There’s only one thing I’ve ever done that, for me, rivaled the difficulty of quitting drinking: quitting smoking. I know that for some people quitting smoking isn’t quite so harrowing. But for me it was about as easy-breezy as removing my own gall bladder with a rusty garden trowel.
So, long story short, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t mess with any of the lovely prescription drugs I’ve heard so much about and which seem to make air travel a breeze. I find my soma, when I need it, in cat ownership and Simpsons reruns.
It works just fine. Then I go on book tour.
I’m writing this from the bathroom of room 422 at the Prescott Hotel in San Francisco, where I’m up early in advance of a Stacey’s Bookstore signing and trying not to wake my husband.
The Prescott Hotel is a lovely place -- all the lovelier for the fact that they upgraded us for no reason whatsoever to a “Club Level” room. From what I can tell, it’s just like any other room, except it comes with free top-shelf cocktails from four-thirty till six. We go to the lounge. Ted orders a martini. I order a ginger ale. It’s all good, except it begins to conjure memories that in turn cause me to suspect that the wonderful world of authorship is trying to get me loaded.
The last book tour -- two years ago for Grammar Snobs -- made all too clear the possibility that a cabal of New York book publicists is conspiring to help me help myself get to the morgue on time, with a brief layover in the gutter.
In the 2006 tour, it started in Seattle. I was scared in that butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of way and sick over a couple of negative user reviews on Amazon. My book tour was going to include teaching a Mediabistro course, which terrified me, and giving a talk, all by myself, to an auditorium that seats hundreds of participants at Portland’s Wordstock festival. The tour was ten cities, unlike this tour’s four. My husband wasn’t with me then. And my stomach felt like I’d been doing lemon juice shooters with a milk chaser.
I checked into the gorgeous Alexis Hotel in Seattle (they have an Author’s Suite that’s about the size of my whole downstairs back home), I paced like a lunatic for two hours, then went to my book signing. When I returned, I found a lovely surprise from management. A note (paraphrased from memory):
Dear Ms. Casagrande:The note was next to a copy of my book, a bag of roasted almonds, and a bottle of white wine on ice.
Thank you for staying at the Alexis Hotel. We have taken the liberty of obtaining a copy of your book in the hopes that you will sign it as a permanent addition to our library. Please also accept this amenity with our compliments.
I signed the book. I took the almonds. And I felt like an ungrateful schmuck for leaving that lovely (I suspect) bottle of wine sitting untouched.
Then came Milwaukee, where I checked into another beautiful hotel room, pristine and perfect except for the fresh smell of cigarette smoke in the air and an open pack of Marlboros and lighter sitting on the bed. For a moment I thought they’d accidentally given me an already-occupied room. But no, either some employee had stopped in for a smoke or perhaps this had been a wait-here-while-we-get-your-real-room-ready room for some other guest. Either way, it came with a free sample of kiss-your-freedom-from-cigarette-addiction-goodbye.
I’m proud to report that my weak state of mental health didn’t cause me to hesitate as I set the cigarettes in the hallway outside. No harm done.
An hour later I was in the bathtub, trying to wash the stink of book-tour terror from my hide, when I noticed on the white tile floor a small white bump that, upon clearly focusing, I saw was a large pill. A horse-pill-type caplet with no markings of any kind to indicate whether it was a calcium supplement or a quaalude.
And that’s when I knew that Satan schedules book tours.