Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sidney's Absence in Chuck's Presence:

Here I am in a sterile hotel conference room in Chicago, before an assembly of dark grey suits and tight-looking women in black pumps and pantyhose. I'm dressed resplendently, though inappropriately, I suddenly realize, in a floor-length Mongolian deel made of emerald green silk. I'm here to give a marketing presentation on the new book by Sidney Goldfarb that we just published at Station Hill.

My only anchor in this odd, uncomfortable context is Chuck Stein, planted meditatively on a chair to my right, looking for all the world like a Bodhisattva.

I begin to speak.

"Here," I say, "is the book." I hold up a copy of Rushes of Tulsa, feeling comforted by the placid cow and hovering chair against the open blue sky on the cover. Immediately a woman sitting front and center interjects in a peevish tone, "well how do we know the author really exists?"

"Of course he exists!" I reply emphatically. "Here's the book. He's the one who wrote it."

"Then why isn't he here?" someone else calls out.

"He is," I say defensively, "I just stopped by his room on the way down."

With this last statement I stop in my tracks, suddenly realizing that I didn't actually see Sidney in his room, only that he had been staying there. I look over at Chuck pleadingly, hoping he'll back me up. Chuck sits there silently beaming a beatific smile.

Then a sudden thought occurs: while in Sidney's room, I had taken a pair of pants he had obviously just been wearing. The pants are magically in my hands now, still warm and suffused with Sidney's presence, as if he had just that moment stepped out of them. Now I'm no longer dressed in my deel, but in a supple bodysuit reminiscent of a scuba suit. I hold up the pants to show the skeptical audience. Looking at the pants - made of hideous tan & blue plaid cloth - I think, "my god! I can't imagine that Sidney would actually wear such a thing!"

I now step into the pants and pull them up over my bodysuit. They're gargantuan on my small frame, so I gather the surplus fabric around my waist and cinch it tight with the belt, which is fortunately still there, laced through the belt loops. The pant legs fall in a baggy cascade down my legs and pool up at the hems. But the garment is now fastened securely around my waist, and I begin to laugh and dance gaily as if this were a street carnaval in Brazil rather than a marketing presentation in a stuffy hotel in Chicago. Chuck sits silently beaming. I awaken here with a giggle.

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