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Friday, August 04, 2006

Douglas Coupland: Time Capsules - Big Screen

Photo by Karin Bubas
Photo by Karin Bubas

After much foot-dragging on my part, I finally promised I’d write press notes for the producer of a film I wrote that was shot last year in Vancouver, “Everything’s Gone Green.” It’s a full-length feature comedy that premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September. Toronto’s film festival is, commercially, the biggest in North America, but the glitch this year is that Bill Clinton is going to spend his 60th birthday in the city in the middle of the festival — nobody has a clue why — and, yay!, Brad and Angelina™ are going to be there for it, too. So obviously the birthday is going to suck up all the local media, which is tormenting everyone in the film business. Now everyone’s trying to avoid scheduling their films around the Clinton weekend. Who the heck goes to Toronto for a 60th birthday? Woohoo!

I wrote “Everything’s Gone Green” in …1999? 2000? I can’t remember. What is it about, you ask? It’s about getting older and watching opportunities vanish and realizing you have to hustle or you’re going to be stuck in Loserland the rest of your life. I really lucked out with the producers and director: they made sure that pretty much every word in the film is mine. I’ve learned that this is a rarity.

Photo by Karin Bubas
Photo by Karin Bubas

An ongoing joke throughout the movie is that Vancouver is always being disguised by film crews to become Seattle or Portland or Boulder or … It’s strange living in Vancouver because you always see yourself presented as something else. So when you actually see Vancouver being portrayed as Vancouver it feels weird inside your head, like watching a forbidden channel, like location porn. The crew treated me well because I went to high school and art school with so many of them. The last thing any of these people might have seen themselves doing in 2005 was being in the film business, but that’s life on the West Coast in the digital universe. I guess the thing about art school is that it gives you a way of looking at the world, but it doesn’t give you any concrete pictures of what your future will be like. At least in med school you’d have dim images of yourself somewhere down the road wearing a white jacket. Art school? I always saw myself in a methadone clinic at 44. I still do, actually. Every day I wake up and can’t believe I’m not there.

There. I’ve done my film notes.

Oh My Garage

Photo by Karin Bubas
Photo by Karin Bubas
Photo by Karin Bubas
Photo by Karin Bubas

I used to have an uncle who, instead of saying “Oh my God,” said, “Oh my garage!” — which I always thought was way better. A few years ago during the rainy season in Vancouver, I looked out at my garage and carport area and said, “Oh my garage!” It was a real disaster out there — but an interesting disaster. So before I gutted the place I asked my photographer friend, Karin Bubas, to come in and shoot it. It’s an interesting pictorial essay on the contents of my brain back then. I can’t believe I left a vintage Fiorucci poster out near the rain, and it’s interesting to see the Adbusters American flag. They didn’t make very many of them and they’re really terrific. I framed this one, and it’s now hanging inside the house.

Photo by Karin Bubas
Photo by Karin Bubas

Book Tours continued: The Book Store

Most bookstores have a staffer named Fran who introduces everybody who reads at that store. Fran is usually 55, overworked and doesn’t read anything written after 1986. Before Fran introduces you, she does the briefest of Google searches and then unquestioningly regurgitates the first thing that blurts out of the search engine’s window. Fran will mispronounce your name and then tell the audience, “Mr. Coupland is a deep sea creature born in 2002. He enjoys making spaghetti with duckling sauce. This is his 47th book.”

Only one bookstore in, say, 20 (honestly) will have an enthusiastic employee do your introduction. Let’s call him Kendall. Kendall is 27 and is paralyzed by public speaking. In the 10 minutes before going on stage, Kendall will be sprinkling the green room with his sweat and not be much good as a conversationalist. At the podium, Kendall will choke out your name while staring at the floor, while an unforgiving audience is hoping his brains explode and spray out his ears.

The lectern is an important prop in a reading. It has to be made of wood and it has to cover your body below stomach height. Only trained actors and politicians are able to keep their bodies still during a reading or talk of any length. Most people, myself included, bounce their legs about and shuffle from side to side. This is distracting and unnecessary — and yes, this is the reason we use wooden lecterns and not music stands with a tiny black ledge for your notes.

The worst reality of all is a mike on a stick. The moment you see a mike on a stick your heart breaks because you know it’s going to malfunction and the reading is going to suffer badly for it — ALWAYS — and it makes you curse the effort and brain cells and good will spent in getting to that bookstore.

Attention all bookstore owners out there: you MUST have a good sound system and you MUST put your reading guests at ease with a good lectern. Writers are basket cases at the best of times, and are often the last people who ought to be reading their work aloud. If you don’t have a lectern, improvise something with book cartons or a stack of atlases — but you owe it to your writers to protect them and to make the reading a success for your guests.

O.K., rant achieved.

Photo by Karin Bubas
Photo by Karin Bubas

To be continued.

Summer in the City - I Heart August

I Heart August

Yes, I worry about August in the city. Poor August, imprisoned in concrete. But then, I also worry about the city in August. Poor city, overheated and abandoned by much of its population. Because, you know, August, the month that Europeans take off, the month that shrinks take off, is, according to local prejudice, the worst month – the hottest and muggiest and dreariest.

But the time has come to finally expose that prejudice for what it is: wrong. The worst month is July. August, on the other hand, is a relatively civilized month, a warm but easy-going month. I heart August. I really, really do. Still …

I thought that today I might pretend that I’m not in the city, that I don’t have to defend New York or August, that they are quiet and napping in the back seat and I’m off for a summer vacation like all those psychiatrists.
There are so many choices. I could go fishing or canoeing or kayaking or bird-watching in Central Park. Or I could see a movie in the park, or an opera or a symphony. I could attend a handball tournament or a volleyball tournament. There are softball games and bocce ball, and there’s cricket, too. There are so very, very many choices.

Now I’m exhausted thinking about them.

I choose to walk the dog in Riverside Park.

I live a block away from Riverside Park, so I walk the dog there every day beneath the dark shadows of the linden trees. You know those two weeks, the last two weeks of June, when you walk down Fifth Avenue or anywhere near any park, and you stop and breathe and think, what just happened? Where am I? What wonderful thing have I done to deserve this complete and thorough happiness? What is that ambrosial smell? How can there be a smell that is the smell of spring itself? That smell is the smell of the linden trees in bloom. I just learned that from my upstairs neighbor. The smell is gone by August, sadly, but the trees are there and the shade is so soft, so dark and intense.

Sometimes the dog, sensing we are about to go home, simply lies down beneath the linden trees and rests his head in the green grass. Usually I tug on his leash and drag him home, literally, his little feet dragging stubbornly behind him, but sometimes I join him on the grass. Unter den Linden. Today, I saw a mockingbird chase a squirrel off the fence. A blue jay screeched from the depths of a bush bearing some kind of berries, still pale and hard. There are so many trees and bushes with tight, green fruit. Cherries? Apples, crab apples … There are also more kinds of hydrangeas billowing through Riverside Park than I ever imagined existed. Weird, giant hibiscus, their flowers like colossal waving handkerchiefs, grow extravagantly in the swampy depression near 82nd Street. That’s another favorite place for the dog. The grasses are high and fragrant, the mud is cool, the same blue jay taps at a huge seed with its beak, tiny yellow butterflies hover everywhere. Well, maybe it’s a favorite place for me.

Then we walk by the river, past the rhythmic creaking of the docks of the boat basin. Maybe we’ll go back for dinner to the Boat Basin Cafe, where dogs are welcome, and watch the sun set. Sometimes there are fireflies on the walk home. Oh, it’s all so idyllic.

And then, suddenly, from across the river, comes the rain – the pounding, muscular rain. Unter den Linden is over. It’s Unter den scaffolding. I can go to the bank, Fed Ex, the dry cleaner, the pharmacy and the best Cuban-Chinese restaurant in New York and barely feel a drop. I can almost get to Zabars. Why was I pretending I wasn’t in New York, again? I think I’ll pretend I’m in New York and don’t mind one bit. Just me and August in New York City, together, hanging out.

7 comments so far...

  • 1.


    Someone finally put to bed that tired old bromide about august being the worst. July has always been the true devil.

    — Posted by George

  • 2.

    As an ex-Upper West Side NYer, I was lulled into rocking chair happiness by Schine’s description. Then I opened my radio for the hourly news bulletin and here I am, outside Tel Aviv, not far as the crow flies and certainly not the bluejay from Lebanon, and nowhere near the shade of linden trees or the exhaust of the crosstown bus.

    — Posted by Pnina Moed-Kass

  • 3.

    Been doing the same thing for 20 years. Thanks for writing it down so beautifully.

    — Posted by Phil

  • 4.

    This is very nice!

    The long, warm sounds of the name Auuguust even suggest leisure and relief for me. All winter long, I long for August nights outside on the stoop, the ice cream truck on the next block over, the hum of air conditioners, crickets in their prime, leaves rustling in a lazy breeze, the community garden is about to burst.

    — Posted by Miles

  • 5.

    August is even better down here on the West Coast of Florida!

    — Posted by Martin

  • 6.

    These memories of summer days and nights in New York can be any city here in the U.S. where you drive an hour away into the countryside those feelings are still with you.

    I know as a little girl growing up in the summer and leaving my schoolfriends behind in their homes to my home away from home Cathline Schine captures what a city does in the summer.

    — Posted by Joanne

  • 7.

    Beautiful, but after 35 years of New York summers (with only 2 elsewhere), I finally loved July here too (although I like villifying it as you have, because its heat is claustrophobic, without the sense of escape August has, no matter what happens. I liked July finally because I googled that lyric from ‘Hello, Dolly!’, which goes ‘And so I’ll try to make it easier to find me in the silliness of July.’ It’s from ‘Ribbons Down My Back,’ and sung by the Irene Molloy character. It was the first part I needed to clear up, but since I first had the records from the Broadway show I was at least sure that the second part was ‘the stillness of July.’ I am afraid that I think my wrong version is better.

    — Posted by Patrick

Summer in the City - The Left-Behind Books

On Fridays the traffic to the Triborough Bridge backs all the way down to my Upper West Side neighborhood. All those S.U.V.’s and the occasional, top-down convertible, spinning their wheels on Broadway or Amsterdam Avenue in the late afternoon heat — fleeing the city as if they were running from a plague.

I don’t mind being left behind. I usually leave the city at some point in August, but I’ve never taken a share at some house in the Hamptons or anywhere else that required my presence every weekend. I’m one of those odd individuals who actually likes summer in New York, especially once the great caravan has moved on and emptied Manhattan. It allows me to enjoy that rarest of urban pleasures, to be alone in the city.

This sudden solitude has been known to fill one with a certain, giddy feeling of freedom, with the sense that all the world has been left at one’s doorstep. It is responsible for many celebrated flights of fancy, from Tom Ewell lusting after Marilyn Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch,” to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway picking out “romantic women” and imagining following them “to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, [where] they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness.” Judge Joseph F. Crater, interrupting a Maine vacation to return to the sweltering city in August 1930, got completely carried away, and mysteriously disappeared forever.

Those of us with a less active imagination or a happier marriage embrace the more quotidian pleasures that the city allows. I relish how the whole pace of my neighborhood slows markedly, how the traffic lessens after those frenzied, Friday afternoons. Stepping outside on a summer weekend morning, New York can seem startlingly, even shockingly quiet. Everything seems to run slower, even electronic and mechanical devices — my sluggish computer, the already balky elevator in my building.

I move more slowly, too, taking the time to stop and look over things I normally pass by. There is a hidden stairway trailing down into the shadows below street level. The sanctuary of a church opened to the street, the high, stained-glass windows gleaming in the darkened sanctuary; the close, musty church smell of carpet, candles and books wafting out onto the sidewalk. Plaster heads, used to decorate a building a century or so ago, leer out from where they’ve always been, just a little ways above my line of vision.

One of my favorite sidewalk activities is to stop and browse the makeshift book stands that proliferate in my neighborhood. This is a dangerous pastime for a New Yorker such as myself, whose home is already beginning to bear an unnerving resemblance to that of the Collyer brothers. I use the booksellers as a circulating library, giving away as many volumes as I can stand to part with, but always picking up another one or two in the end; such great bargains for a dollar!

But whether I buy or not, I like to look at the books they are selling. So often in New York, one can find what is obviously someone’s entire library out on the street — no doubt gleaned from one of those apartments described as “estate condition” in the listings.

These collections are like brief trips back in time, little windows into other lives. Remember when that school of psychology was in fashion, that burning political issue? That typeface, that style of cover? Here are somber, plain book jackets from the 50’s; garish, psychedelic colors and script from the 70’s. Whole shelves of books on a single subject: the future of the Soviet Union, the role of women in education, black nationalism, sexual theory and technique, method acting, gestalt therapy and the secret of wok cooking.

Here are all the preoccupations and intellectual fads of the last 50 years, at least. We can smile with the condescension of the present as we pass by, knowing how it all turned out, how this or that trend passed without altering very much at all. Yet it seems almost obscene to see someone’s life exposed this way, put out on a sidewalk table or blanket for all who pass by to see and handle. These books belonged, after all, to our neighbors, maybe people we saw on the street every day for years until, without really noticing, we did not. They, too, have gone on, one way or another, leaving us to enjoy the emptier city.

4 comments so far...

  • 1.

    I just gotta say that living a little further uptown on the West Side from you viz. at Riverside and 144th Street, I do not share the sense and sensibility of the city you experience. It is much busier here in the summer. I long for the cold winter days when we are not subjected to monster stereos from Riverside Park, kids playing in the hydrants which are open on EVERY block and the open windows that allow the blast of motorcycle packs screeching their way up the West Side Highway straigtaway that I live above. I am happy when it rains and sweeps away some of the litter the people carelessly strew about and keeps people off the park benches, chatting loudly with their boomboxes in the backgroud. Good grief, give me winter and peace.

    — Posted by Camilo

  • 2.

    I too love NYC in summer. I love the fact that people that love and dwell in NYC LEAVE for greener, cooler places to while away their leisure time. I love the fact that the streets are less crowded; that I can criss-cross the sidewalk, look in windows and not bump someone or be bumped into by anther who is just happy to be one of the thinner throng. NY in summer is a special gem; the snobs are gone and the museums although filled with many tourists are walkable and paintings are seeable; no lines at the art movie houses and restaurant greeters are happy to show you to a table. Yes, NY in summer is like a long awaited holiday abroad.

    — Posted by Carol Pearlman

  • 3.

    I am one of the suburban throng that fights the unbelievable traffic leaving the city on Fridays. I have always remarked how Friday mornings there is no traffic coming in to the city, but leaving Friday afternoons can be hell.

    I find that even during the week the city is quiet during the summer. Going to a restaurant at lunch time is a pleasure. I also agree with Kevin about the book tables. My favorite is when I find books about something I was interested in ten years ago but didn’t have the time or money to investigate. Now for peanuts I can buy the books, music etc, read them at my leisure and not feel guilty if I don’t get to them for a while.

    — Posted by Stew F

  • 4.

    A truly nostalgic observation.
    My late husband and I back in the 50’s often would go into the City from NJ on Sundays. And then it too had a quiet almost surreal beauty to its’ quiet .

    — Posted by B.Ehlers

Summer in the City - A ‘Psychological Season’

“The room was close and sweaty, suffocatingly so. It had been a hot and surly summer in Manhattan, and summer in the city is more than anything a psychological season, a season dictated by income bracket. (The lower your bracket, the longer and hotter and smellier summer is.)”

Betsy Berne, from her wonderful novel, “Bad Timing”

“I don’t own a house in the country. For a lot of the time, I couldn’t afford it, and when I could afford it, I didn’t have the urge. I think that almost everyone now owns a house in the country, so there is a guest shortage, and I feel I fill that need.”

Something Fran Lebowitz once said.

* * *

At the exact moment at which I agreed to do this column I was stung by a bee. I was in the country, walking hastily away from a swimming pool so as not to bother people with a cell phone conversation. “Fine,” I said, in response to the editor, who was apologizing because they could not pay me what had been asked. Then all of a sudden I started hobbling from this pain in my toe. A moment later I was sitting on the grass like a monkey — my foot in both hands, bringing it toward my face. With my head cocked so as to cradle the phone while I pulled out the tiny glistening stinger, I said, “I’ll do it.”

This was before the war started. To say the war is factually and possibly morally wrong. But that is the word that sprang to mind. The ambivalences multiply as fast as the unlikely sentiments. I mention the bee sting because the timing seemed interesting — can you write about August in New York at such a moment without somehow shooting yourself (getting a stinger) in the foot?

* * *

Our hosts for our prewar country sojourn live in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., full time. They used to live in Manhattan. Over dinner our first night we discussed a move to Roanoke, Va., that my wife and I are going to make this fall. I’ve taken a job for a year, a visiting professor gig at Hollins University.

“You’ll find that living outside of New York is very convenient; there are a lot of things that will just be easier for you,” our host said. “You may like it.” He dabbed a napkin to his lips. “Then there are things you will miss.”

These comments were bracing, though I can not say if it was the first half or the second half that moved me with worry — that we might like living elsewhere, or that there are things that we will miss.

* * *

Back from the country, I arrived into a heat wave. The city was like a kiln, but I had been in the country long enough to have started to crave the city, and my enthusiasm for it survived the first scorching day intact.

On the second day I was standing in the subway, listening to my Ipod Shuffle with my face in the paper. Suddenly someone bumped into me from behind. He really jostled me. I hardly had time to react before he was past me, though at the last second I did something with my body, barely a twitch. It was a late rebuttal of sorts to the rude shove.

The man slid past me and then turned to face me at the distance of a foot or so. He was slender and had high cheekbones, a baseball cap on backward with a bandana underneath, baggy jeans and, though I couldn’t register this at the time, the coloring of both an Asian and a Hispanic man. Like me, he had white earplugs in his head. Our eyes met for a beat. Then he said loudly, “If you didn’t have those earplugs in your head you would have heard me say,’Excuse me.’ Dumb ass!” Impressively, he stood right there and stared.

I responded with a witheringly blank look or, depending on how you consider it, a look that reflected a certain dullness and inability to think on your feet, compounded by the fact that I was on my way home from the dentist and half my face was numb. So I stared at him with an expression that said, I am bigger than you but incapable of speech and, possibly, thought. I stared right into his eyes. There was a small horizontal scar above his left cheekbone. He was a cool-looking dude. We faced off like boxers before a fight.

This was high theater and everyone in our vicinity was looking at us. But I could offer nothing to keep the play going. After a moment he stormed halfway up the car, and I stared at him for minute in an attempt to recoup dignity and tried to formulate what I should have said.

There is a term for thinking of the snappy thing to say after the fact. It is French. l’esprit de l’escalier, the spirit of the staircase. This was l’esprit de l’subway.

The big ideas that came to me while I pretended to go back to reading my paper were: “Are you also an ass in winter?” and “What are those white things sticking in your ears?” But only now, writing this down, do I wish I had simply said, “I am sorry I blocked your way; please accept my apology.” That would have been amazing. But I am not that cool, or that swift. Maybe next time.

Douglas Coupland: Time Capsules - Should You Tour?

Image by Douglas Coupland
Talk show set with host, London; obsolete TV camera, CTV lobby, Agincourt, Ontario

Many times through the years, a first-time novelist has asked me what he or she can expect from being published. How will my life change? It usually takes until the third beer to get to this question, and I usually try to duck the true response which is that nothing really changes. My publisher in New York, Karen Rinaldi, calls this waiting period before publication, “The calm before the calm.” A limousine packed with scotch, Thomas Pynchon and Cher never arrive at your front doorstep. Most of the people in your life don’t read anything, so they probably won’t read your book, and even if they do, all they’re looking for is bits that sound like themselves. Maybe you’ll do a radio interview. Maybe you’ll do a signing. And then… [Insert image of tumbleweeds here.]

Image by Douglas Coupland
25 reading attendees; Toronto, Ontario

Because I started out writing for magazines, I got used to the notion of being published, whereas many writers come from university literature programs where publication ranks right up there with beatification and annunciation in terms of personal transformation. Should I have a really big launch party? Good God, no. Launch parties are a waste of money. Spend that money on advertising. Get over yourself.

Image by Douglas Coupland
Stationery store and bookstore basement, Newton, Mass.
Image by Douglas Coupland
Green room, Amsterdam

Should I tour?

Well, yes. If you can. In the old days (pre-, say, 2004) one toured because it gave the local papers a chance to do something along the lines of: Doug was physically here in Philadelphia, and because of that, we caught up with him and had a chat, which will appear in a weekend arts section, and hopefully on the front page above the fold. These days when you arrive in a city, people say, Oh, you — we’ve seen and read everything about you on Google already. We heard you had Rice Krispies for breakfast. Is this true?

So the economics and necessity of touring are rapidly shifting. I have a hunch that soon enough touring will be an anachronism along the lines of crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary — People used to do that?

Image by Douglas Coupland
Idealized pumpkin pie slice, Boston; backlit steak ad, Toronto

I’ve been to only a few book readings other than my own. The reason is that once I hear an author’s voice reading his or her own work, I can never read that author again without that voice replacing my own inner narrator’s voice. I love Margaret Drabble, but it’s so hard to read her now. I heard her read from “Radiant Way,” and that was over 20 years ago, but I can’t shake her voice, and it’s a very nice voice, too. I once went to a Michael Chabon reading, and he pronounced the word, ‘saxophonist’ to rhyme with ‘sarcophagus,’ and to this day, if I read his stuff, a voice in the depths of my subconscious shouts out every 10 seconds Saxophonist! Saxophonist! Kurt Vonnegut is one exception to this rule. I can’t imagine reading him without his signature doomsday croak bouncing about my cranium. The best live reader in the world, bar none, is Irvine Welsh. In person he’s almost mute, but put him on a stage and he electrifies, and his profanities sound more like onomatopoeias than profanities. The New York Times won’t allow me to offer examples.

Image by Douglas CouplandChicago collage
Image by Douglas Coupland
Unused book and magazine racks behind Tower Records, Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles; catering units and trolleys, Miami International Airport

Things that can go wrong in a bookstore reading:

  • Public address systems
  • Cappuccino machines
  • Espresso machines
  • Babies
  • Cellphones
  • Freight elevators
  • Outside traffic noise
  • Customer chatter
  • Cash registers
  • Microphone failure
  • Trucks in the loading bay making the beepbeep reverse noise

Usually you can take a disaster and turn it to your advantage. For example, crying babies become “Enthusiastic readers of tomorrow.” I’ve found that once you acknowledge something annoying, it almost immediately loses its capacity to annoy. These days I mostly do theater readings and events where nothing ever goes wrong, and it’s an eerie feeling, waiting for a disaster that never comes. I almost don’t feel right unless someone decides to foam up an espresso right in the middle of a solemn passage.

Image by Douglas Coupland

3 comments so far...

  • 1.

    Pics. Good idea. I wonder if he ever did a reading with a band in the background or on the same night, someone’s groovy idea; like Gang of Four or something.

    — Posted by Streeck

  • 2.

    Nice photos - where’s your Flickr account?

    — Posted by David

  • 3.

    Love the pumpkin pie.

    Under the heading of things going wrong at a reading….at a Gwynne Dyer reading I attended in a Mall hallway that had been cordoned off for the evening, there were so many people crammed in, their combined heat set off the fire alarm system (thank god there were no sprinklers). The audience wanted Mr. Dyer to continue which he did at a much quicker pace, he was able to return to a regular pace when the fire trucks arrived and finally shut off the alarm.

    — Posted by Kabluna

Douglas Coupland: Time Capsules - My Last 15 Years

Image by Douglas Coupland - 757 Seats
757 Seats

Los Angeles is the worst city for book tours. It just is, and there’s no clear reason. It’s not as if people there don’t read, because they buy like crazy. It’s just that everything’s so far away from everything else — all that usual Angelenos-and-their-cars stuff — but on top of that … The thing is, you’re never really sure why someone in L.A. is coming to a book event. It’s never to hear you read. It’s to see if you have good skin. Or if your voice is compatible with a new Web site and they want you to do a site promo (Hi, I’m Douglas Coupland and you’ve clicked onto hovercrafts-dot-com!) Or maybe they want to tell your fortune. Or maybe they want you to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with them. You always get the sensation that when you actually start to read, everybody’s eyes glaze over, as if you’re describing a dream you had the night before.

And L.A. loves to have book events in atypical spaces sponsored by local style magazines on the cusp of insolvency, claustrophobic events where the promoter dumps you in front of a mike with a bunch of semi-drunk people who are there to see if you’re short or tall, or if you’d make a good guest on Conan. At one reading at the University of California, Los Angeles, Westwood, around 6 p.m., we were all ready to go, and then somebody ran in and (à la the funeral scene in “The Day of the Locust”) shouted, “It’s the ‘Batman Returns’ premier next door — and Tom and Nicole are about to arrive! The place cleared out. I actually went to see Tom and Nicole, too. L.A. is about stars, not writers. Me versus Tom. Maeve Binchy versus Faye Dunaway. It’s a tough city, although there are exceptions. Six weeks ago I did a wonderful reading in Beverly Hills: smart crowd, great sound system, terrific book store, so you never know. L.A. is like Liz Taylor. You never know if she’s going to be random or professional.

I began doing bookstore readings in March of 1991, over 15 years ago. The very first was in a Waterstone’s (now defunct) on Copley Square in Boston. It was on the third floor, and the manager walked me through some aisles, up some stairs and suddenly, ding!, I was pushed out in front of a podium in front of 250 people, and it’s been my life ever since. I’ve done maybe 50 readings a year for 15 years. That’s 750 readings. Dear Lord.

A recent study reported that public speaking is the largest fear among Americans under 65. (For those over, the biggest fear is falling.) Through some happy accident of genetics, I have no fear of public speaking or doing book readings. Actually, being on a stage or in front of a mike doing a reading is almost the safest place on earth — you run the joint — it’s a control-freak fantasy! And not only that, for once you actually get to meet the people who read what you do. It’s a cliché but it’s true — writing is a lonely, lonely job. Without readings I’d have no idea why I do what I do, and nor would I have seen the world. Readings have taken me everywhere and it’s been a treat, it really has.

Once upon a time in a magical place called 1991 — a place where blogs were called diaries, I began documenting my life on the road in many forms — photos, collages, diaries — and part of my reason for being here at The New York Times this month is to finally offer my tales on the road a nice home. Let the tour begin!

Image by Douglas Coupland - 757 SeatsBBC - Manchester; Jet Engine 2, Schiphol Airport - Amsterdam

Seven Things I Hate About Hotels

    1. When you walk into the room, the radio is playing soothing music. While you attempt to turn it off, the radio accidentally presets to wake you at 4:30 a.m. with shrieking static.

    2. Electrical outlets 20 feet from the desk.

    3. No food or bad food after 11 p.m., even in the most expensive hotels, and then they act as if they’re doing you a big favor by handing you a Domino’s Pizza flier.

    4. Fruit plates cut and arranged by children. One fruit plate I ordered in St. Louis looked as if it had been chopped and arranged by Kimba the elephant.

    5. No clock. What are they thinking? This is a hotel room, not a Las Vegas casino.

    6. Paying for the Internet. Gouge, gouge, gouge … as if supplying a high-speed connection in the year 2006 is some big deal. Guests always remember getting dinged for that extra $12.95.

    7. Incompetent front-desk staff. Just get out of my way. Quit. Get fired. I hate you. Die.

Image by Douglas CouplandToppled Hotel Chair - Birmingham, UK
Image by Douglas CouplandCoin vorteces overlapped - Glasgow

Five Fun Secrets About Hotels

    1. Food on the kids’ menu is usually way better than the adult food. It’s cleaner and simpler, and hasn’t yet fallen prey to the annoying tendency of hotel chefs to coat everything with maple shavings and Gorgonzola drizzles.

    2. Before you check into a hotel in a new city, have someone phone ahead and tell them your name, in my case, Coupland, but also that Lord Coupland requires a special pillow (make up something like that). When you check in, everyone cranes his neck to see you, and for one brief moment you know what it feels like to be Prince Charles. I got a curtsy once. I felt awful about it.

    3. Bedspreads (aka protein residue containment systems) get dry-cleaned maybe twice a year, even in the best hotels. Fresh!

    4. People don’t steal towels just to get free towels. People take them to wrap up things they bought while staying at that hotel. It’s like buying a newspaper at a vending box. Theoretically you could take them all, but nobody ever does.

    5. Most hotels have an armoire-type thing where they stash the TV set. Next time you go into your hotel room, stand up on a chair and look on top of the armoire. When people are checking out of a room, it’s where they dump stuff they don’t want to take with them, but can’t throw away in case the maid finds it. Stuff that could get them arrested or cause them shame. Really harsh porn. Pot. Pills. Coins. Touristy things that people gave them that they don’t really want. It accumulates from one year to the next. In a Portland, Ore., hotel I once found a pile of Italian lire, three copies of Screw magazine and a $200 photography book inscribed, “To Dennis — without you I could never have conceived this book let alone have the courage to see it to its completion. I owe you everything, Diane.” The Dianes of this world usually get hosed, don’t they?

Image by Douglas Coupland
Image by Douglas Coupland
Image by Douglas Coupland
Image by Douglas Coupland

12 comments so far...

  • 1.

    I loved this article and can’t wait until my next trip to see what I can find on top of the armoire. Oh, and calling ahead for Lord Mack’s favorite soap will also be a treat. Cheerio!

    — Posted by Alan W. Mack

  • 2.

    I wish that I could save this article for future reference.

    — Posted by Steven Ager, M.D.

  • 3.

    Fun article and I’ll definitely be checking armoire tops from now on. I love the photos and design work - very david carson.

    — Posted by morgan

  • 4.

    What are these photo collages of? I like them, just didn’t see a caption.

    — Posted by Chris

  • 5.

    What a whiner!

    — Posted by Vin

  • 6.

    THAT WAS THE FUNNIEST ARTICLE EVER! I was seriously laughing out loud at work. I just got back from a business trip–and could relate to all the hotel lists!!! I heart Douglous Coupland!

    — Posted by Gina

  • 7.

    I’ve always hated the hotel bedspread. Ugh.

    — Posted by M Luu

  • 8.

    The bedspreads ALWAYS, ALWAYS! belong on the floor, and that’s where they go in any hotel I stay in. And especially motels!

    — Posted by Joanna MacClelland

  • 9.

    If you do choose to put the bedspreads on the floor, I think you’ll find that they make excellent excercise mats.

    — Posted by Steven Ager, M.D.

  • 10.

    I was introduced to your writing through your book, “Life After God” — which made me laugh AND cry tears of sorrow, compassion, and joy. I’m very happy to know that I’ll get a weekly treat of your work. Hang on to your hats, everybody!

    — Posted by Robin Swieringa

  • 11.

    Hotel Hate list! Worth the price of admission-
    Last week at a Large International Chain Hotel in Berlin (not naming them, but it starts with ‘M’ and has 8 letters) they wanted 20 Euros (more than 25 bucks) for a day of intermittent internet service. I did not take any towels.

    — Posted by J Glomph Black

  • 12.

    The calm before the calm. Beautiful.

    One big disagreement: Throw the publication party. Spend the money. Invite all your friends. Get nicely, beamingly buzzed. It’s the only time in your career that you’ll feel like a real star.

    And when has throwing any kind of party ever been a waste of money?

    — Posted by David Terrenoire