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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Douglas Coupland: Time Capsules - Everybody, Please Meet Elaine

Everybody, Please Meet Elaine

[Correction appended.]

Every city has one or two companies that provide service to publishers as media escorts. Your typical media escort is named Elaine. Elaine’s two kids just got into good colleges, and Elaine wants to put her arts degree (Kent State, 1978) to some use. Elaine drives a Chevy Lumina, or her husband’s Infiniti; she will not load luggage into her trunk and is always apologetic that the trunk is filled with crap that has to be shunted about and which will also stain your luggage. Elaine pretends to be reading your book and has a Danielle Steele novel on the center console with the bookmark near the end. Elaine enjoys a good stick of gum and keeps a bottle of Purelle within arm’s reach at all times.

Left: Ultraman toy box (modified), Portland, Ore.

Everyone has to ride with Elaine: Al Gore, former second-in-command of the Western world, has to drive with Elaine. Should Al complain, his editors and publishers will tell him how expensive it is to publish a book.

Elaine is used to writers being crotchety, bored and sullen. There’s a part of her that wants to discuss Proust, but there’s a part of her that remembers the time a Pulitzer Prize winner screamed at her to shut up about her daughter’s lacrosse team’s weekend jamboree in Austin. She never knows what to expect from writers. It’s dawning on her that writers are, as a group, pathetic travelers who have found themselves locked inside a gruesome machine called “a tour” which exposes them daily, for weeks on end, to a long strand of physical and emotional indignities.

Section of photograph in hallway, Calgary, Alberta
Rail station, Newscastle

Elaine noticed that writers became true monsters around 2001, when Amazon forced all English language markets around the world to publish simultaneously rather than waiting the customary six to nine months between markets. The ensuing rush for regional book sales forced writers to go for up to two months nonstop, entering them into a “Groundhog Day”-like netherworld in which they’re forced to discuss a book which exited their life a year and a half earlier, and which now taunts them daily, reminding them that the book they were working on most recently is being neglected and may even die as a result of tour-induced psychosis.

“I would think,” says Elaine, speaking to a writer currently sitting in the passenger seat, “any writer would be thrilled to tour, no matter how bad things get.”

Crane, Portland, Ore.
Plywood, Newcastle; Bridges, Newcastle

The writer beside Elaine is having a food crash because the airline chose not to serve a meal on the flight, and the scheduled lunch break in the previous city was bumped because a cub arts writer for a Midwestern daily paper arbitrarily decided to switch the time of a scheduled interview. The photographer was late and had trouble with the flash attachment, and then traffic to the airport took an extra 45 minutes because of a stall on the Exit 24 offramp. “You would think so,” says Elaine’s hostage passenger. “But one must remember that from wake-up to bedtime, a writer on tour is at the receiving end of the screw-ups of hundreds of other people, from the person who forgets to give him his wake-up call, to the room service person who, at 11:03 p.m., takes astonishing relish in saying that the kitchen shut three minutes earlier. (‘Would you like a Domino’s Pizza flier sent to your room?’) So when you meet writers at the airport, they’re barely holding it all together, especially as you refuse to help them with their luggage, and as you chew gum in their face and douse yourself in one gallon too much scent.”

Old toys, Portland, Ore.

“I’d never thought of that,” Elaine says. “I’m really looking forward to reading your book. The flap copy makes it sound so fascinating.”



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