I decided years ago that I was no longer going to give readings dressed like a bum. That’s the only way to put it: no more raggedy jeans and tennis shoes, no more flannel shirts with the long johns showing at the ends of the sleeves. I went and bought a couple of suits, some ties and white shirts, and a pair of dress shoes.
But on one trip I forgot to pack the damn shoes. So I asked the woman who was my host for my visit to a midwestern town if she could point me to a place where I could buy a pair. A Brooks Brothers, she said helpfully, was less than a block from the hotel. So I walked there, bought the shoes, and walked back wearing them. By the time I got to the hotel, they were already hurting. The woman—let’s call her Delores—came to fetch me 20 minutes later. We had an hour to kill before the reading, and she asked if I would like to see the offices of the literary magazine she and her husband were running. It was within walking distance. Getting there took 10 minutes, and I was now in considerable pain from the new shoes; they seemed to be cutting into my ankles.
She took me to an office, where she showed me back copies of the magazine, going back several decades. It was an old magazine, and she was a good editor and a good person. I liked her. She showed me a room off the office, a warehouse, really, with metal shelves stacked with books. She and her husband were also running a press. All of the books, all of them, were books of instructions for constructing one’s novel-story-play-poem—you name it (if you are reading this, you probably can)—the kinds of volumes advertised prominently in Writing magazines.