Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Victorian Match Industry

I was so antsy about hosting the Square Books Q&A with Patton Oswalt that I left the house three hours early! I paced around the square. I went to Square Books and saw a new hardcover called THE MATCH GIRL AND THE HEIRESS or maybe it was THE HEIRESS AND THE MATCH GIRL and I thought, "Oh no, am I going to buy this for 'research'?" I looked through it and there was a lot about "the match industry" in the nineteenth century and the hellish (I assume) condition of Victorian match factories (I didn't let myself read about that) and the plight of the little match girls on the street, oh no! But my book is about cigarette lighters (though - spoiler alert! - matches make an appearance). Anyway, I decided to pretend I never saw that book, let's never speak of it again. (I feel like I've mentioned this before, but I remember when I was in eighth grade with McNeil and he read a report he had written about matches in front of the class! A report about matches! I thought that was hilarious for some reason. I should see if he still has it, maybe I could put it in my bibliography.) But back to the fascinating story of how I killed time. I looked through a biography of Marilyn Monroe. I found out she had some therapy sessions with Anna Freud, which places her at two degrees of separation from Mark Twain... AGAIN. I was like, "When I get home I need to tweet Megan Abbott about this!" The Freud part I mean. But guess what? She already knew. She knows all. You can't stump Megan on Freud stuff. Or much of anything else. Then Kaitlyn of Square Books showed me a good trick for making my pocket square look nice. Talk about a full-service bookstore! And yes, I wore a jaunty polka-dotted pocket square of the finest silk for Patton Oswalt! Soon enough it was "Megan Abbott time," speaking of Megan Abbott, so I went up to City Grocery Bar and had a slug of rye to soothe the old nerves. Just enough time before meeting Patton Oswalt. At one point, I put my wallet on the bar, which made me remember TWO THINGS SIMULTANEOUSLY. 1) Once I put my wallet on a bar in New York City and when I looked down it had vanished! Famed mischief-maker Amanda Stern handed it to me and said, "You don't do that in New York." She had taught me a lesson! 2) On one of our first visits to Oxford - maybe the very first; it may have been 2003, I don't know - I was up on the balcony of City Grocery Bar having a good time. But when we got back to the hotel, my wallet was gone. I ranted to Dr. Theresa, "We're getting out of here. THIS IS A CITY OF THIEVES!" Ha ha, I remember saying that. I was sure my pocket had been picked by an expert. When I got back to the bar, my wallet was just lying there on the balcony where I had dropped it, its contents untouched. What a rube. I met Patton Oswalt and he was very nice. I knew I would bring up Jerry Lewis - I can't help myself! - so I tried to get all of that out of the way "backstage" (in the back of Off Square Books, before the Q&A). I don't think Mr. Oswalt entirely shares my deep feelings about Jerry Lewis! He compared Jerry to Bono of U2 in a way that was unflattering to both gentlemen! Anyway, I got the Jerry out of my system. There are a couple of good stories about Jerry Lewis in Mr. Oswalt's highly engaging new book SILVER SCREEN FIEND. Then we talked about THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE, among other things, and then, just when we were about to go out to face the packed bookstore and start the "show," Patton said, "Jack!" And I said, "What!" And in reply he played the rousing theme from THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE on his phone. Maybe it was to "pump me up" so I wouldn't be nervous! Whatever the intent, it was a fine gesture.