Waiting for Joey: A Reader’s Experience at a Book Signing

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From Joey:  “What follows is a fine piece of writing by a young fellow who brought his family to my reading in Munich.  I figure I better keep his name anonymous, but  his writing touched me and I am glad he gave me permission to share it here. I do not deserve this treatment, but I thank him nonetheless.”

My Old Kenstucky Home

As I’m sitting in the front row and glancing again at the church’s small side-tower opposite the wall of glass, its clock tells me it is ten minutes until the last subway leaves for the last train back home tonight. Finally the last person puts down her book to have it signed and then its only the wife left. As he raises his pen once more, he really looks the way he said the late hour and the trip made him feel. I just hope the jet lag, all the signing and the questions from the audience, all this is going to be worth it for him as much as the long wait was worth it for us, for her.

‘Your book is full of this teenage sexuality, when will you let your son read it?’ – ‘Well, I was raised by quite liberal parents, who let me watch R-rated movies pretty early and so on, and I intend to raise my child in a like manner, so I guess there’s stuff in there you wouldn’t want, I don’t know, a six-year-old to read, but I guess like 13, twelve, eleven, whatever, take your pick.’

So what’s in it for the girl? I guess a lot of A-words, and some of the T-words, the S-word and the F-word probably too. What the heck, they go nicely with all the cursive letters she’s just learned at school. She’s standing in line now with A—, waiting for the signature, for her collection, she had said. Back at home, after she had learned that we were going to A—‘s friend’s reading tonight and she’d have her book signed by him, she had first picked a pencil to get signed for herself. Then, later, during the reading, we could convince her to switch to paper, and she figured her note pad she’d taken for drawing during the long train ride here was perfect; finally, she just took the flier about the reading up there. She’s holding out pretty well for the late hour, but she’s always been like that. By god, if nothing else good came out of these ten years here in Germany, she sure did. And what else is in it for her, a midnight burger and shake at the station and a 45-minute nap on the train; not too bad a trade-off for having to get up for school six hours later. The woman is now spelling out some name to him.

‘So do you still play in your band, are you still touring?’ – ‘No, no, we’re not. It was fun while it lasted, but as time went by, I realized that playing in a teenage punk band called „The Mullets“ wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to be, in the end.’

And what’s in it for the boy, I wonder. I had hoped that at the worst, it would be a night out in the big city meeting one of his mom’s old friends from back home, and at he best it would get him that tiny bit more interested in reading; now, literature isn’t a magic cure-all, but it will open the doors to many things that will otherwise stay closed for ever, and it can be a friend holding your hand at times. I didn’t know it would be all about how high school sucks, he sure has enough teenage drama tat school and at home himself, what with being 13 and his cousin, the older brother he’s never had, a million miles away; and his Granny, whom he left at three years old, sits alone in her smallesttown Southern recliner, surrounded by her pets, and his German dad switches his iPod for the English text book on the train ride here so’s he won’t screw up his English test too bad again the next day, while his biological father is busy playing video games somewhere in America, or maybe making yet another half-sibling. Well, I sure hope C— also heard that part about how J— liked his teachers most about school, just like his protagonist, and how that one teacher said how people are just people everywhere, don’t matter if it’s in America or Germany; he doesn’t know yet that he’ll have to wait with reading the book himself until his mother’s had a chance to read the English version, once it finally comes out. And I sure hope that little man with his little guitar and his passion up there left enough of an impression on him somewhere so he won’t give up his own guitar lessons some time on a teenage whim. And of course he’d already been seeing this celebrity friend of his mom’s in every new face walking through the building, and now he’s really looking forward to meeting a famous person, just like the YouTube celebrities he’s striving after with his video game commentaries. Now J—‘s saying something to the woman about German names.

‘I thank you all for bearing with me and my songs, but I’ve felt lately like there was a void in my life and I realized that I would have to fill it with music, so playing for you here tonight is like therapy for me, thank you.’

Well, I don’t know on how many other authors singing songs after their readings that little church clock tower has so gently frowned upon so far, with its little buttresses and windows, but probably not many and surely none so sincere. I guess that adds another 15 minutes to the 15 he’s already got. So what’s in it for me? ‘Life can turn pineapple upside-down cake’ and ‘after so many pratfalls this is your prattest’ goes that song off the last N— album; I eventually learned that it was about the unhappy life of a silent-movie star, but the wording and content still tie in so neatly with the other songs on the album about the singer’s recent divorce from his wife and daughter, so it’s no wonder it stuck with me like that lately. She still sticks with me, even after that latest pratfall of mine, but I guess my music will be all that’s left for me when good reason finally gives in to dammed-up emotion and that constantly hovering upside-down cake decides to strike the face of the clown that I’ve become. So I guess these people here who so enjoy a little America-bashing before they go home in their denim blue-jeans with their American book and Hunter S. Thompson-buttons, watching American bodies, yes, writhing across their iPhone screens, they may all have their own personal legitimate agenda, but none of them understands you like we do, who sat with you sipping iced tea at the American apple-pie institution that is Cracker Barrel, me listening to A— and you and your friends reveling in what passes for nostalgia among thirty-somethings. So I say, Go J—, give’em hell! and show them who can rock and who can roll and let that voice ring out loud and ring out clear, give us some of that therapy, and tune that guitar on stage as long as it takes you to get that sound just right. Now the woman’s telling him something about the person he just made the dedication out to.


‘And you, do you still live in Kentucky? – ‘Well, yes, as I always call it, I’m still in Kenstucky, I don’t seem to have been able to write my way out of there yet. But, I must say, I’m staying there for the best of reasons, family.’


And that’s the reason why she’s still here, and also why she wants to go back. And that’s what’s in it for her and it’s why we’re here, for a little glimpse of that home abroad, that old life. That’s why she’s been talking about him coming here for months, urging his friend to come too, and why she got the tickets long ago and even dragged the kids out here in the middle of a school night and waited in line for an hour, here in that country she’s grown not to loathe. ‘Home is where the heart is’ we are told, but what about the heart whose home is two places 5000 miles apart, and when the calls and Christmas cards don’t come as often as they used to and time slowly takes its sad and inevitable toll, one by one. And despite all of tonight’s talk about the horrors of life in the heartland she’ll still long for the seat on her mother’s porch but will make do with this here sample of that life she’s exiled herself from. It feels a bit like we’re in some small way part of a private conspiracy of five, and he doesn’t even know yet he’s in it; and even though her trading in the small gifts she brought for a signature and a home-made button pushes her even further into the formal grooves of the pattern dictated by the ritual and constraints of the occasion, those words written into that book and that button she might not even wear will be the only things that she’ll be able to take back to our four rooms in the attic from tonight, the only things that she can keep, that will stay. Well, the woman just said a last good-bye, so here goes: ‘Hi, J—, how ya doing?’ It takes a moment for him torealize who she actually is…