It so happens that I wound up in Houston on the Monday night that the Texans were playing the Tennessee Titans, which, I gather from the traffic jams on the way to my reading at Brazos Books, was a big game for Houstonites. They lost. I care about that about this much, but I could have done without the gridlock, you sports-obsessed America, you.
Just when I was thinking maybe I should have set up a folding table with a stack of Tinsels in the Reliant Stadium parking lot instead, I edged into the bookstore to find a nice little crowd of 15 or so people – which, according to ever-optimistic Megan (my HMH publicist) is a good size in a town where we got little to no advance media interest. Brazos Books isn’t large, but it’s a cute and interesting store, and there’s a comfy couch and chairs. I put on my gold Burger King Wise Man crown and went to work!
Jeff Trykoski’s brother, Doug, and his wife Traci came to the reading – Traci is very pregnant, due in February; a Trykoski grandchild at last!
Also present was a goodly portion of a writing class from the nearby DeVry University, which was a total surprise, and a welcome one. Their teacher, one LouAnn Gottschalk, thought it would be a good idea to go see an actual writer talk about an actual book. I couldn’t agree more and I enjoyed meeting LouAnn and her students. Also in the audience was Facebook acquaintance Mark Hager. Plus some random readers who, it would seem, were just interested the book and the author. Go figure. (Thanks, LouAnn for the photos!)
Most delightfully, I got to see Janice Welch (nee Kusbel) and her husband, James, and daughter Gabrielle. Janice and I were inseparable back in high school days, but we haven’t actually seen one another in – I added it up – just shy of 20 years. We’d lost track of one another until about 2005, when Janice’s parents saw me on the Today show one morning. So I got to have dinner with them – and meet James and the amazing Gabrielle. (I’ve been an admirer of her Halloween costumes for many years, thanks to Janice’s e-mails and pictures. Once she was Velma from Scooby-Doo, then the next year she was Daphne. This year she was Gene Simmons in full Kiss makeup.) Gabrielle asked me to sign Off Ramp, too, which she is currently reading (she is in fifth grade, people!).
After the reading, James and Gabrielle went home and Janice and I went out for drinks with David Bryce, a friend of mine from the Austin days who is now an attorney in Houston. Do you ever have one of those moments where you’re sitting a table with two people who come from completely different phases of your life? I was worried about being a bridge between them, but I need not have worried: David Bryce is interested in everything and able to talk about anything; so’s Janice! We sat on the porch at a bar called Under the Volcano. Every once in awhile, beneath a top note of another table’s cigarette smoke, I got a tropical whiff of … something, some plant … magnolia? Honeysuckle? I can only describe that smell thusly: New Orleans at night. Whatever grows there grows in Houston.
Tuesday was a long but wonderful day. I got up and drove out to the Houston suburbs to see Janice some more. Gabrielle was at school, but her son, Nathan, was home. I’ve heard a lot about Nathan. He’s autistic. Really autistic. I wasn’t sure what to expect – Janice has devoted her life to teaching and caring for Nathan, who goes to a special one-on-one school for a couple hours of day. When I got there, I was immediately struck by what beautiful and mysterious boy he is. I could have watched them together all day — a mesmerizing mother-son pair. They sit in the morning and work on Nathan’s communication skills. There are moments that are absolutely divine and moments that are tense. This is Janice’s life – and James’s and Gabrielle’s. It’s not only about constantly trying to reach Nathan, but it involves a rigid, completely organic dietary regimen and a household routine where life can only be lived a few minutes at a time.
I wonder if people ever tell Janice that she’s lucky? Because that’s what I felt for her. I know it’s not easy, but he really is one of the most fascinating, handsome and interesting kids I’ve ever seen. And right away I liked Gabrielle, who seems wise beyond her years. For all the unpredictability in their lives, their house is really comfortable and easy to be in. I’m so glad I had time to visit.
But I had to go. Left Janice’s place at 12:30 to drive like Jehu for 3-1/2 hours to get to Dallas and catch a flight home – but found just enough time to have an early dinner at the Black Eyed Pea with Louis and John and my mother. I’m on the plane right now (Tuesday night) as I type this. What a week. I saw miles and miles of Texas and did five readings.
Are you waiting to hear whether or not I’ll be on the CBS Early Show in New York on Black Friday? Well, so am I. After I told everyone about it, the producer who was supposed to call just never got around to it. Lesson learned, I suppose. Maybe I’ll hear about it Wednesday, or maybe they’ll have me on some other morning before Christmas gets here. In any case, our Thanksgiving is in limbo.
Meantime, there’s some more Tinsel press, reviews, radio and TV coming. I’m reading/speaking at the Newseum on Saturday afternoon (Nov. 28) if you want to come out and join the museum crowds. (The Newseum person told me it’s their busiest day of the year.) Something to do with bored relatives!
Also, unless their plan has changed, I think there’s a story about Tinsel on NPR’s All Things Considered on Saturday. We taped it a couple of weeks ago in Tyson’s Corner Center mall. I’ll doublecheck and let the world know.
I get back on a plane Monday morning: Readings next week in Oklahoma City (Dec. 1), Portland (Dec. 4) and Bellingham (Dec. 5). Then it’s Seattle, St. Louis and New York between Dec. 7-14. Go to the home page and click “Hank’s Next Event” if you want the details.