Wendy (Reid Crisp) Lestina, Ferndale, California
It was with experienced caution (few people are up to see non-celebrities, especially now that gas is three dollars a gallon) that I traveled last weekend to Nashville, to do a short talk, a reading, and a book-signing at the 20th Annual Southern Women's Show. I was booked on the Spotlight Stage at the Nashville Convention Center Exhibit Hall for 11:30 on Sunday morning. Right away, I'm concerned. Nashville is a church-going town, and 11:30 is prime-Protestant-sermon time.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
That was an unfounded fear. At 11:00 AM when the doors opened on this fourth day of the show, there were at least 800 women already in line. Some were screaming, thrilled screams, at a country-western music performer who was singing at the entrance.
"Who's that?" I asked. I'm not sure I'd even recognize Garth Brooks. "Oh, it's no one," the woman said. "You're in Nashville. Everyone's a singer."
How about a founded fear? Competing in my time slot appearing on the Celebrity Cooking Stage is Carol Fay, the "Biscuit Lady" from Nashville's famous Loveless Café (I'd even been there, with a bunch of Methodists, in the years when I served on the national UMCom board and made ten trips a year to Nashville). No woman in Nashville or anywhere in the South would choose listening to me read from a book about being 60 years old when she could be learning how to make even-better biscuits (and munching on free, hot, Loveless samples with home-made, I like to think, paw-paw jelly). Long story short, I stood on the stage and no one came. Nada. Zero. ("No one?" John repeated when I called, and his voice was so full of sympathy and shock, I already felt comforted.)
Pat Patrick, the charming marketing manager of my host, Davis-Kidd Bookstores, suggested I retire to the bookseller's booth and sit at the table and sign books as people walked by. I quickly agreed. I never feel foolish sitting down, and talking to people as they walk by reminded me of the time I demonstrated turkey pepperoni to non-English-speaking vegetarians in a Winco in Corvallis, Oregon on a store-vacant Super Bowl Sunday. I had more takers with the pepperoni, but, then, it was real food, not simply food-for-thought.
At the table, the event became something else altogether, a wondrous and interesting day filled with good people and surprises and what had begun as a potentially wearisome experience (I had, after all, traveled 2,800 miles on a weekend alone) became, instead, a kaleidoscope of delight.
My first visitor was Emily Gilbert, a young woman from a public relations firm in Chicago who was representing Purity Dairy and who was holding a tiny plastic urine-sample cup filled with some suspiciously solidified "milk." "Milk mixed with ice cream," she said. "For the mustache. Want your picture taken?" (Emily didn't buy a copy of my book, but she did much later that evening buy me dinner, and she was so charming that the college-student waiter, in order to scope her out, asked me for "some ID" when I ordered a glass of Chianti.)
Emily and an associate seemed to be hanging around the Davis-Kidd booth for an unusually long period of time...they were waiting, I learned, to be first in line for the arrival (and milk-mustache ambush) of Drake Hogestyn. Hogestyn, for those of you who don't admit, even secretly, to watching soap operas, is a star (he plays John Black) of DAYS OF OUR LIVES, and he was celebrating his twentieth year on the show by signing photographs and posing for pictures with fans at 1:00, in "our" booth, at "my" table.
I had never heard of Drake Hogestyn. I've been a watcher of CBS soaps (I certainly know who Eileen Fulton is, and I am able to recognize at least some of the character names from the cast of THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS). But I was well aware that I was the victim here, with nearly five hundred women lining up to see Drake, and only three or four stopping by to talk about being "over 60." Furthermore, I was the first one at that table, and it could easily accommodate two people, a stack of my books, and a stack of Drake's (free) photos. In other words, I had no intention of moving.
I sat at the table next to Drake for over two hours while he talked with fans, hugged them, posed for photo-ops, encouraged them to follow their dreams, shared anecdotes from the show ("Hey, John," one woman yelled from the sidelines. "When are you going to kill Alex?" "Thursday," Drake said), learned to say "Hi," in American Sign Language, and generally broke every one of my stereotypes about a career-glam-soap star (except the one about being handsome). He was relaxed, considerate, friendly, interested, and kind. And I enjoyed the public impression that I was his "entourage." I was asked questions about the show and about Drake, and I answered them all: he is a real family man, a wonderful person to work with, he's not leaving until everyone has had a chance to meet him and the fans thanked me and brought me glasses of juice and pieces of home-made fudge, and it was all far more interesting than signing books. Especially the part where three local actresses dressed in vintage stewardess uniforms in preparation for Chaffin's Dinner Theatre production of "Boeing, Boeing" handed Drake their just-acquired free panties from the Hanes booth and asked him to sign them.
Craft-tip: in order to write with a felt-tip pen on stretchable Hanes panties, a second person is necessary to help. "Hey," one of the bystanders yelled, "why don't you use the cover of one of those books?" At that moment of lowest authorial dignity, what did I do? I pulled those panties nice and tight and, at one point, when another fan yelled, "Are you on the show, too?" I said, "No. I'm a professional panty-stretcher."
A woman standing nearby introduced herself as Joyce Hightower and said she was a member of the Drake Hogestyn Fan Club; she was waiting for him to finish with the "regular" people, at which time he would meet privately with his fan club in another area of the hotel. "How does this work?" I asked. "Do you belong to other fan clubs, too?" "Not really," she said, "but I am the founder and president of the I've Met Elvis Fan Club." I perked up. Elvis, I've heard of. "Recently?" I asked.