‘Cause it’s the gift that’ll live and live …
Is it a book tour or just a long nostalgia trip? And is it my own nostalgia, or some longer epic nostalgia trip that anticipates the demise of the printed word? Yikes! In any case, strap in…
About once a week I have a vivid dream that takes place in Oklahoma City, where I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life. Sometimes it involves one of the malls (Quail Springs, or Penn Square before it had a roof, or Shepherd Mall before it emptied out). Sometimes it involves downtown, or the Murrah building. Once in a while, the fully or partially-lit neon Charcoal Oven drive-in sign goes whizzing by, usually during a chase scene. A lot of times the dream involves McGuinness High School. (Diploma revoked! Back to class, Stuever!) Many times I’ve dreamt about Lake Hefner and floods. (Floods are supposed to be significant dream symbols, but I think it means nothing more than the bladder telling the dreaming mind to get up and go pee.)
Almost always in these dreams, the sun has just set and I can see, on the eastern horizon, the row of televsion and radio transmitter towers with their red lights blinking on and off. To me, the towers at night are the most poetic image of my Oklahoma, but maybe they’re something people here don’t think twice about, since they’re always there. I think the towers look like a piece of sublime installation art. Naturally, I can’t find a single image of them online to show you. (Michael Wichita — get out here.) They make a cameo (and copyrighted) appearance here, in a storm-chaser/lightning-fetish web site of some sort. If you have any pictures of the radio/TV towers of OKC at night, send em my way. They are for me like Gatsby’s green light across the lake.
So, another image instead: what if I crib someone’s Flickr photo of the OKC skyline at Christmastime? Not the same effect as the radio towers, but home all the same …
Maybe once a year, for one reason or another (class reunion, funeral) I actually GO to Oklahoma City. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been gone longer (23 years) than I lived here, because the place is still very much with me. I got here Monday night — drove up I-35 from D/FW airport, and saw the skyline customarily aglow with keep-the-Christ-in-Christmas crosses — and had dinner at my Aunt Linda and Uncle Marvin’s new house in Edmond. (The Frisco, Texas, of OKC!) My mother — she’s become such a Tinsel groupie! — was here from Wichita, with cousin Jane.
I read and signed books Tuesday night at Full Circle bookstore in 50 Penn Place. This is a fantastic, long-lasting indie bookstore right in the heart of town. It has tall shelves and lots of nooks and crannies and fireplaces ablaze. I have many people to thank for the reading — Kit Mauldin and the Full Circle staff, and also Carol Cole-Frowe, who organized a little happy hour for the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which helped draw a crowd. Plenty of familiar faces turned out for the reading — some I haven’t seen since I read Off Ramp here in 2004 (Janet Martin, the Martines, the Eggers) and some I haven’t seen since the 1980s (Kathy Judge! Jennifer Lindsey McClintock! Erin Glasgow!) and some I haven’t seen since the last class reunion. Mary (Heffron) Ramsey was there too, with her totally adorbs tyke named Joe.
Also Lou Berney was there. Ah, Lou, we meet at last. It’s downright bizarre how close Lou and I are without ever having met: He went to McGuinness (’82) and so did I (’86). He went to Loyola University in New Orleans (’86) and so did I (’90). He was editor of the Maroon (Fall ’85) and so was I (Fall ’87). He’s stayed in touch with Rene Sanchez all these years and so have I. He worked for a while at the Oklahoma Gazette (’87) and so did I (’88). He has a (long-awaited!) novel coming out in January (Gutshot Straight) and I just had a book come out. And yet with all the friends and places we have in common, we have never been in the same room at the same time. It seems I was always getting there just as his trail went cold. I feel like we have so much to talk about! I can’t wait to read his new book and I’ll be blogging about it soon, I’m sure.
And how can I forget Winnie and Bob McCall (Derba’s parents), right in the front row where they belong. Winnie (aka Wee-Wee) is in Tinsel‘s acknowledgments. She’s a loyal fan.
So this is a very warm, fireplacey, happy room of people to read to. I decided to read the interlude that comes after chapter 6 in Tinsel. It’s called “The Gap (A Slide Show)” and it’s the part of the book where I wrote six or seven pages of memoir about the Christmases I grew up with. Oklahoma City is the only stop on this tour where reading that part of the book aloud makes sense. The prodigal son returns — one night only.
And the best part? I got the audience (about 25-30 people, maybe more?) to sing the de facto state Christmas carol with me: The B.C. Clark’s jingle. This is a TV ad that has been playing every December on local TV here almost as long as most people can remember. Eventually, Oklahoma’s schoolchildren started singing it in Christmas pageants. Later, in the 1980s, B.C. Clark started running ads of everyday Oklahomans in shopping malls, singing the jingle for the camera. To anyone from here, the Clark’s jingle is literally the sound of Christmas. Thanks to Jennifer Lindsey McClintock for helping me get everyone started. The best thing about this song is that there’s no such thing as off-tune. It seems to be just in everyone’s pitch, or it can be forced there.
Here’s the classic version:
Here’s the video of my audience and me singing it tonight — video courtesy of Jennifer’s husband, Sean:
That makes me happy. I took a long time to sign 30 or so books — because I like to gab. This is happening at every signing; sometimes I know the person and want to catch up on so much, but a lot more times, I’ve just met the person and they have a lot to tell me about their relationship to Christmas and life in general, and I want to hear it all. I may not be selling heaps of books, but it’s such a treat to just talk to people about the book or anything else.
More to come: I did more public radio today for stations in Illinois and the northeast (will post links soon) and will do some stuff with the Oklahoman newspaper tomorrow at their offices. Then it’s a quick visit with Wee-Wee and Bob and then a drive back to D/FW to catch a flight to the Pacific Northwest.
Hank, it was wonderful to meet you last night at the signing.
Thanks to the wonders of the iPhone, we got the State Xmas song
on video. Keep up the great work. I just started into Off Ramp and
will dive into Tinsel next.
Good luck on the rest of the tour.
Sean (aka Jennifer’s husband!)
Off topic slightly, but the FTC is supporting Christmas budgeting:
Love the little boy very clearly NOT SINGING during the Full Circle rendition … and boy, I was searching for Lou to see him singing.
I’m a huge fan of your book, and, like you, I came from Oklahoma. From Edmond, in fact. I adore this post. I remember all the same stuff — same malls, same BC Clark de facto “Christmas carol.”
I feel weirdly connected to your book because I moved from Oklahoma to DC, then DC to Houston (both moves were about graduate school). So I recognize the same childhood landscape, the place you write from now, and the weirdness of Frisco, TX, pretty well.
Um, not sure what the point of this comment was, really, except maybe to say that I love your work? And that it’s encouraging to find someone from OKC who’s made it as a writer in so many ways.
WELL DONE, Hank! ~ Tinsel is fantastic: Bought copies for several friends and will continue to spread-the-good-word here in Raleigh, NC. “….So give the gift you know can’t fail…)
~ ~ Derba’s Sister (& daughter of Wee-Wee)
Is it sad that I still know every word of the BC Clark’s song and
haven’t lived in OKC for over 15 years? Can’t wait to read the new book!
One of my favorite places to eat as a kid Charcoal Oven seemed like a forever drive from Edmond back in those days in the 60’s. Great burgers, fries and shakes. Just wouldn’t be Christmas without the BC Clark jingle.