Reading Rainbow

Today on Alphabet City: Jon Paul and Chef battle a tough crowd of gay boys to sell some books; women save the day.

The JP's tag-teaming an event

Not to get all hot pants about it—but I’m starting to get concerned about literacy in Gay Boy America.  Appearing at a recent men-centric networking event where I was billed as a “celebrity,” here are some rather worrisome nuggets thrown at me after guys willingly approached the Alphabet City display table:

“Oh, I’ve stopped reading.”

Each time I heard this line, I just nodded and grinned my fake PR smile.  I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who made a conscious choice to be illiterate.

“Don’t want to go into too much detail, but I’ve recently had surgery and am not up to reading.”

Already, that’s too much info.  Gone are the days when post-op recovery meant catching up on a pile of trashy novels.

“Maybe I’ll buy it on Amazon.”

It seems online buying habits have so altered consumer behavior that we’re unable to appreciate the beauty of buying something directly from the artist.  The author is standing right there.  Begging for a sale.  Offering to personalize it.

“I’m only into audio books now.  If you recorded one, I might buy it.”

Clever use of a conditional tense—even if I laid down a voice track, I still might not be good enough.

Thankfully, Chef was working the room to bolster my sales.  As a Demo Specialist for Whole Foods, he knows a thing or two about getting customers to sample the goods.  Chef has his own tales of woe about customers taking a bite of his cooking and saying in a deadpan voice, “Not bad, actually.”  As if he’s really going to serve them shit on a stick.  Using the word “actually” indicates that they anticipated the food would be disgusting.  So why did they even try it?

As my personal coach, Chef observed my initial pitch to a couple of gays.

“Hi, I’m the author of Alphabet City, a funny memoir about my life as a gay Mary Tyler Moore.  I moved from Texas to New York, and fell into a job as a publicist for celebrities like Tyra and Whoopi and later at magazine publisher Condé Nast.  It’s a little bit Sex and the City and a little bit Will and Grace.”

Chef offered some hard earned demo strategy tips.

“Good, but watch your audience.  Young guys and immigrants have no idea who Mary Tyler Moore is.  Go right to the celebrities. Also, after the basic pitch, as they look at the book, fill in the silence with a question.”

My next potential victim fan was young hottie, the kind of boy who had a Fire Island summer share.  Per Chef’s advice, I played up Tyra and asked what I thought was a genius question.

“Are you looking for a great beach read?”

“I hate the beach.”

Alrighty, then.  Before I could even deliver my pitch to the next guy, he slammed the book down and yelled.

“Why would I need a guide book to Alphabet City?!  I live in Grammercy just a hop, skip and jump away for God sakes!”

Well of course, how silly of me not to know that.

When I finally did make a sale, it was  like pulling teeth.  Some guys came back to the table multiple times, fondling the book—as if they were purchasing diamonds at Neiman-Marcus.  At $15, the book was less than the Tanqueray and Tonic they’d ordered at the bar.  When a fag finally forked over the cash, I was willing to do anything they asked—including personalizing the book to “Golden Finger Fister.”  Scrawling that gem with my Sharpie, I sealed the door shut on any future political career.

Back in May, when I found myself in a Miami gay bar selling books barstool-to-barstool, I didn’t run into any uncomfortable excuses.  My stereotypical view of those boys had always been they were more interested in working their biceps than brains.  But those hunky Latinos couldn’t have been more welcoming—and I wasn’t even a “celebrity” there.

Maybe Manhattan breeds a quirky, competitive kind of gay accustomed to building defensive coping mechanisms to survive this urban jungle.  Rather than honestly saying, “Good luck with the book, it’s not for me,” they concoct a convoluted excuse like, “My attention span is too short to read anymore.”

But I’m not discouraged.  In Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, the famous comedienne advises never to turn down an opportunity—and I ended up selling 15 books and learning a load.  Who knows, maybe I’ll take Joan’s cue and sign-on to some reality show to raise my profile.  America’s Next Top Novelist, anyone?

My biggest lesson so far on book tour is that WOMEN are my biggest readers and most supportive fans—by far.  From the straight sorority sisters of Texas to the lesbian moms of DC, they all have some nurturing gene that encourages literary endeavors from an emerging artist like me.  Better still, they buy multiple books for friends—no hemming and hawing, no excuses.  Once again, Goddess bless the girls who love the gays.  Gary Tyler Moore would be no where without you.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Reading Rainbow

  1. Dana

    Hilar. Today’s tone reminded me of the bitchy-yet-spot-on tone of Bruce La Bruce a bit. Sing out Louise.

  2. I worked part-time in a bookstore about ten years ago. I think it was shortly after that time that the love affair between people and books began to wane. I am thankful to my parents and to Gloria Upson for encouraging me to read and to appreciate books. And I am sorry for the unfortunates who don’t “get” how cool it is to go to a reading or book signing.

  3. What about us straight sorority sisters in DC? I bought 2 and might need another!

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