Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Chili Egg-Puff

Many years ago, an acquaintance of mine went to visit his brother at college. The dorm cafeteria was having a special "Steak Night," and passed out tickets at the door -- one person, one steak. The brother wasn't feeling well, and gave his ticket to my friend, who went back to the server for a second slab of beef.

The woman serving the food behind the counter apparently resembled your stereotypical high-school cafeteria lady: heavy, pasty skin, hair net wrapped around a beehive. And also stubborn and rules-obsessed.

My friend went up and presented her the ticket, but she shook her head.

"No, you were here before," she said. "You don't get another steak. You get the chili egg-puff."

Another story, more recent: a friend of mine was in town, and we met up at a bar with a friend of my friend (FOMF). The FOMF, who writes for a living, was interested in Wife's and my fiction-writing career. Actually, let me correct that. When he inquired about my publishing credits, and I replied I barely had any, FOMF's interest in me dwindled to bubkus and all of his attention was paid to Wife, who has published extensively.

No steak for you

Now, aside from being p.o.'ed by the whole thing, this is what I see as a nightmare scenario for the following week, yes, spent in Vancouver at the AWP conference. I meet someone. They sound interested in my novel. Where I have I published? Almost nowhere, I reply. Their interest dwindles. Their attention drifts elsewhere. They thought they were getting a steak. But it's the chili egg-puff instead.

Now, I can hear you saying, "Enough with this whiny, neurotic, narcissistic crap about this stupid f-ing conference. Just go out and get tanked and throw up on the jerk! Shut up, bitch!"

I figured that Wife would be sympathetic. When I relayed my neuroses to Wife, a loving, supportive person and all-around good egg, she proceeded to laugh in my face. "You know a lot of people already! I'm going to be there. You're going to have fun!"

She's right of course, but the albatross does not leave my neck of its own volition. If there is one thing that makes me crazy -- or rather, feel humiliated -- it's being ignored, dismissed, or otherwise disrespected because of my lack of credentials. Without going into a long, vitriolic resuscitation of my life's neuroses, let's just say it's happened more than once, and not just with writing.

I realize that I am not the first person in the history of civilization to suffer such a fate. It happens every day, and I am probably guilty of it myself. If it were to happen to Wife or a friend, I'd say, fuckit, they're assholes, you don't need to know them. You don't need strangers' approval for validation, for god's sake.

So that's the attitude I'm trying to take with me to Vancouver. They're assholes. Everybody's an asshole! I don't need to know them -- in fact, why should I even go? Maybe I'll just stay here. That'll show 'em!

Ach, 40 years and so many stupid thoughts.