It doesn't matter where you are when you laugh as long as you do
By Anthony Buccino
She was reading my second book, the part about that
"Billy Newman and the bus rides"
About a month ago, nearly
40,000 people came to town. Not everyone made it to Daniel's Den, the new little book
store off the beaten path where I held the first book-signing for my second book
Sister Dressed Me Funny.
A local woman who allegedly works for USA Today somewhere in the city told me her life story and how much she hated my predecessor at the newspaper – all before she bought a copy of my first book, A Father's Place.
She asked me to sign it but didn’t want me to put her name in it. For one thing, I suppose she didn’t want me to go back and look for her byline in USA Today and find that it wasn’t there.
For another thing, she could read the book on the bus ride back to the city and when she got home, wrap it up in a fancy bag and give it to someone as a gift.
One woman called the week after and apologized for not making it to the book-signing. I told her there were a few copies left at the book store if she wanted to stop by to get hers.
She said she was busy that day, but could she get them the next day. I think so, I said. She sounded delighted, and being the suspicious newspaper editor, I wondered what she was up to.
In the case of politicians, they were banned from the book-signing. It is an unwritten agreement that they not show up at any function where someone is selling any of my books, lest they be considered contributing to the delinquency of a minor author.
And besides, even the big-time politicians no longer speak for free at events where everyone, whether they want one or not, gets a copy of the politician’s book. Even I wouldn’t stoop to that to sell my books.
The next day the woman who had called and her husband came into our office and asked me to sign two copies of my books. I warned her that if I signed them, she wouldn’t be able to return them.
"Why would I want to do that?" She said.
I thought I should put in more work on my punch-line delivery. Later, I wrote myself a note: It’s not funny if the person you are saying it to does not know it is a joke.
I graciously, and gratefully, signed the copies, "To Elizabeth . . . – with a Z not S." And we laughed about the old Liza Minelli song: "Liza with a Z."
Elizabeth said she enjoyed reading my weekly missives. She just knew she would enjoy the books. I hoped so; now she couldn’t even return them.
Lucky for me there was no long line of faithful readers parading from the bookstore around the corner to my office asking me to sign copies of my books. That would certainly be disruptive for business here. You know, we are trying to run a newspaper.
People take my newspaper and read whatever they like in the privacy of their home, or office, or wherever. But they rarely, if ever, sit down in front of me and read my column. That would remind me of being in school again after turning in a book report or something. Yuck, what an unpleasant memory.
If anything, these few hundred words set out to give you a nice warm feeling – almost like a letter from an old friend. But that’s only the way I think of it. You may think of it some other way.
Almost as soon as I had forgotten about the sweet woman named Elizabeth and her husband, there was a call for me, from you-know-who. She had to tell me, simply had to, that she thought the neighbors were going to call the cops on her last night.
She said it was about 11 p.m. and she had the windows open and she was reading my second book, the part about that "Billy Newman and the bus rides" and she said she was laughing so loud she thought the neighbors were going to call the police because of the riotous noises emitting from her bedroom window.
Quickly I realized it would be crude to ask what her husband thought of her laughing with me in bed.
But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember anything funny in Billy Newtner's Bus Rides. In reading for pleasure, it doesn’t matter where you are when you laugh, as long as it strikes a chord.
I was about to say thanks, but you didn’t have to call, she said she enjoyed the books so much she went back to the store and bought four more – for her friends, of course.
First published October 23, 1997, in The Independent Press of Bloomfield, Worrall Community Newspapers, reprinted by permission.
Adapted from RAMBLING ROUND Inside and Outside at the Same Time
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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