My neighbor George Wood is a pretty naïve guy. You’d have to be naïve to host a Saturday morning public-access TV show called Wake Up with Wood, right? No sense of irony, no clue as to how many jokers have yucked it up over that moniker. I doubt he even knows what “double entendre” means. He probably just likes the “w” alliteration, though chances are he doesn’t know that word, either.
George asked me to be on the show this week. You might wonder who watches a lame-ass local program at six a.m. The answer, surprisingly, is lots of people, which for me is the point. I don’t feel like getting up so early, but that’s a minor piece of the problem. The major piece is Carol, my fiancée.
The problem isn’t that we’re getting married. I want to make that perfectly clear. The wedding was her idea, but I’m definitely down with it. Carol also has a sense of humor, and would probably be tickled rather than ticked off by being called a “major piece” (not that I’m going to mention it and find out).
So what’s the problem? In a word—Carol’s word—“bludgeonism.” It’s how she describes George’s lack of subtlety, which I admit is staggering. He’s that way when he offers to “blow the balls off” the woodchuck eating my garden (um, probably not, George—it’s a suburban neighborhood), and he’s that way on his TV program—which we’d never seen before, but recorded this morning to take a look. He’s not exactly a Fox News type, more of a dream-world libertarian who quotes Thoreau and Thomas Jefferson, but only the parts that support what he wants to believe, and often don’t even do that because he misinterprets them. The kind of citizen who hates taxes and votes to slash the municipal budget because it’s “so full of fat it’s about to have a heart attack,” but calls the town hall to complain if a pothole isn’t fixed right away.
Anyway, here’s the rub: after I spent four years writing my first novel, and two more searching for a publisher, On the Black recently came out with a small press. Hand to Mouth Books did a great job but has zero money for advertising, so when George invited me on to discuss the novel I was psyched to get some publicity.
But twenty minutes into the show, Carol shakes her head. “Don’t associate your brand with that schmuck and his bludgeonism.”
My “brand”? “How could he get political with a book about minor league baseball?”
“He’ll find a way. Besides, his viewers don’t read literary fiction.”
“Sounds kind of snobby.”
“Sounds kind of true. This nitwit says ‘physical’ year instead of ‘fiscal.” You don’t want to be associated with him and his Flat Earth Society audience. They call themselves Woodies, for god’s sake.”
Carol has a tremendous point, as usual. But after an initial “surge” to the 124,579th spot on the Amazon sales list, On the Black has dropped below one-millionth place. Six years of work, and my book is already sinking into the quicksand of obscurity.
“What do I have to lose, except maybe pride? Elvis Presley sang ‘Hound Dog’ to a Basset Hound on TV and sold ten million copies.”
“He said it was the most embarrassing experience of his life.”
Maybe so, I almost tell her, but he sold ten million records. Selling even 1,000 books would be success beyond my craziest pipe dream.
Ten minutes on my goofy neighbor’s show, or my future wife’s respect? (Not that she’d hold a grudge if I did go on; that would be ridiculous.) It probably would lead to no sales anyway, just make me a punch line (at least in my own house). On the other hand, Wayne Gretzky said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, and the experience might give me something quirky to write about. I’m actually kind of curious. I haven’t been on TV since The Ranger Roger
Show when I was six years old.
“It would be awkward to turn George down now.”
Carol looks like she just bit a lemon. “Jesus, Matthew, grow a pair. Want me to do it for you?”
At first I think she’s offering to grow a pair, then realize she means break the news to George.
“No, it’s my responsibility.”
I’ll tell him as gently as possible. I don’t want to beat the poor naïve schmuck over the head with it.