How to Make a Fool of Yourself at AWP
February 25, 2014 § 9 Comments
Guest Blogger Suzanne Roberts offers some excellent and amusing advice on how to behave at the VIP parties:
You may think it’s as easy as drinking too much gin and falling off a barstool at the lobby bar. But it isn’t. That’s standard fare at the annual AWP conference. No, to make a fool of yourself at the AWP takes some planning, some research. And a way to sneak into the VIP party.
Here’s what you do. Wait until the last night, when you are so exhausted you can barely remember your own name. Then find someone who has an actual invitation to the VIP Party. Did you know that such a party exists? Of course you don’t! You weren’t invited. And as it turns out, that’s for a good reason. But lucky for you, your friend was. But the guards—yes they have actual guards at this event and they are not poets, so you can’t offer them a cigarette and sneak by them—they take their job of protecting the famous writers from the likes of you very seriously, and your friend has more than one plus-one. In fact, he has five. Though your friend is good looking, is it possible that he has that many dates? Because the five-to-one-fantasy appeals to poets and non-poets alike, you and your plus-five package get into the party, and the guards start to wonder if they themselves should start writing verse.
First things first: sashay over to the buffet and free bar and gorge yourself on shrimp cocktail and smoked salmon, carrot sticks and chardonnay. You will have been too busy grazing to notice, but your friends have left the party. But by all means, don’t leave the party yet! Stay until long after the Pulitzer-winners and Poet Laureates are long gone. Stay until the guards indicate that it is time for you to stop with the shrimp and go get your coat. But first stuff your purse with bread sticks, carrots, and celery. You are your mother’s daughter after all, and in her words, they are just going to throw it away.
In the dim light (note the dim light) of the coat check area, you will spot a man who looks vaguely familiar. You try to place him and then decide, Why, that’s Nick Flynn! You have never actually met Nick Flynn, but you saw him give a reading at a literary magazine party in a dark bar the night before (note both words: dark and bar). Turn to Nick Flynn and tell him, “I just loved your reading last night.”
“Thank you,” he will say, pulling on his coat.
Because you don’t want to leave this exchange so quickly, and you are full of shrimp cocktail courage, you say, “My husband loved your book,” which is not just flattery, it’s actually true. Your husband read Another Bullshit Night in Suck City in one night.
“I’m so glad,” he says, looking at you from the threshold of the door.
“Oh yes,” you continue, stuffing your arms into your own coat. “He wouldn’t come to bed. He loved your book so much. He couldn’t put it down. He sat on the couch reading it all night.”
At this point a woman at the coat check says, “Hot damn. Poetry over pussy.”
You correct her, “No, Suck City,” meaning, of course, the memoir. This is an honest mistake. Nick Flynn writes poetry, too, though you can’t imagine your husband staying up all night reading poetry. You are pretty sure he hasn’t even read your last poetry book.
“Yeah, I guess it might have been suck city, if he hadn’t chose poetry over pussy,” she says.
“No, not the poetry” you will say, still trying to clarify, “Another Bullshit Night.” The woman laughs, but you swear you see her mouth the word “Turrets” to Nick Flynn.
This little repartee is not enough! You must follow Nick Flynn and dominate his attention for the entire walk through the indoor mall and back to the hotel lobby. And when the small talk about the party begins, make sure to tell him how you snuck in to the VIP party. He will look at you with a strange look, but not nearly as strange a look as when you say, “I just loved Suck City. I mean I love the poetry, too. But Suck City was so great. I’m looking forward to Suck City on the big screen.”
When he speeds up, desperate to catch up to his friends, make sure to match his pace step for step because you aren’t done.
Then tell him, out of breath because of your swift clip, “We…have…a mutual friend.”
“Who’s that?” He will look doubtful. Maybe not so much that you have a mutual friend but that you have any friends at all.
You tell him the name of your mutual friend. She is your colleague, and you know her to be one of Nick Flynn’s very best friends.
“I don’t think I know her.”
At this point you will hit—maybe punch is the better term—Nick Flynn’s arm and say, “Of course you do!”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You blurbed her book!” Make sure a carrot or breadstick falls from your purse when you say this.
“No, I didn’t.”
You will be adamant because you are sure that Nick Flynn blurbed her book. You have seen it right there on the back cover. How could he forget? “You did so,” you will say, “plus, I’ve seen you two together on facebook.”
You are met with a puzzled look.
But don’t give in. Rather than to take in the facts before you, be sure to stick to the facts in your head. Refuse all the signs. So Nick Flynn will have no other choice but to assent. “Maybe I do know her,” he will finally say. “Maybe I met her at the Atlantic Center of the Arts?”
“You see!” You are triumphant. Later you will tell your colleague about this little exchange, and she will say “Please tell me you didn’t say my name.”
You will have to admit that you did.
Nick Flynn shakes his head and says “Maybe I’ve had too much to drink.”
You have read Nick Flynn’s books, and you know he is a recovering addict, so you think, What? Nick Flynn has been drinking? O-no! But you say, “Me too” to cover your bases. Something in you knows that even if it isn’t true, you should say you have had too much to drink. Way too much to drink.
You continue to walk together, and every so often, you ask questions that Nick Flynn seems unable to answer, or you exclaim “Suck City” in reference to his memoir, and each time he looks at you like you are deranged, like you are a woman capable of sadistic ritual, bizarre and vicious crimes. Like he wants to escape but doesn’t want you to know he’s fleeing, just in case you will follow him. Which you are already doing.
And then Nick Flynn tells you he has to find his husband.
“You’re married to a man?”
The last you heard, Nick Flynn had married the actress Lili Taylor. But rather than question this, just think: Well things sometimes change.
When you finally arrive back to the hotel lobby, your friend Rodney will see you talking to Nick Flynn, and he will come up, introduce himself, and ask him, “How did Obama ask you about the inauguration? Did he call you or what?”
And you will turn to look at Nick Flynn and his face will suddenly rearrange itself. Not familiar because he was in the dim bar reading about his father the night before, but familiar for another reason—this was this face that filled the TV screen on inauguration day. And all of a sudden, you will be at a loss for words. But then you say this, which makes things worse, not better: “I didn’t know. I mean, I’d forgotten. I mean that you were the inaugural poet. But your poem, it was just great.” Your friend Rodney will look at your with a wrinkled forehead, his mouth opened into little frowning O, and you will smile and say, “Super great,” the word great trailing off, swallowed by the din of the lobby.
At that, Nick Flynn—now Richard Blanco—will make his escape. He will say, “I need to find my husband outside.”
You will think, Ah yes, husband. Of course he has a husband, as your brain reshuffles itself.
You will then try to explain what just happened to Rodney—an abbreviated version—and you will say, “Oh my God. I have to go outside and find him, to explain what happened.” You make for the lobby’s revolving door, but Rodney pulls you back, saying, “Oh no you don’t. I think you’ve said enough already,” to which you can hardly disagree.
Suzanne Roberts is the author of the memoir Almost Somewhere (Winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award), as well as four collections of poetry. She teaches at Lake Tahoe Community College and for the low-residency MFA program in Creative Writing at Sierra Nevada College. More information can be found on her website: www.suzanneroberts.net