The Rutabaga Dalliances

I drove to Iowa City to hear Rhino read from his new book, "The Rutabaga Dalliances." It had been 13 years since I last saw him, and in that near decade and a half he had received many piercings to his face and body. Couple that with his tattoos (an anaconda whose head peeped out on his neck and wound- I was told- round and around his various body parts with its tail finally doing a little shimmy-shake number around his ankle), he resembled a stage version of Queequeg who had been attacked in the face with a staple gun. He read well. A flock of grad students, with hair dyed the twenty flavors of Hawaiian shaved ice, listened attentively. The upper room of the bookstore where he read was well packed with the curious, the kooky, and the radio and television techs from the university FM and cable stations.


At the reading's end, Rhino stationed himself behind a desk and a twenty-book stack of "Dalliances," and he proceeded to sign copies. He laughed his laugh with some people he knew- old professors, students, friends, a few rivals, enemies- a laugh that knifed its way out of a zipped body bag and chased imaginary clown poodles around the room with a fully charged taser. Eventually it was my turn and he looked up at me dryly.


"And how should I inscribe yours?"


"To Dennis."


"Okay, ‘To Dennis'."


"You used to be married to my sister."


"Oh-ho…" The laugh didn't quite make it out of the body bag. "Hey, how are you doing?"


"Okay. How is the book selling?"


"Not bad, not great. You wouldn't be able to tell from tonight. This is an exceptionally friendly crowd."


"What would you say if I bought you a drink at the Deadwood?"


"Hey, let's do that." He looked around. "I just want to say hi to Ted and a few other friends and we'll go."


While he was saying hi to Ted, I slipped up a ramp and perused the literary magazines. I pulled down The Acidophilus Quarterly and thumbed through it to where my story was. I read it through, winced at a few places, tapped the volume soundly like a large deck of cards on the counter top and placed it back on the shelf. When I returned to look, the reading hall was empty and the mobile book stacks had been wheeled back to their places and all the chairs were stacked in the back near the bathrooms and all the microphones and cameras were gone. The place was as empty as I wanted it to be. I left the store without buying anything, leaving my signed copy of "Dalliances" in the wrong section, "Cooking." I walked down the sidewalk, found my car, and drove home, not playing the radio, but looking at the stars occasionally because it was a particularly bright night for that.