My dad drove me again. He listened to an audiobook on his headphones and I played Yahtzee. I was reading for the Georgia Center for the Book at the Dekalb County Public Library. There was a nice crowd that included my friend Chelsea Rathburn, author of the poetry collection The Shifting Line. Chelsea was one of the first friends I made at the Sewanee Writers' Conference and now she's winning NEA grants and getting great teaching gigs and publishing in big places, and I am surprisingly not as jealous as I thought I would be. That's the mark of a true friendship. The reading went well and I sold some books and I had a real thrill when one of the people who came to the reading ended up being Thomas Mullen, who gave me a copy of his first novel The Last Town on Earth, which was a very kind thing to do. I read the first thirty pages on the way home and was hooked. It's about a town (in 1918) in Washington state that quarantines itself to prevent infection from a deadly epidemic. Did I just say deadly epidemic? I did. How can you resist? So I had a good time and saw some nice people and sold a few books. Not a bad night.
It was made even better by the fact that my dad and I went to The Varsity. It's the largest drive-in fast food restaurant in the world. Nipsey Russell used to work there as a car hop. I have a tendency to avoid the popular places because I think that they coast on their reputation, but, goddamn, The Varsity is awesome. I got two chili dogs and a Varsity orange drink. My dad got a slaw dog and a chili dog and we split an order of onion rings. It was, as always, very very good. I cannot remember the last time I went to Atlanta and did not eat at The Varsity. We bought eight peach pies to take home with us and hand out to our friends and family and remind them that we are wonderful people.
Tonight I read at Rock Point Books in Chattanooga, TN. My wife read here when her book of poems came out and it's a great store with a really nice staff and so I'd been looking forward to this reading. I had some good friends show up, which made me happy. Jason Griffey, the father of Griff's favorite friend, Eliza, came to the reading. Jason is one of the few people I know who will talk to me about zombies and comic books and professional wrestling with as much enthusiasm as I have for these subjects. My friend, Buzz Sienknecht, who has come to the Sewanee Writers' Conference every year that I've been on staff, also came to the reading and he brought four other people with him, which was very nice and made me feel lucky that I know him. And my friends Jacob (who works with my wife and who humors me when I ask him to come into my office and look at my Batman statues) and Jessica (who I have taught in three separate creative writing classes and who writes wilder stuff each time) from Sewanee also made the trip. And my mom and dad were there. What I'm trying to say is that there were some people in the audience who already liked me, so I thought it might go well. And it did. It was a fun reading and I answered a few questions and signed books and had a great time. Thanks to the staff at Rock Point for having me.
After the reading I bought a hardcover collection of Paul Pope's Heavy Liquid. If you don't like comic books but wish you did, you should read anything by Paul Pope. I've got the actual issues of this comic series but I like it so much that I spent 35 bucks to have it in a hardcover collection. This is not smart. Oh well.
My mom drove me to Chattanooga for a radio interview at UTC before the reading. She dropped me off and I waited and read the Chris Adrian story in the New Yorker. I love Chris Adrian's work so much, and this story was amazing. Good lord it's so beautiful and so sad. If you haven't read it, you should read it. I ended up talking about it a lot during the radio interview. I think I might have said, "I wish I was Chris Adrian" at one point. I once again mentioned how lonely I had been in my twenties but the interviewer asked me about my wife and child in a follow-up question and got me to clarify that I'm not so desperately lonely now. Thanks, Monessa, for saving me on that one.
After the radio interview, I met my mom at Cheeburger, Cheeburger, a burger place in Chattanooga. I've never been and it's a chain, but I really wanted to try it. I am so happy that I did because it was a life-changing event. I had heard about a certain burger there that I was jazzed about and so I ordered "Our Famous Pounder". You might think that this is a one pound burger. It is not; it is 20 ounces. It is 1 1/4 pounds. If you can finish it, you get your picture taken and placed on the "Wall of Fame". Oh, god, I wanted to be on that "Wall of Fame" so bad. I also got a chocolate shake and onion rings. Was this a mistake? Probably. The burger came and there was so much meat and cheese that the bun could not contain it. I was giddy. Fifteen minutes later, the burger had disappeared. I even ate the green olive that garnished the burger (and I hate, hate, hate olives) because I didn't want to get disqualified. My mom called the waiter over to our table and he verified that I had finished the burger and then he went to get the camera. He came back with a camera and a gigantic hat in the shape of a hamburger. I was to wear this hamburger hat in the picture. "Oh, no thank you," I said. It's the rule. "Okay," I said. He took my picture. Then he asked what my name was and where I was from. I told him. He then shouted very loudly, "Ladies and Gentlemen, my friend Kevin from Sewanee, Tennessee, just finished a 20 ounce hamburger. Please give him a round of applause." People clapped but the look on their face was a strange smile that barely masked their disgust. My mom thought this whole event was the greatest thing of all time. I think she was more proud of me for eating the burger than my publishing the book of stories. During my reading, she sat in the back row and sent a picture of me with the burger hat to all of her friends on her cell phone. After the reading, my mom took my dad back to the restaurant to show him my picture on the wall. I have great parents.
I've got a break before I head east for a few more readings so I'm going to take it easy. Thanks to everyone who has bought the book or come to the reading or mentioned the book. I appreciate it.