Book Awards in LA

I wake to see a young fella in the bunkbed opposite mine with his hand in his boxers and a boner (small), and yes, the bunkbed was only three feet away. I rolled over and waited a moment before climbing down and heading out for the day.

Airbnb. Yep, it’s not always to be trusted to deliver the goods. Don’t tell the young fella how unimpressed I was though. I’d arrived in LA for an awards dinner in the downtown LA Live Complex. It all sounded great. It did. The Great Northwest Book Festival had named Van Life to be the Grand Winner of their 2017 Contest. Not bad, in fact, I was pretty chuffed. A flight, dinner, award, a chance to meet writers, agents, publishers and all of that festival stuff.
Or so I thought.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back up, Sleam. The contest was one that had popped up on my social media during the new year, a ripe time for me to send out my books, looking for a wider readership. So, I sent in Van Life and promptly moved along to the next project. It’s how I work. I’m not really keeping track, I send out ideas, books, projects, cartoons and photographs nearly every day, figuring if anyone’s interested that they’ll  be in touch. Rejection then is less of an issue, you see?

Anyway, March rolls around. Late one night, an email comes in saying, you’re the winner of the Great Northwest Book Festival. “The” winner, oh, you poor fellas, you got that wrong, I thought, you’re meant to say “A” winner. But no, they meant that the book was best nonfiction and Grand Winner both. Wow! Seriously? I was thrilled. I couldn’t sleep. The next couple of weeks was spent organizing a trip to LA for the ceremony, finding pet-sitters, a flight and a room through Airbnb. Hence the bunkbeds.
I’d found a studio apartment near downtown, only six or so blocks from the event, flexible check-in times. Perfect. I didn’t mind that Kam, the host, said it was a shared space. “I’ll be in the room with you, it’s quiet and clean.” Fine. And for downtown LA, the price of $60 seemed fine too. I made the booking, paid the price, and then a confirmation email arrived. Check in after 8pm. I’d be in bed #1. That should’ve warned me. If there were only two beds, surely it’d be obvious? Oh well, no worries and when I asked to check in earlier Kam gave me the directions, warning me not to talk to anyone on the way up, the landlord wanted it to be a secret…yeah, right.

My chauffeur dropped me off at Venice Beach, just outside the Ale house. Okay, so it was Debbie from Albuquerque. We’d sat next to each other on the plane at 5.30 am and chatted most of the way. The Boston in her took over as she drove down to the beach though, pretty funny to hear her bitch out the other drivers that Saturday morning. We swapped numbers, and I wandered to the ocean, snapping photos as I went. Then a text popped up on my phone: Karen, my one close friend in LA, asked if I was near the VW bus in the photos. Yep. Why?
“I work at the Ale House.” I turned back and found her there, of all the places to find myself, I was only walking distance away from my sweet friend of many years ago in New Mexico. We made plans for the Sunday and she went back to work.

My afternoon wore me out. It’s a hard life, sitting on beaches, drinking beer and eating salads while taking photos. It is. I was worn out. So it was time to check in to the Airbnb and take a shower before the grand dinner. A metro ride for an hour, more walking, and then following Kam’s instructions, I found myself in the studio apartment. A German woman greets me and introduces me to David, both staying there with Airbnb. Two sets of kid-sized metal bunkbeds face me. A sheet cordons off another bed, where, according to Eike, three men live and share the apartment. Kam, his brother and a roommate.
“This isn’t going to work,” I muttered but settled in, taking a shower. All fresh and cleaned up for the dinner, I sit down at the sofa and quickly write the acceptance speech requested of me. That’s the appearance fee, for me to say something about the process of how I write and publish.
Eike disturbed my train of thought. “Have you seen my Tablet? I can’t find it. I had it this morning. Oh no, what if it’s been stolen?” She threw out all of her stuff from the suitcase, panic seeping into her voice. “There were six men in here last night and I felt safe and now this, I don’t feel safe. This is bad. I must leave. I won’t find another place at this time on a Saturday night. I must stay. This is bad.”

Yes, it had been stolen. Yes, six men stayed there, a girlfriend of one of the unofficial/ official roommates, Eike and myself. In the studio room that was listed as just Kam and I.

Okay, so back to the story. The dinner. I arrive early at the restaurant, full of all the pretty people of LA, money in their blond hair, loud look-at-me voices, laughter ringing out as false as the Awards Ceremony turned out to be. Yep, my cynical self had been right. All image and no substance. This was no Book Festival. No agents, no publishers, no seminars, no one from the Industry. Instead I sat at the bar with a pint and my smartphone, taking photos of the surroundings and eavesdropping happily.
The Maitre’D called me to the private room. The size of my self-built home in New Mexico. Enough for four tables and a plastic podium for those important speeches. Bruce, the organizer, raced over, introduced me to his wife, Debbie, and sat me at a table with a family from Kentucky. The teenage daughter had won a prize. We made small talk for the next three hours. Oh my. Very nice people. Not going to help me get an agent though. I sipped a beer slowly, taking it all in and trying not to laugh at the authenticity of Bruce’s gushing introductions to each winner. That’s all we were, ten writers, some with family and some alone, all getting  nicely printed and cheaply framed certificates.

A festival? Not by any means. But in theory, they’ll be sending me an appearance fee. We’ll see, right? In the meantime, back at Airbnb, one of the roommates is there with his girlfriend and they start yelling at each other about how there’s no privacy. They ignored my hellos and strung a curtain between the bunkbeds and their shared bed in the other corner. I fell asleep with ear-plugs and a pillow over my head.

The rest of my weekend in LA was spent back on Venice and Santa Monica Beach, wandering around with Karen, laughing at life, at the fake LA scene, and with Karen teasing me that so many people stared at me, trying to work out if I was someone famous. “It’s because you don’t care, it makes them suspicious.” It was the cowboy hat, striped shirt, baggy boy shorts and scruffy boots, but that’s my opinion.  I did get men approaching me later on over my dinner asking to take my photo though…those directors and film makers, you know how it is for us middle aged women in “men’s” clothing…

Now I’m back in New Mexico, it’s snowing. The lovely certificate is on my shelf. And I write a thank you note to the organizers. Polite as ever, I was raised right after all.

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