I just flew in from Missouri. I was up there promoting my book. It’s kind of hard to promote something that is only virtual. But more on that later. I had something profound happen to me while I was there and I would like to tell you about it.
I went to Mark Twain’s home state to start my “book tour” because my book REDEMPTION: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer is kind of a sequel to his two books. Although in my book, Huck and Tom are grown men. The way I decided to play it was to have business cards printed up. On the front is my book cover in full color and on the back are links on where to buy it.
My plan was to go to bookstores, make nice with the owner or manager and be allowed to pass out my cards to their customers. If they didn’t warm up to my sparkling personality and they told me to hit the road, well, then I’d stand outside the store and hand my cards to people as they came out.
The first two bookstores I went to were more than happy to allow me my pitiful little promotion. The third store was a little different. I was told to hit the pavement or the cops would be called.
It was 1:30 in the afternoon and I was hungry (I hadn’t eaten lunch yet), but my Irish was up, so I stood outside the store ready to pass out my first card when I saw a man sitting in a car across the street. Figuring I’d start with him, I crossed over.
Leaning down to the window, I held out the card and said, “This is my book. If you are interested, you can order it online.” The man smiled at me and took the card. It was then that I noticed the little girl in the seat next to him. She couldn’t have been more than ten years old.
Then the damndest thing happened. The man started to laugh. Softly at first, but the laugh grew into a full belly laugh as he held my card in his hand and looked at it.
I was already pissed off because of what I went through with the asshole manager of the bookstore across the street, so I snatched the card out of his hand. I started to walk off, but being of Irish decent, I turned and said, “I put my heart and soul into that goddamn book and I don’t appreciate you laughing at it!”
The guy immediately stopped laughing and said, “No offense sir, but I don’t own a computer. My little girl and I are living out of this car and we haven’t eaten in a day. I think a book is way down on the list of things I need in my life.”
I froze where I was. It took a few ticks of the clock, but I felt ashamed. I had money to spend on a fool’s mission to fly to another state, pay for a motel room and eat out in restaurants just to sell a book that would never, in its best day, help or change the world.
I walked back to the car, smiled and held out my hand. “The name’s Andrew Joyce, and I’m sorry. It’s my Irish temper. It gets me in more trouble than not.” We shook hands and he told me his name was Chris. Then he introduced me to his daughter. Her name was Melanie. Chris called her Mel.
At that point, there was nothing else for me to do, but invite them to have lunch with me. They were hungry and I was hungry, though not as hungry as they were.
Chris hesitated for a moment; I could tell he had his pride, but he looked over to his daughter and said to me, “Mel and I would be proud to have lunch with a famous author like you.” I shook my head and told him I was far from that.
We settled in at a diner down the street. This is where the profound comes in. It’s a cliché, but it broke my heart to see how thin the little girl was. And Chris wasn’t much better off. It also broke my heart to see Mel look at the waitress as she passed our booth with her tray stacked with food. Mel’s eyes followed her until . . . until her father nudged her and gave her a look. A look that silently said, “Be cool.”
As I watched them eat the first food they had in a day, Chris told me his story.
Chris was a pipefitter. He had his own shop and was doing pretty well for himself and his family until about three years ago. Then his wife suddenly took sick and died. Mel was only seven at the time. Chris did the best he could. In one sense, he was lucky. He was his own boss, so he could come and go as he pleased.
On school days, he would pick Mel up after school and take her to his shop where she would do her homework in the office. When she was done, she was allowed to watch some television. He did not want her to be a latchkey kid.
Because of the economy, his business fell by the wayside. Finally, he had to admit defeat and close his shop. Eight months ago, the bank foreclosed on his house. They had been living out of his car ever since.
He told me he occasionally got day work by hanging out with the Mexicans at Home Depot, but because of his age, he was seldom selected to ride in the back of the pickup. Another factor might have been that he had a little girl by his side. Chris was not about to let Mel out of his sight. At least not until she was older.
That was his story.
We finished eating, and as we walked back to his car, I told him because I’m a writer, I could tell his story. Maybe that would get him job offers or at least a place to live.
“I appreciate it Andrew, but I don’t want it broadcast around the shape that I am in. If I can make it, I’ll make it on my own. Mel and I sure do thank you for the meal. And when I get back into the clover, I’ll buy your book.”
That just about made me cry. I knelt on one knee before Mel and said, “”You are the prettiest little girl that I have ever seen. And I know a prince that would just love you. And someday he will find you.”
We walked another block and came to an ATM. I took out the max, and handed the $400.00 to Chris. At first, he refused my inadequate gift. But I told him, it was not for him. It was for Mel. Before he could say anything else, I walked off.
As I sit here in my comfortable boat with air conditioning. With food. I am dry when it rains and I eat when I am hungry. I think of Chris and Mel. The only thing I want in this world now . . . is for Chris (and Mel) to be well-off enough to buy my book. Not for me . . . for them.
Note: Because of Chris’ and Mel’s wish for anonymity, I did not use their real names.
Next week, I fly to California to try to sell some books. Ya ‘all will receive my dispatches as I feel fit to send them.