A list of items found in my coat pocket:
—security passes for Little, Brown and S
—a Christmas card from Mark O’Donnell
—three empty packs of cigarettes
—a butcher-counter stub from Jefferson’s Market
—an invitation to a party I will not attend
—a business card from a store specializing in monkeys
—ticket stubs from the movies Baby Doll, Ransom, and The Long Kiss Goodnight
—a holiday pin attached to a card reading, “Merry Christmas. I am deaf and selling this for one dollar.”
—a guest pass to the Elysium Fields nudist resort, located in Topanga, Calif.
—several dozen grocery receipts
—two dimes, a subway token, and the top button of my coat.
I received a copy of the Honeybaked Ham catalogue in the mail. The cover pictures a spiral-cut ham displayed upon a platter alongside decorative pine boughs and strings of golden beads. The copy reads, “The Art of Gifting.” Gifting? Since when has this become a verb? I can’t find it listed in my dictionary, and no one I’ve spoken to has heard of it before. Gifting. “I’d love to attend the opening night ceremony, Ambassador Hastings, but I’m gifting that night.” Now that I’ve seen it in print, I can’t get the word out of my mind.
I went at around 5 o’clock to turn in the corrected proofs of the new book. Grammar is a complete mystery to me, and I arrived at the Little, Brown offices with a list of 53 questions to ask my editor. He is a patient man, Geoff, and we sat in his office for two hours going over the details. I was questioning the spelling of “methinks” when I thought I heard Gladys Knight singing “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Good-bye).” This happens sometimes, and I had just accepted it as an auditory hallucination when I realized that this was the night they were lighting the big tree at Rockefeller Plaza. Geoff’s office is on the 11th floor of the Time/Life building, right across the street from Radio City Music Hall and a block from ground zero. We looked out of the window and witnessed a swarm of activity. Thousands and thousands of people had flooded the streets below, fighting to catch sight of the tree. I love Christmas more than anyone, but the Rockefeller Center tree-lighting ceremony is right up there with the Times Square New Year’s celebration in terms of things to avoid. The crowds are so tight that you can lift your feet off the ground and find yourself carried five or 10 blocks in any given direction. It’s a life threatening mob scene, best viewed from a distance. We looked out the window for a few minutes and then returned to work. Both Geoff and his office perfectly fit my adolescent fantasy of publishing. The room was nicely lit, and there were stacks of dictionaries and manuscripts lining the walls. Geoff had taken his shoes off and, when he placed his feet upon the desk, I noticed that his socks were mismatched. It was one of those moments that caused me to pinch myself. Here I was, in New York City, sitting in my editor’s office and polishing off a book. It was exactly the way I had always imagined it, and I took a moment to pretend that the half-million people outside were waiting for me to finish rewriting the last paragraph. Geoff handed me a freshly sharpened pencil, and I’d just rolled up my sleeves when, from outside the window, I heard Michael Bolton singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” At no point was he ever scheduled to make an appearance in my fantasy, and I threw down my pencil, waiting for him to clear the stage.