Barnes and Noble at Harold Square is an old four story building with columns
everywhere and a section set aside for authors to speak on the top floor flanked
by sections on Rock Music and Historical Biographs. I got there about 4:40 and
was told by a hyperactive cashier at the cash register on the fourth floor that
the seating would be open at 5 p.m. When I went to look over the seating he
yelled at me, supposing I guess that I was going to jump overr the purple ropes.
So I went downstairs and bought Perfidia from a sane employee.
(There was a time element) , so I thought I should get a seat at 5:00 so I would be
first in line for an autograph. In fact, a dowdy little man was ahead of me and
he apparently went to all author signings in NYC, got the books signed, and sold
them on line for a profit. A neat cottage industry, but he didn't seem very
happy about it. A young man who could have been anything from Sri Lankan to
South American sat on the other side of me smelling heavily of cigarettes, pot,
and alcohol, and he, at least, was a fan of Elroy. "I'm from Brooklyn," he
said, "and I'm sure I smell like it." He was quite delighted I was getting the
signature for you.
Elroy came in and dominated the audience from the beginning, certainly not
apologizing for being late, and addressing us with a long stream of alliterative
insults: Perverts! Prevaricators! Pedants! Panty Sniffers! Pot Smokers!
Etc. He makes quite an impression, especially being on a raised dais and being
so tall. He has his act down perfectly. He went on to talk about the Japanese
Internment and how his mind was somewhat stuck in 1941. He spoke for about 10
minutes and then read from Perfidia, specifically from Reminiscenza and Kay
Lake's Diary. He was clearly prepared for any dizzy question the audience would
ask. He called everybody "Brother" or occasionally "Boss" except for women.
I was most interested that he wrote the novels long-hand, making every
sentence perfect before writing the next. A real plodder. He has no cell phone
and no computer, which, he said, keeps him in character for books set in the mid
20th century. He employs great researchers. When one man tried to see a
resonance between 9/11 and Pearl Harbor, Elroy told him he was welcome to find
anything he wants in the novels, but HE was only writing about 1941, period.
At the end he shouted out: "Who wants to ask me why I write?" and, of
course, we all yelled the question. He answered with a really good reading of
the first stanza of Dylan Thomas' "In My Craft and Sullen Art."
In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.
That was the best part.
He remembered you and Christine or said he did and left a reminder in the
One Christmas present down.