I have experienced a whirlwind of emotions since the shootings in Tuscon, so Favorite Young Man very kindly packed me up and whisked me away for a vacation in St. Augustine, Florida, America's oldest city. It is lovely here, albeit rainy and chilly. It's certainly not as cold as the hinterlands.
Everything in St. Augustine is historic -- churches, all sorts of buildings, even the Ramada Inn claims to be historic, though I have no idea why. Did the Ramada provide housing for the Spaniards who arrived in Florida so long ago? If so, I hope they've updated the hotel since then. St. Augustine is also filled with charming little shops and restaurants, such a nice place to wander when one feels brokenhearted.
But last night, F.Y.M. gave me a surprise that still has me walking on air. We got in the car and he finally said, I have to tell you where we're going. There's a little school here called Flagler College and Pat Conroy is there and we're going to hear him read from his newest book, My Reading Life.
I burst into tears, and I assure you they were tears of joy. I loved Pat Conroy when few people knew who he was.
As we drove past the auditorium at the school we saw hordes of people walking toward the doors. F.Y.M. said, I'll drop you off here and I'll find a place to park.
I was quite happy to take advantage of the offer, but when I got inside a young woman asked if I had a ticket. No, I answered, I didn't know anything about tickets. She told me they were free and handed one to me. They were giving out the tickets so they wouldn't go over over capacity and obviously, there was quite a crowd to see Mr. Conroy.
But she did not want to give me a ticket for F.Y.M. because he wasn't there and a crowd was forming at the door and she had given me Ticket No. 9 of the final nine tickets. I whimpered and whined a bit. She made a face and handed me Ticket 8, to my joy. The final seven tickets were gone within sixty seconds.
I stood near the door, watching for F.Y.M., fearing he would see and hear the crowd of people complaining that they couldn't get in and would think he was in the same boat. Thank goodness he's so tall because after about ten minutes I saw his head at the back of the crowd and called to him, F.Y.M. I have your ticket. The crowd parted like the Red Sea and in he came and we entered the auditorium where we got the last seats. We had to split up, but it was o.k. We were there.
After a few minutes Pat Conroy was introduced and he said he does not read from his works -- he likes to tell stories. And tell stories he did. Each one was funnier than the last. Out of great pain comes hilarity, I thought. He said nothing to denigrate his Marine fighter pilot father who beat the holy crap out of him when he was a kid. Rather, he spoke of how everyone has someone crazy in the family and because of the craziness in his family he has become a success.
His father once told Pat that if he had beat him more he would have been a better write. Pat replied, Dad, if you had beat me more I would be Shakespeare.
Although I would love to try to recreate the stories Conroy told, I will spare you the agony of my feeble attempts to tell you every little thing the great man said.
When he was finished speaking, the announcement for which I longed came: Pat Conroy would be signing books in the lobby of the auditorium. I slithered out and slunk into the front of the line at the table of books to be purchased, thinking No one will notice the pushy woman in the black cape. And no one did. Then I thanked the Good Lord that they were taking Master Card.
I bought the new book, My Reading Life, and two of my favorites, The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, along with Conroy's excellent memoir of his senior year playing basketball at The Citadel, My Losing Season. It was a gift for F.Y.M., who also thinks it a wonderful book. I was only disappointed that they were out of copies of my introduction to Conroy, The Water Is Wide.
Then we took our places in the long line and waited our turn. This time I did not try to use my cape as a cloak of invisibility. I could see Mr. Conroy's pen moving in the distance and as we got a bit closer, I saw him posing for photo after photo taken with the folks whose books he had just signed. He seemed unusually pleasant and patient.
After a while, though, my back got the better of me and I told F.Y.M. I felt faint. He suggested I sit down while he stayed in line. I said I would rejoin him when he got closer to the table where a young woman wrote down the name of the person to whom the book was to be inscribed before passing it to Conroy.
When F.Y.M. was almost to the table, I went back to him and when we were next in line, I heard Conroy say quietly to the young lady, I have to get up and stretch my legs. After he stood, he said he had an announcement to make. Gasps went through the crowd and fans feared he would say he was finished for the night. Instead he said that contrary to popular belief, we were his favorite part of the line. I actually had not been concerned because I knew he would never make such an announcement himself. Some lackey would have said it after the celebrity trundled away.
So then it was my turn to chat with Mr. Conroy, who told me to call him Pat, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming. Referring to a story he had told about two best-selling authors who had told him why he wasn't successful (Irving Stone said the secret to his success was "heart" and some romance novelist told him he needed sex in his books), I said, I don't know who Irving Stone or the sex book lady are, but I've loved Pat Conroy ever since The Water Is Wide came out. He said he had been 24 when he wrote it.
I think it quite the accomplishment for a 24 year old. I also told him that my son had brought me to see him as a surprise, and he immediately shook F.Y.M.'s hand. He then inscribed my books, writing, Lola, I have seldom encountered a more brilliant and beautiful woman at a book signing. Please meet me later at my hotel and we'll read together. I love WOMEN: WE SHALL OVERCOME, Pat Conroy.
And if you believe that, I have a bridge I want to sell you. However, he did write lovely inscriptions in my books, and then I tottered off so F.Y. M. could enjoy his moment in the sun with our hero.
I believe I have now doubled my small collection of autographed books. The thing was -- he was so darn nice. I've gotten autographs before from a few big deals who couldn't be bothered to look at me or speak to me while signing. Everyone else has signed and shoved the item back at me and ignored me.
I left no longer simply loving Pat Conroy, the writer. I now love Pat Conroy, the person.
Then we walked to the rental car and as we returned to our historic hotel, we passed the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum. I said, Son of a gun. We could have have gone to the Ripley's museum and instead you take me to see Pat Conroy.
Thank you, F.Y.M.
Infinities of love,