Saturday, January 12, 2013

When Genres Collide

You know how art imitates life, and then sometimes life imitates art imitating life? After a while you have to ask yourself  what is life and what is art.  More important: what’s real?
But if you were art and you asked “What is real?” would you really have a hope of finding an answer? I mean if you’re unreal and your world is unreal, what would you have to juxtapose that unreality against? You could hope, I suppose, that the author has left you some clues as to her reality, but what if she is art imitating life, and you're just art imitating art imitating life?

I ordinarily wouldn’t be allowed to ask questions like these because I’m a romantic comedy. Lucky for me, however, I’m a romantic comedy that centers around a cute 30 something who happens to be an aspiring author, a little nerdy (sans glasses though, that would be too stereotypical) , but pretty. The kind of gal that keeps looking for love, but misses the opportunities because she over intellectualizes everything and often misses the obvious. For example, last week I was signing my self published transcendental comics at an expo and had a near miss with a handsome fella that works for the book store that invited me.

Wait, we should back track here. I’m leaving out the details that really define my genre.

So I was invited by a bookstore that has been carrying my self published graphic novel. They were exhibiting at this big convention in Oakland. My creative partner, the one who draws, the one who usually deals with the guys from this store, couldn’t go. Her sister's baby shower fell on the same day.
Thus I found myself strapped into high heel sandals and squeezed into skin tight leggings paired with an oversized t-shirt that hung off one shoulder as I wriggled my way through a convention center, toting a small blue suitcase full of our books, alone.
I never actually wear high heels, so I was totally unprepared for the pain and obstruction of mobility. As I approached the entrance hall, I attempted to call my contact from the bookstore, who I’d never met. In theory he would bring out the badge that would gain me entry.

The call went straight to his voicemail.
“Hi, this is Annabelle from Sophist Comics, I’m just outside. Give me a call back when you get this.”
I stood there holding the phone in one hand, the suitcase in the other, my oversized water bottle tucked under one arm, my purse under the other, teetering like a two year old's block tower, alternately fumbling phone and water bottle, biting my lower lip anxiously.
I called again with the same result and realized that he probably wasn’t getting reception in the bowels of this beastly mega-building. I’d have to convince someone to walk me to the booth, or page them on a loud speaker or something.
But just then my bladder was too incredibly full, so I waddled to the ladies room. I’d just locked myself in a stall when the cell phone rang. I hesitated. It’s kind of weird to talk to a strange guy for the first time from a bathroom stall. I might not get another chance though, and he doesn’t need to know I’m in the bathroom right? So I answered.

“Hi Annabelle? This is Rory from Amazing Comics. I‘m outside, you must be here somewhere.”
“Hi Ro-”
Flush, flush, FLUSH. Suddenly the toilets in the neighboring stalls become active and somehow this triggered the motion detecting unit in my stall to flush too. Loudly.
“-ry. I just stepped into the bathroom. I’ll be right there.”

Bladder not relieved, I hustled back out of the stall, but I had to wash my hands to prevent the spread of disease. I pumped soap from a plastic dispenser into an outstretched palm then waved it under the faucet. Nothing happened. The motion detector didn’t respond.
There was another silver protuberance hanging over the bowl so I waved my other hand frantically under it and it promptly dispensed more foamy soap. I then had two hands full of soap and the water still wouldn’t come on. I began to pass my hands under the faucets of every sink in the row to no avail.
I started panicking. This was taking forever. Rory would be wondering what was keeping me, and would, no doubt, come to the simplest vulgar explanation.

At last, an aged and diminutive Chinese woman holding a broom and upright dust pan emerged from the side lines. Wordlessly, she shook her head and pushed a small black button at the base of one of the faucets. Water gushed freely.

Despite my embarrassment and nervousness, or perhaps because of it, Rory was extremely nice to me. He sat beside me at the table where I waited to sign the comics that nobody had ever heard off. We chatted casually and soon I was completely at ease.
We joked about his name, about attendees in ninja turtle t-shirts. He confided that he used to have to wear huge glasses until a recent eye surgery. We had one of those sweet awkward moments of intense eye contact after I blurted that I would have liked him even more with the glasses. Then at last I packed all of my books back up and started saying good bye to the surrounding exhibitors.
“Can I help you carry your things out?” Rory asked, his hand lingering on mine after the parting hand shake.
And here’s where my quirk, the overly analytical mind, provided the necessary plot driving obstacle to the romance.
“Uh, I got it in here. I guess I can get it out again. Thanks. It was really nice to meet you!”
Smiling one last time, I waddled , awkwardly, painfully away, a modern, self sufficient gal.

Only later did I realize it had nothing to do with whether or not I needed help carrying stuff out. That was just an excuse so we could leave the convention together, share an elevator ride, stop at the hotel bar for a drink, exchange numbers, meet in a few days at a coffee shop, rendezvous for dinner a week later, escape for a weekend in Quebec, lick frosting from an engagement ring plucked from the crest of my birthday cupcake, etc.

I slap my palm against my head when my creative partner explains all of this to me. We will have to plot another encounter, a trip to the comic book store, a walk past the French school where he also teaches, a slutty dress worn to somebody else’s book signing where I will hide behind a shelf when I see him laughing with a pretty woman who will turn out to be his sister.
You understand, a romantic comedy. That’s me.

When I walk down a sidewalk there’s a smile on my face and my hair bounces in slow motion. I say hello and good morning to the elderly. I don’t know how pretty I am. The sun comes out when I stroll through parks, poets stand me up for dates in tea houses, I’m accidentally rude to nice guys, I rescue kittens from fire escapes and handsome divorcee Dad’s rescue me when I get stuck on fire escapes with kittens. That’s just how it is. And I don’t mind at all. Well, maybe a little, but for the most part I’m content. Embarrassment and awkwardness may fill every scene of my life, but we know two things for sure: I am pretty and eventually I will live happily ever after despite all obstacles. So it’s totally worth it.

That’s why as I shop for groceries on a Wednesday afternoon I smile at everyone that crosses my path. My floral patterned dress is conservative but flirty, my cardigan bright. Tonight's the night you know, I’ll go out for coffee with Mr. Wrong and meet his best friend Mr. Right.
An old woman smiles back, so does a middle aged man, a teen in skinny jeans ignores me, and then it happens. I have an encounter with another genre.
It’s not his clothes. They’re almost unnoticeable. T-shirt, jeans, black jacket, everything slightly rumpled. It’s in his eyes, in the deadened but slightly predatory way he glances at me.
My smile evaporates, I divert my eyes, suppress a shudder. Here is a man accustomed to hurting others, a man who wouldn’t think twice about it if the opportunity arose for him to gain something by it. The knowledge is very clear in me. I need to get far away from him fast before my genre changes in kind.
I will not be a  surprise turn for the worst Takashi Miike story. I hurry out of  the store, heart still racing.

The parking lot seems different, grayer, awash in a dingy murk. The shopping carts look rusty and run down. There is some trash in the flowerbeds. The music of the world has shifted.
I rush forward to my car. Don’t look back. Don’t fumble with the keys. You’ll play right into the thriller author's device.
Once inside the car I avoid rushing to lock the doors. Striving to maintain calm, I start the engine and drive.

Three blocks away I reemerge in my genre when a man in a red convertible pulls alongside me at the light, looks my way and flashes a smile.
On cue I spill iced tea into my lap. I’ve never been happier to be a klutz. I am back.

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