Everybody has a story

“Mr. Bubbles Kitty und I are enjoying a relaxing time in our Impossible-to-Find Lair of Doom after ze first leg of our whirlwind TSFT World Domination Tour. Today iz crafts day. Ve shall occupy ourselves making sparkly bracelets vis hidden chambers for arsenic. For a creature vis no opposable thumbs, Mr. Bubbles Kitty is quite good wis ze Bedazzler. Is happy times.”

(“Zere is somesing on ze TV advertising “Gelli Baff” vich shows children cavorting in a bathtub zat looks as if it is filled vis Jello. Is wrong. And ven Mr. Bubbles Kitty und I take over ze vorld, ve shall eliminate such poo-poo nasty products zat make ze skin. Also, ve shall deliver a mortal blow to anyone who spells “bath” as “baff.” Is cutesy, und Mr. Bubbles Kitty und I detest ze cutesy. Also and besides, everyone knows it is pronounced, “bas.” Hideous.)

“Sadly, von of ze Mr. Bubbles Kitty clones–Mr. Bubbles Kitty #57–met wis an untimely end zis morning ven she got too close to ze large fan used to suck in unauthorized swimming intruders. Curiosity. Kitties. You know how it goes. Still, is sad times. Ve shall use ze bits of leftover fur in our crafts class today. Maybe a chest toupee for Evil G.I. Joe so he can look like he lives in Silver Lake vis his partner, Derrick. Right, Mr. Bubbles Kitty?”

“Mwraor.”

I’m home and have managed to catch up on some sleep. Yesterday I was absolutely knackered, and by dinner time, I needed a drool cup. Pretty. But I had such a great time on the first leg of the tour, and I want to thank all of you who came out and made me feel welcome; brought me chocolate and green purses, artwork and poems; who made me laugh and just generally turned it into a really grand party. *bows to you*

The event in Novi, MI, was loads of fun. After the harrowing dash (cancelled flight from Milwaukee, cab from Milwaukee to O’Hare, last-minute flight to Detroit) I got there only fifteen minutes late, after fearing I’d miss it altogether. It was a great crowd–fun questions and everyone was very good about not giving out spoilers. (We referred to a certain portion near the end of TSFT as “the incident.”) One of my favorite parts of getting to meet you guys is hearing your stories, like the crew at the end (hello, ladies!) who told me that Rebel Angels saved their friendship. (“Ah, if Mr. Bubbles Kitty und I haf saved even one friendship…oh, vat am I sayink. I need to go destroy an enemy just to get ze taste of sentiment out of my mouth.”) And I meet a trio who referred to themselves as Ann, Gemma, and Felicity. (Hey, it’s LARPing! Cool!) The Novi gang and I hung out for quite a while, talking books, writing, Hollywood money, and Swedish fish. Good times.

Then, since it was 11:00, and I hadn’t eaten in about 12 hours (don’t think Swedish fish count…), Michelle Pernia, my sympathetic driver (who was rocking a pair of leather pants) took me in search of food, and I promptly set a landspeed record for eating a cheeseburger and fries. (At about 2:00 am, I set another landspeed record for knocking back some Tums.)

The next day, Lora Obranovic was my escort. Lora is also a hairdresser and hilarious, so we talked hair, which made me happy because, frankly, sometimes it is all about the hair. We managed not to blow off the day and go to Target, for which I would like props, and we proceeded to Haslett High School in East Lansing, MI. I had lunch with the book club, which made me feel slightly naughty because I was eating in a LIBRARY! Even though I wasn’t hungry I had to eat a cookie because, well, it was sugar, and two, did I mention we got to eat in the library?

I was ushered into another XL auditorium and began to feel that familiar sweaty palm, racing heart feeling. “I think it would be good if you could tell them about yourself,” Margy, the school librarian said. I would pretty much rather talk about a colonoscopy than do that, so I opened with, “Hi. I’m Libba Bray. I write books. I live in New York. I have a cat. I play Guitar Hero. I’m glad to be here. Okay, that’s done.” Then we got into the brief talk on writing and on to the writing exercise (my fave part). Once again, the teens rocked it out. They thought fast on their feet and came up with hilarious, intriguing, twisty-turny stories without flinching. I got to hang around for an extra period of Q&A with a smaller group, and I felt like I was getting to hang with a group of friends. Thank you, Haslett High. From the heart, thank you. Also, I was asked if I was a replicant. I figured this was in response to my saying that “Blade Runner” was my favorite movie. But apparently, I misheard and I was actually being asked if I were a REPUBLICAN. (One of the teens used Wyoming as his setting. I made a Dick Cheney joke. It…oh never mind.) Anyhoo, funny how close “replicant” and “republican” are, n’est-ce pas?

(I could say the day at Haslett was amazing, which it was, but I have been teased for saying that everyone is lovely and every school experience has been amazing. I had really good karma this trip. Believe me, I have been in situations in which I have contemplated self-immolation.)

Then it was on to a signing at Schuler Books & Music. Wow! Man, was that fun. Okay, first of all, they have a freaking fireplace in the store! Right back in the corner is a reading nook with an actual working fireplace! (Which, I can imagine, would be a boon in Michigan in January.) I sort of pretended I lived there in Schulers Books and could pad out in my pajamas and sit near the fireplace with my coffee and read and maybe use one of the decorative hooks they sell for my bathrobe. Whitney Spotts put together a super-relaxed-vibe event complete with pizza. (Pizza+fireplace+fun people=happiness.) I have the idea it’s hard not to have a good time when Whitney is on the scene. She is awesome. And so was everyone who showed up. (Thanks for not eating the chocolate this time, Sean. It was my dinner. Allie, still thinking on that Sandman question. Steph, I still cannot believe you drove from Grand Rapids with an entire library!) We finished at the stroke of 6:00, and then Lora and I set off for the airport in Detroit…in the driving rain. Always an auspicious sign.

Got on the plane with no problems. Okay, good so far. We take off. In a storm…

Allow me a sidebar: On the flight from O’Hare to Detroit, I sat next to this very bubbly woman, an audiologist from Tennessee. We got to know each other a bit on the flight. I found out she’d just been in Alaska because her older sister had a baby and she went to help out. Okay, I will not lie–I made assumptions about this woman. Yeah, here I am doing high school visits and talking about how characters need to be real and complicated because people are complicated and I pretty much sized her up and said in my head, “This is who I think you are.” And then I got slapped upside the head (as well I should have), because, of course, she was so much more than my puny assumption. She was a Harry Potter fanatic, and we talked books a bit, and then she mentioned she’d gone to boarding school herself. Now, I’m from the south, from the not-rich south, and so was she, so this was unusual to me. “How’d you end up there?” I asked.
“Oh, both of my parents died, and my aunt and uncle kept me in a basement and I ran away and then they sent me to boarding school.”
Assumptions meet truth. Her mother had died of an aneurysm when she (the woman) was 15. Just like Buffy’s mom.
“How did your father die?” I asked.
She gave me a knowing look. “I’ll tell you after we land.”
Oh crap.
Turns out her dad had been killed in a plane crash thirty years ago when the engines failed and they had to do a crash landing. It was apparently a famous crash. He lived for a few days after. She said she couldn’t read anything about it because she would just imagine her dad, burned over 80% of his body, alive in that plane. Yeah, I got chills. And it just goes to show that everyone has a story. Everyone. Scratch the surface of your assumptions and you will find a real human being with joys and wounds and some secret something they have managed to survive and probably transcend. I had the urge to give her a hug and keep in touch, but the truth was we were strangers on a plane, united for an hour and twenty minutes by a love of books, a shared sense of humor, motherhood, and a fear of flying. But if you need an audiologist in TN, I now know a good one. (And I now know the best way to gently pop your ears on an airplane and why.)

But let’s flash forward now to my flight home to NYC. The plane is rocking like a cradle in the turbulence. The flight attendants are strapped in. And I can only think of the woman’s story as we drop what feels like a few thousand feet. I am remembering childhood prayers, nursery songs, Goodnight Moon–anything to keep me from screaming. Finally, I swallow my pride and turn to the calm, fatherly man next to me who has endured several jumpy grabs at his arm. “Excuse me,” I say. “I feel like an idiot, but would you mind if I held your hand?” He kindly held my hand until we were out of the worst of it, though the turbulence stayed with us for almost the entire flight. Ever seen a woman kiss the ground at an airport? If you had been at LaGuardia Thursday night at 11:30, you would have.

Whew.

“Und now, Mr. Bubbles Kitty has arrived wis ze Bedazzler, and my minions haf brought ze arsenic and beads. Ve shall begin our crafts day. I vish you all vell.”

***Edited post***
Quite a few of you would like to know how to pop your ears on a plane. Well, apparently, you close your mouth and squeeze your nose shut with your fingers and GENTLY blow out to equalize the pressure. Don’t do it too hard or you can actually pop your eardrum. (Yes, I heard the cringe-worthy story accompanying this warning.) Also, chewing gum helps because chewing has an effect on the eustachian tube. Now you know.

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