Author Bumping. It's a talent I come by naturally. I have literally fallen into a full body bump with some pretty big name writers. These unplanned slams usually occur with hilarious results.
Robert B. Parker was a lovely man. He was considered the Dean of American Crime Fiction. He created the wise-cracking, street smart Boston private eye, Spenser. The New York Times said of the Spenser novels, "We are witness to one of the great series in the history of the American Detective Story."
My first meeting with Robert B. Parker was not the auspicious event I would have preferred. I slammed into him as if he were home base. All one hundred and twenty pounds of me hitting his chubby frame with an "umph!" But let me back up and get a running start into this story.
I was attending a writers' workshop in London. A small group of dedicated hopefuls were there to hone their craft with instructors, Bob Parker, Stephen King, and PD James. The event was quarterbacked by Gary Goshgarian, an amazing writer and professor of English Literature at Northeastern University. Gary writes powerful crime thrillers under the pen name of Gary Braver.
The workshop took place at the London Polytechnic University campus located on Marleybone Road across from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum and near White Chapel, home of Jack the Ripper. It was summer and the concrete inner city buildings were deserted. Red graffiti decorated the outer walls. The buildings have since been renovated but at the time the setting was eerie.
I took a seat in the old lecture theater, laying my knapsack and duffel bag on the floor at my feet. I was pleased I had traveled light and finally got the hang of looking like a writer. I had dropped the sissy pink dresses and kitten heels after the last writer's conference. I was determined to look like a serious author. Tough and ready to rock 'n roll.
Someone spoke from the stage - can't remember who - telling us where and how to find our dorm assignments. We would receive further instructions shortly. I settled back and admired the carved wood paneling and Phantom of the Opera ambiance.
A professor-like woman turned to me. "Hi, my name is Shirley. I really have to find a ladies room. Would you mind my bags for me?"
"Sure." But even as I spoke, I knew... I needed a loo trip, too. Now was as good a time as any. The lady on Shirley's far side agreed to stand sentry over our bags. My new buddy and I set out in search of a potty. The halls outside the theater were silent. Slippery marble floors, stone walls, and dim lights - but no restrooms. "Maybe they're on the second floor."
We walked up a level. Nothing. And the lights grew dimmer. Shirley and I agreed to take this up one more floor. I was mentally kicking myself for not using the loo at the airport. With the school abandoned for the summer, someone had taken to making a career out of polishing the marble floors. They shown like glass and were as slippery as ice.
No potty. No loo. "One more floor?" I asked. Shirley nodded, her eyes like two giant robin's eggs behind her thick glasses. It was awfully quiet. We made our way to the fourth floor clinging to the banister to steady ourselves. A good tinkle was now at the top of my list of most desirable things to do in London.
On the fourth floor we finally found a ladies' loos. We entered in the harsh light. The room felt like the men's room scene in The Shining. Jack Nicholson meets the long dead manager of the Overlook Hotel. The guy who slaughtered his family with an ax. Okay... my nerves were a bit prickly.
Shirley grabbed one stall door. I hit another. I'd clicked the door shut and was in bladder emptying ecstasy when the door shook. "Open up or I'll break the door down!" said a male voice with a cockney accent.
Knowing it would do no good to scream, I said, "Absolutely not!" (I'm notoriously polite.)
"If you don't open this bloody door, I'm going to put it under the door!"
I knew what he meant by "it." Ick! I said the first thing that popped into my mind. "You do and I'll step on it!" Eww...
"Barbara! What's going on?"
"Dumb question, Shirley."
Then there was silence. Not a word. Not a footstep. Only the sound of Shirley whimpering from her position two stalls down. More silence. He was either waiting outside the door with a Jack the Ripper knife or he had run away.
I made an executive decision. "Shirley.. at the count of three - let's make a run for it. One-"
"Barbara, I can't. I can't get my girdle up. I'm too scared!"
Girdle? Who wears a girdle? I was trapped in a farce with a woman in a girdle, and a guy who might be very large in certain bodily parts. "Shirley... ditch your girdle. We're running for it! Two, Three!"
We broke out of the stalls like two race horses out for the Triple Crown. We hit the marble floor with Flintstone-Feet flying. Funny thing about running on slippery surfaces... you can build up some real speed.
At the second level, Shirley went reeling. "Turn into the skid!" I yelled at her as I grabbed the railing. She squealed and then righted herself. By the time we hit the ground we were moving at a hundred miles an hour.
A group of people stood at the entrance to the theater. Robert B. Parker was among them. At that point I lost all control and went into a slide. I bumped into his portly belly. Slam! Thud!
The security guard came running. Bob and the others looked very concerned. Shirley blubbered. I recounted what had happened. "What did the bloke look like?" asked the guard.
"I didn't get a look at him, but he had a cockney accent. Also, he must have a penis as big as a horse!" The words were out before the Catholic girl in me could censor them. I'll never forget the look on Bob's face. He burst into a hearty laugh.
"He was going to put it under the door!" I said by way of explanation.
That made Bob laugh even harder.
"I told him if he did, I would step on it!" I tried to sound rational, but it was too late. The laughter echoed off the stone and marble.
Bob Parker wasn't my first Author Bumping, but he was one of the more memorable ones.
Author Bumping will be continued as the mood strikes me.