Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Printer’s Row

The first time I went to the Printer’s Row book fair was when I worked for the bookstore. That was fun. It started with me and the manager wheeling boxes of books on a dolly to replenish the stock the boss had brought down to the south loop. Maneuvering through dense foot traffic, we eventually found the tent where book buyers were hovering around like moths to light. Once the boxes were unpacked I was given my second job: buying beer. I must have hit the White Hen on Dearborn and Harrison six times that day. Six pack after six-pack was bought and consumed almost as fast as we were selling books. It is really a task sitting in the hot sun surrounded by scantly clad women and literary geeks and trying to get your beer hazed mind to figure out tax and change. Good times. Later, at the after party, more beer was consumed along with mini quiche and other finger foods, none of which went well with the booze. The man himself left the party before us, heading back in the decrepit Suburban “bookmobile” while the rest of us followed in the rental van. My coworker left his bag at the bar and we had to go back. Good thing we did; we wound a wad of bills on the floor under where the boss had been sitting. It was not uncommon for him to lose money this way. I don’t think the man believes in wallets.

The next time I worked Printer’s Row was considerably less fun. The sun was merciless and I was clad in black. The sales were shit and the spot in which they placed us, the far west corner of the fair on Polk and Clark far from the action and fun, sucked. There was no store then so essentially we were selling off the dregs of the stock that failed to sell during the great going out of business days. It was almost embarrassing. My brother and future sister-in-law stopped by, amazed that I was still standing upright in my black ensemble, sweat falling from my brow like Waterfall Glen. I decided after that weekend that my days of working the fair were over.

Since then I have always hit the fair for fun, not profit. To be sure, I was usually paid in books and beer anyway. These last two years have been especially fun. Last year started with a trip to the Art Institute with mi niña and the little loco King Zion. We meandered over to the book fair where I shopped a bit, as best I could with the King on my shoulders.

This year I hit it early on Saturday, 10:00 AM to be exact. Not wanting to pay for parking, I left the car in Greektown and walked up Jackson to the fair. One friend was already there and we meet up at the Powell’s tent and walked from point A to B, a journey that yielded many books (Soviet plays, 19th Century Russian plays, a book on book collecting, William Carlos Williams’ Patterson, a few other tidbits of interest). By noon I had spent most of my budgeted cash and was lugging around two bags, not to mention the one I had brought on my shoulder. We stop for a slice of pizza and a beer, exhausted already by noon. Before long, he leaves and I sit on a park bench and ponder reading Proust. Before I can crack a book, I get a call from another buddy, tell him where I am and once again walk through the fair in search of books. And after, I return to the same bar for another beer, watching the clock in anticipation.

3:00 P.M. I find a seat in the Heartland tent and wait as Chuck Barris takes the stage. He is being interviewed, promoting his new book The Big Question. Mostly he answers questions about The Gong Show, which suits me fine, though when someone finally asks about the CIA plot of his “Unauthorized Autobiography,” he is dismissive. “Let’s skip the CIA thing,” he says adding a touch of mystery to the event. I was thrilled to see Chuckie Baby in the middle of the big literary festival. He didn’t stay on stage long—“I’ve gotta catch a plane”—but he did sign books, including my recently purchased Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. That alone made it a worthwhile day.

Back to the bar for one more with my buddy and I take off for the poetry tent। Only one of the students in my program showed up (not the one I was looking for, the one I had tentative plans to meet for dinner) as well as one of my instructors, standing with an Author tag around her skinny neck, anxious to go play artist on stage. I decide not to stick around to hear her read. The class is over and she had to have put my grade in, so there’s little reason to kiss ass. I like the woman and I did want to catch some of her poems, but I was exhausted, full of beer and weighed down with books. And I still had to walk back to Greektown in the blistering sun—a walk to the west where the sun sets, down Jackson again where there is little shade. And I realize as I am walking back to my car that I am again wearing black.
An hour later I am driving to Devon and Western with mi niña and her primo। We hit a favorite haunt and have Indian food, a perfect cap to a long day। Now the belly is full of peas, potatoes rice and curry। I drink only water and want only sleep.