Thursday, February 18, 2016
Start with the drama (a shortish story)
It was time to return to my regular lapping after an extended break in Australia commemorating my 50th birthday. Any excuse. On the way I have to post off two advance copies of my soon-to-be published memoir on the publisher’s urging. They are promoting in Australia; I have to do what I can here in New Zealand. I would rather do this important task after I swim, when I can relax into it and make sure it’s done right. But I wear goggles swimming that leave deep red gouges around my eyes that make me look like I've been punched - twice. Also, if I don’t get home fast after swimming my hair will look like it’s just been released from a rubber cap for the next three days, until I wash it again. I don’t like washing my hair every day. Life’s too short. So the posting must be done first.
It’s raining lightly so there are fewer people shopping in Takapuna high street than usual. One good thing. Last time I posted something off I had to park illegally round the back of the bulky business buildings and make a run for it, uphill. This time I get a neat park almost right outside the post office (now part of a bank), but it’s only short-term – five minutes. It should be enough to post two books; they don’t check the cars every five minutes, surely.
A moustachioed man in a high-up yellow truck stopped in traffic going the other way watches me reverse into the tight park, apparently enjoying the struggle. I do struggle, but mostly because he’s watching. Perhaps he knows that. But the park, not perfect, a little bum stuck out, will do for a rushed job. My bottom is relatively small.
An overweight woman with a painfully bored face, in a dark-green uniform, marks the tire of the car in front of me. When I see her, knowing she will mark mine next, I panic and think: should I tell her I've just arrived and am going to the post-office to mail two books to potential promoters, a process that might take fractionally longer than five minutes but is surely the very reason why these five-minute parks exist in the first place?
As I wonder this I am rushing towards the zebra crossing and away from the woman, whose bored-to-death face gives me my answer: I shouldn't alert her to my situation, the drama might wake her up. She might get out her stop-watch. Besides, there’s no time to hesitate; I only have five minutes!
In the post-office I run to the envelope rack, rip down two of the cheapest, no-bubbles-for-protection envelopes, and race to a spare desk to sit down on a backless chair that resides under the desk so must be pulled out – oddly like a child’s chair, my brain wastes time thinking – then begin to mark the envelopes in hand writing that is annoyingly rushed and messy. No time to attach a note either, which I had half planned to do. The book will have to speak for itself.
'That must be five minutes already!' my brain is saying, as I make a mistake with the addressing of one envelope, leaving the ‘company’ space bare so there's no room for writing the full university address and P.O. Box in the ‘address’ section, but I can’t change it now. This does not bode well.
At least the queue is short, just one person in front of me. Still, they must be mad if they think people can get their posting done in five minutes, including getting to and from the car! Are they that mad? I can’t quite decide. Probably.
The woman who is ready for me now says ‘oh dear’ straight off – just seeing me, it seems. She was hoping to send my parcels for the cheaper rate, but they are fractionally over the maximum weight, she says, with disingenuous regret. She sure got them onto the scales quick enough. The previous post woman last week who had assessed a copy of the book for posting, had passed it through the width measure and pronounced it slightly too thick to qualify for the cheaper rate, though it did technically fit through the width measure, as I saw with my own eyes. What was going on? Is my book too fat or too heavy? Make up your minds!
‘The other woman put it through the width measure and it fit’ I half lied to the new woman behind the counter, feeling I had nothing to lose. It had fit, just not to satisfy her. All the while I was thinking: ‘this is not helping my parking situation any.’
The woman took my book off the scales and ran it through the width measure. ‘No. It doesn't fit’ she pronounced, whilst sliding the book, without much difficulty, through the measure before my very eyes, exactly as the other woman had done.
A man standing behind the woman, busy with something, then turned and said ‘Is it going within New Zealand? ‘Yes!’ I ejaculated, rather too eagerly, and when the woman confirmed that it was indeed, he said‘$2.40’ which I knew was the cheaper rate. Hurrah! At least if I got a $60 dollar parking fine I could offset it against the $1.20, on each book, I had saved on postage.
Feeling lightened somewhat and obliged to appease the tension, I began explaining that the book-writing business is far from a lucrative one, with very little return for the amount of work put in. ‘Are you a writer?’ the woman, who looked a little like Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray Love fame, said, with a brightening countenance, and so I felt further obliged to explain. Indeed I was a writer and that was my book, I said pointing to one of the parcels still splayed rather sloppily on the desk with its flap open, awaiting a stamp of approval.
‘I want to write a book’ the woman said, and my heart sank a little; everyone wants to write a book.
‘Then you should write a book’ I replied, against my better judgement, hoping that would end the matter so that I might get back to my car before next Christmas (it was February).
‘But I don’t know where to start’, the Gilbert woman added, and in my head I said: ‘At the beginning.’ I gave up on the car.
‘Make a plan’ I said, using my hands to indicate a large plan, then felt stupid for this. ‘I based my plan on my chapters,’ I added, trying to sound more professional, again indicating my good-sized book, but…’
‘It’s a children’s book, I have it all worked out already. It’s going to be many books’ the woman interrupted, clearly not listening to my words of wisdom, as her face and voice ran away with excitement and visions of J.K.greatness.
I recognised that face and voice; they were mine before I began in earnest the business of writing and trying to get published. They belong to a person who dismisses all such cautionary warnings for aspiring writers with the view that it doesn't apply to them. Their book is different; no publisher could possibly resist it (presuming it ever gets written). It’s the difference between the idea of war in the heads of those men who have never been, compared with the reality of war to those that have.
‘The writing of it is really the easy bit; the tip of the iceberg’ I say, mixing my metaphors annoyingly in my frustration. ‘There’s so much more to getting a book published than the writing’, I add, half thinking this is what she needs to hear and half frustrated that she said she wanted to write a book, which turns out to be several, and she claims to have it all planned out when she also said she doesn't know where to start. What about my car!
The Gilbert woman doesn't like this at all and replies with a glare. She abruptly hands me my stamped books and tells me to post them in the boxes ‘out there’, indicating the left when the post boxes turn out to be to the right; a long way to the right, beyond the bank. Some post people post your parcels for you, protectively secreting them away to a warm and secure box behind them. The other woman had done this, but then she had charged me more for the same book, and she wasn't an aspiring writer (I presume).
‘Good luck with your book, or rather books!’ I say over my shoulder, back to serious rushing mode now, my eyes hunting ahead for the post boxes that aren't anywhere obvious. ‘Good luck with yours!’ the woman shouts after me, following a small, calculated pause, which tells me I am not forgiven for underestimating her unwritten book(s).
I walk foolishly the wrong way first, looking in a vain panic for the post boxes, having to go back past the glass doors through which she is probably watching and laughing at me. A proper writer should know where to find the post boxes, surely. It’s the tip of the iceberg.
The thought of lapping after nearly a month off hits me then and weighs down on the feeling the fool, the writer's frustrations and fears aggravated by the Gilbert woman, and the rising panic about the car, like a sandwich I am forced to eat of all the things I don’t like: eggplant, liverwurst and blue cheese on dry rye.
There was no ticket on the car. The park limit was fifteen minutes, not five, as it turned out. The bored woman was nowhere in sight. The drama, after all, was mine in the making. Start with the drama, I should have told the Gilbert woman.