The Day Before That Big Lit Fest
hit Denver, I cleaned and vacuumed my apartment and mopped the bathroom and kitchen floors in case any important publishers came over. Mom picked me up outside the K ZIP and made a couple of wrong turns on the way to the Little Greek Café on 12th and Clayton Streets. I’d planned our appointment without knowing there was a limited window of time to secure my free pass to the fest coming up the next day. After we got ourselves straightened out and were again heading toward the Café, I asked, “Is there a way to get there without going through Cheesman Park?”
“Good, ‘cause that’s where it always seems to go wrong.” I tried to minimize the lack of patience in my tone.
Lunch was tense, but amiable. I found myself apologizing for my “urgency of manner.” I had just enough time after Mom dropped me off at K ZIP to catch the bus downtown and get my free pass to the Lit Fest, beginning the following day at the Colorado Convention Center, a futuristic glass building full of carpeted ramps, stairwells, elevators, escalators, walkways and lounges with the sculpture of a giant blue bear attempting to force its way inside. The book fair would take place in a giant room upstairs filled with thirty or forty long rows of display tables stacked with merchandise from thousands of small presses and magazines and graduate creative writing programs.
The Power Mountain table, in row E, became a sort of base for me in my otherwise aimless wandering around in search of familiar faces when I went back the next day. I ran into a workshop leader from grad school named Miss Michael Kellerman, who’d recently published a treatise on memoir I’d reviewed for the Scrutinizer, and told her I was almost finished writing a book that was a kind of tribute to my time at Power Mountain, hoping maybe she’d help me get it published. “And your book’s been a great inspiration.”
She told me she looked forward to reading it when I was done.
I knew from her assbook headlines Miss Michael was a big fan of the Maker and the Marvins, and told her I’d recently lucked into a connection with an intimate of the Bogchar family I was unable to name (“Wrinkled” Pete had sworn me to a confidentiality agreement). Did she know any publishers?
“I’m sorry, I have to limit that part of myself to my five advisees. I just
don’t have the time, I’d really like to. Finding an agent will be no problem at all for him or her, I assure you.”
“I understand. Power Mountain is known for that, the advisors’ devotion to their students. Thanks very much. Just thought I’d ask.”
It was the first time I’d ever tried selling a prospect to a potential benefactor like that, and I was eager to get it over with, despite having hoped for a lucky break.
In the morning I spilled a glass of orange juice all over my newly mopped floor and mopped it again before heading back to the fest.
On the bus there, I saw a piece of plastic hopping across the ground and briefly thought it was a bird.
I was standing right under the giant blue bear statue outside the convention center when Lamar Crosby walked up, tall girlfriend Cordelia at his side, blonde hair and high cheekbones, and friendly eyes. “There’s Henry!”
Lamar’s brown beard had grown into a little bun under his chin. We hugged and clapped each other on the back.
“Cordelia teaches at the same high school in Santa Fe as me. She asked me, ‘What does Henry look like?’ We were looking for you in the crowd, and I told her, ‘Henry looks like no one else. You’ll know him when you see him.”
“And I did!”
The three of us walked across the Light Rail tracks and around a few corners to a Peruvian restaurant full of talking diners serving spicy dishes heavy with potatoes from a buffet of round covered pots. At one point, Cordelia and I began spontaneously flashing imaginary symbols at each other with our fingers below the general din of the downtown lunch rush. I got a sense of her as a very good person and felt glad to see her with my friend.
Lamar had been to Peru and they were going back together this summer.
“Machu Picchu is this whole complex built on top of these steep hills in a remote and inaccessible valley,” he told me. “The whole place had a mystic sense of focus on learning.”
“Sounds like Power Mountain.”
“I learned a lot about the Inca empire too. I think it was one of the most impressive social organizations in history, not about subduing other tribes so much as encouraging them to join an alliance.”
“No, that’s just how they hypnotize their citizens.”
Just then an old man wearing steel-rimmed glasses seated beside Lamar added a vial of purple liquid to his water with a flourish, causing a stir of approval in the immediate vicinity.
“What’s that?” Cordelia leaned over and asked him.
“Just my supplement.”
This man and his wife were also in town for a convention, theirs centering on nutritional supplements, and seemed uncannily devoted to promoting their cause. Co owners of a company called Vitalize!, they gave us organic energy pills and pamphlets to read.
“We’re in the top 99 per cent!” qualified his wheat-faced mate from her form- fitting purple dress. “I’m sixty years old! Do you think I look sixty years old!”
On the way back to the convention center, I noticed a decorative column on
one corner reading ALTOGETHERNOW in different-colored letters, and reading it from the bottom at first I thought it was a foreign word or the name of a bank or a company. Crossing the Light Rail tracks, Cordelia said, “I don’t know if I could ever be so into my job as those people were.”
“Maybe that’s just something they’ve mastered, though,” I told her. “Once I saw the Amway tag I sort of didn’t trust them anymore.”
There was a Power Mountain social in a crowded basement bar downtown that evening. We three established an outpost in a corner and I kept circling around the dark room full of groups of people talking with drinks in their hands. I saw Danny Cluck and a couple of other friends from Power Mountain, but still no Heidi Luger, though it was so crowded she may well have been there somewhere.
Lamar, Cordelia and I shared a table in the crowded Thai restaurant next door with four others from the party after it broke up. An elderly couple sat across from them, the wife a poet and Power Mountain graduate, and the husband a mathematician like Lamar. I sat between this man and a woman with a sharp nose and long black hair named Jessica, and across from a middle aged woman named Becky with a child’s round face and thick glasses.
At one point I was impassionedly trying to summarize the book I’d been writing for Jessica—“So here’s my nutshell: anything can be proven—but nothing is meant to be! You can take anything—any point of opinion, and come up with evidence proving it on the Internet, right? So the point is, to have any integrity, you can’t have right and wrong! It’s a matter of—”
“Say, what are you talking about over here?” intruded the friendly mathematician on my right, throwing me off my track and sending me into a brief downward spiral of self-pity.
“Ever since the last skull fracture, it’s hard for me to keep my train of thought,” I lamented to my corner of shocked listeners, “now I’ve lost it again.”
Jessica was a nurse, and seemed especially wary after I mentioned skull fractures, as if I might completely lose my temper at any second. She kept giving me sidelong looks with her blade of a nose. The restaurant was crowded and loud enough that I couldn’t be sure how much of our exchange was audible at the other end of the table where Lamar and Cordelia were.
“You sounded so excited,” the interrupter explained. “That’s why I wanted to get involved. A real intellectual conversation is hard to come by.”
“Yes, they’re rare.” I pated the poor old man’s shoulder and told him, “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
After paying the check, Lamar, Cordelia and I walked back to their hotel.
We crossed the outdoor mall at 16th, glowing brightly with neon graffiti from all the marquees, thronged with people and panhandlers, just as one of the free shuttle buses rang its bell, closed its doors and set sail for the next block, closely followed by an unmarked white squad car.
“It’s a living metaphor,” I thought aloud.
“We walked past these singing grates the other day,” said Lamar. “Is that real or prerecorded sound?”
I remembered Billy Possibility and I coming across a grate downtown somewhere years ago that made twittering sounds. “Prerecorded, I think.”
We came to a series of grates from which the sound of gurgling splashing flowing water could be heard. “See, here’s one,” said Lamar.
We heard a deep fat splash as something plummeted into the flow. It didn’t sound prerecorded.