), cleaned up, and went for a walk around the neighborhood. There was a used bookstore nearby, so I stopped in to, well, walk around a used bookstore. You know what I’m like.
I was hoping to find a present for Sid on the shelves, but they didn’t have any of my faves on hand. So I headed back to the lobby of my hotel, read Robert Mitchum’s biography on the Kindle app on my phone, and waited for my pal.
A few months ago, Sid’s Facebook status mentioned that he was staying in a hotel about 15 miles from my house in NJ for a corporate event. He was busy the whole time, so we couldn’t meet up. I was left to ponder what sort of company books national events in suburban NJ, only 10 miles away from New York. A quick look at his FB profile before our dinner in Chicago, and I discovered that he worked for a wine company that’s based in Fair Lawn, NJ: question answered.
So, about Sid: when we met at St. John’s, I thought he was older than me (I was 23-24). He worked as a cook at Harry Brown’s, a bar & grill in town, and it seemed like a more grown-up job than my gig as a GED/literacy teacher for state highway workers. Also, Sid was pals with another new grad student, Miguel, who was 8 or 9 years older than me. It turns out that he was a year younger than me, graduating college in 1994. He felt like a contemporary this time around, esp. since we’re both recently(ish) married, no kids, and too smart for our own good.
This is what we looked like in 1995, when we went to Miguel’s wedding. Sid’s the guy in the middle. In my memory, the guy on the right looks like Tim Kazurinsky. Now I realize he was actually Mark Mothersbaugh.Â I’m the guy who looks like he has AIDS:
Sid’s job means he’s in deep with the booze & hospitality biz, I think. At least, I assume that’s why the manager of the hip restaurant he took us to came over to say hello and shoot the breeze for a bit. We tripled down on tuna dishes for appetizers and entrees, then spent dinner catching up on the past 15 years, trading stories about our hometowns (it turns out his little Pennsylvania town has an analog to my town’s Jackson-Whites), lamenting the lack of St. John’s-style conversation in our lives, explaining our jobs, and not explicitly wondering how we got here. Oh, and in a wonder of retcon, it turned out that he went to college with my sister-in-law as well as the daughter of Chip Delany, one of the authors I used to publish. Small world.
I was burned out from the day at BIO, and my Hendrick’s & tonic got to me a little early. In addition, we were eating on a sidewalk patio, and the dropping temps and breeze made me a lilttle shuddery and headachey. I was hoping it didn’t show, and it did help me with my Not Doing All The Talking.
That said, I really enjoyed the conversation that evening. It was good to get away from BIO for a bit, even if my coworkers were disappointed that I didn’t join them for dinner that night (they hadn’t told me about any dinner plans until I mentioned that I was going out with an old pal; we don’t always disseminate information well, which is sad inasmuch as it’s only a four-person team). I was happy to hear someone’s stories and just talk about our lives and our respective mid-life crises. I’m not going to go into depth recounting everything, because so much of it was just an easy back-and-forth between a couple of guys closing in on 40, with no need to impress each other. I haven’t even described what he looks like now, I realize. Here you go: big white guy (not fat, particularly), shaved head, goatee, wearing a brown seersucker jacket with a light plaid shirt underneath. At first I was concerned at the conflicting patterns, but they grew on me as the evening progressed.
As we finished our ahi burgers, Sid asked, “You wanna have one more G&T and then get a drink at this place I know?”
The equation flashed through my head:
2 G&Ts at dinner
1 more drink at a lounge/speakeasy/den of iniquity (at a minimum)
blown-out hangover the next day.
“Sure!” I said, thinking about how horrible Thursday’s flight home (and possibly Friday’s flight to Toronto) would be. But seriously, I don’t have a drinking problem.
We talked more as I polished off my Hendrick’s. He was embarrassed when I asked him what he’s been reading. I realized that Sid reads this blog and my literary ramblings probably make it sound like I’m always reading snooty-ass highbrow books. I assured him that Robert Mitchum’s bio wasn’t exactly St. John’s fare, and that most of the fun/light stuff I read is online, not in book form, so it doesn’t always make it onto the blog.
He told me he was reading Bill Bryson lately, about whom I’ve heard good stuff. Yet another author on my list. Sigh.
Over my protests, Sid took the bill for the meal, and took me on to The Drawing Room, a gorgeous underground lounge in the Gold Coast neighborhood.Â During our walk from the car to the lounge (Sid had only had a single beer over dinner), he regaled me with stories of municipal corruption in Chicago. I countered with, “In Bloomberg’s New York, any of his moneyed pals can build anything they want . . . except for a new building at Ground Zero, where no one can make any progress!”
We were seated at a corner to each other, with a square pillar between us, so that we both had to sit at an angle to see/talk to each other. Must be why they call it “hip.”
When I mentioned that Sid reads this blog, I should have pointed out that he pays particular attention to my gin-related posts, like Geneva Conventional a few weeks ago. In fact, he apologized at dinner that the restaurant didn’t serve my snooty Q-Tonic.
Our waiter brought over drink menus, and I asked what gins they had available. He named several of my high-end faves, then mentioned a local one called North Shore, which Sid had mentioned to me earlier in the evening. I asked what tonic they served.
“We make our own tonic in house,” the waiter said.
I nodded slowly. I could feel Sid’s grin through the pillar. “Uh-huh. I’ll have a North Shore and tonic, please.”
Sid, valiantly drinking lightly in order to not DWI, said under his breath, “champagnecocktailforme.”
The waiter walked off and, despite my pounding headache and slight nausea, I asked Sid, “You sure you don’t want a cranberry juice with that, you pussy?”
And it was back to old times, except I’m more fun now than I was then, or so I like to believe. He regaled me with stories about our pal Miguel, and their hijinks at work and in class.Â The waiter returned with our drinks, which were accompanied by a pair of narrow, frosted shot glasses. “The bartender would like to offer you a complementary Aviation,” he told us, gesturing at the shots.
I’d wanted to try one of these for a while, thanks to my wife’s pal Claudia, who loves the things. The problem is, two of the ingredients â€” maraschino liqueur and creme de violette â€” would never find any use in our house, and we’d be stuck buying two $25+ bottles for a single drink, so I’d never tried one.
I sampled (drank) the Aviation and concluded that we could probably stand to have more maraschino and violette in our diets.
Then I turned my attention to the gin & tonic. “No lime?” I said to Sid.
“It doesn’t need it.”
I held the glass below my nose and inhaled, trying to parse some of the botanicals. Its yellow tint implied saffron, but there was a weird spice-mix below the dominant juniper notes that added to the mystery. Good to know that, even headache-wracked, I could try to bring a discriminating palette to my booze.
I took a draw from the glass, eyes closed. “. . . Cinnamon?” I said
“Isn’t it great?” Sid asked.
“This may be the greatest G&T I’ve ever had,” I told him.
Hangover be damned. I marveled over the subtle warmth of the gin, how superior it was to the chilly florals and cucumber notes in the Hendrick’s I’d drunk an hour earlier. My only regret was that I would associate this drink with That BIO Show Where I Was Totally Wrecked On The Last Day. (Like that Interphex in 2005, except without the blackout.)
After the drink, we headed out. Sid was a good sport about my maunderings; I think I belabored the point about how he should get down to Decatur to visit our friends Miguel & Joy, because you never know what’s going to happen in this world. At some point,Â I asked him if he’s happy, which is something I like to ask old pals when we catch up. Not out of any preciosity, but just to find out how they’re doing in the all-important happiness scale. He said, “I’m around 85%. That sounds about right.”
On the drive back to my hotel, Sid mentioned a post I’d linked to a while back, about an Archie comic where Jughead becomes a punk-rocker. He told me that he and his brother were huge comic readers in their youth, and he remembered that issue backward and forward. Again, it struck me as funny that the Sid I knew at St. John’s was That Older Guy Who Works At The Bar, but in reality we were awfully similar people, except that it, um, never occurred to me to get a real job in order to be able to afford things. Outside of that, we were more alike than I imagined, right down to our shared affinity for Ambush Bug.
Sid dropped me at the corner and I made him promise that next time his company brought him out to Fair Lawn, he would spare some time to have a meal at our place, meet the wife and doggies, and otherwise let me reciprocate his hospitality.
As he drove away, I looked at the entrance of my hotel, teetered on the sidewalk, and decided to cross the street and hit up Walgreen’s for some Gatorade and ibuprofen. It was my hangover remedy at St. John’s and, while I was likely too far gone for it to matter, I decided to give it a shot for old time’s sake.
Back in my room, it occurred to me that meeting up with Sid was of a piece with the earlier conversation about trade shows. Sure, we were lucky that we’d managed to cross paths, but we also had the infrastructure in place to “make our own luck,” in the form of Facebook. Without it, this reunion wouldn’t have happened.
Just around midnight, I finished off the last of the 20-oz. Gatorade, turned out the lights, and went to bed.
Next: The Miracle