PART TWO: Before I could say hello, he spoke in an explosion. “YOU’RE A WRITER?”
“Yes,” I said in some alarm, hearing a lot of accusation in his tone.
There was a pause, which ended in another explosion. “I’M A WRITER.”
Did that put us over the maximum capacity of writers in the room? Why was he angry with me?
Sometimes I am good at reading people, and thankfully, this was one of those times. It hit me what the problem was: gigantic Almost Santa felt small. He didn’t know that my publisher was sinking; that the first print run of my book was modest; that I wasn’t gushing with royalties. I was dressed nicely and had just been the center of attention in a small crowd for my writing, and this gave him the illusion of great success and had made him feel tiny and invisible. It ticked him off.
I smiled and said enthusiastically, “That’s great! I love meeting other writers!”
He exploded again. “I WRITE COUNTRY WESTERN LYRICS FOR BIG SINGERS LIKE BORIS BLAH-TON AND BLAH-LA BLADDER. HAVE YOU HEARD OF THEM?”
Obviously, those are not the real names. The real names went in one ear and out the other, because Gay Panda does not listen to country western. The teacher had stepped out and Almost Santa had blocked me into a corner; I realized frantically that to placate this towering, angry man, I could not say that I hadn’t heard of them. But if he called me on it, I would be caught.
“Who hasn’t heard of them?” I said, and hoped for the best. Silently, the baby leaked on, a moist yellow crust on its cheeks leading back to its ears.
“I DECIDED TO GET SOME SONGS PUBLISHED AND HAD TO SING THEM A CAPPELLA TO AN AUDIENCE. YEAH?”
“Yeah,” I echoed. “Wow.”
“THE FIRST SONG, SEE, THAT WAS WRITTEN WHEN I MET MY WIFE. THE NEXT SONG, NOW SEE, THAT WAS WRITTEN WHEN SHE BECAME MY EX-WIFE!” He barked in humorless laughter. “IMAGINE THAT!”
I smiled and he exploded yet again. “DO YOU WANT TO HEAR THEM?”
“I . . . uh . . . sure?”
One of the few students left in the room exclaimed, “Aw, Dad, no!”
Please, please don’t hand me that baby, I thought in desperation. A bulb of bright yellowish-green snot emerged from an already slick nostril. The man put the baby down on the carpet to liquefy and I exhaled in relief just as the man inhaled and burst into song.