The ABC’s of Waiting in Line at the Cavett Book Signing

By Victoria Pynchon

Fifteen years ago when Andrea Grossman was asking herself how she might bring her favorite authors to Los Angeles, I was asking myself why I, a commercial litigator and trial attorney, had so few people in my life with whom I could talk about literature.   The law, it turned out, was more business than profession and not a place where the “life of the mind” held much interest.

Fast forward to 2010.  More than 1,000 lovers of literature hear Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett pass a few hours in hilariously casual conversation, including “audience” participation by such comic luminaries as Carl Reiner and Paul Mazursky. Now I was standing in line at the Saban Theater cradling two books in my arms ~ one, Cavett’s great new book Talk Show and my own recently published book on conflict resolution.  I’d ask Cavett to sign his book for me, I thought, while at the same time graciously handing him an autographed copy of my own.

I’d already read a large chunk of Talk Show and his voice was the same one that brought three-dimensionality, texture and character to the talk show circuit,  the smooth talk and lightening wit that introduced me to Groucho and Astaire, Lennon and Yoko, Mailer and Vidal as if they were next door neighbors, not supernovas exploding in the corner of the sky.  Cavett on the stage and in print was undiminished by his years.  He still looked young, simply crinkled.  And his wit was as incisive and biting as it had always been.

Did I really have the gall to slip him A is for Asshole, the Grownups’’ ABCs of Conflict Resolution?  Would he push it back to me across the table with a scowl or throw it in a trash can on his way out the door? I chatted amiably with the Conde Nast writer who was my line buddy.

The Conde Nast writer approached the table before me, said something with a smile and was rewarded with a bear hug.  I was hustled forward, readying my one-second greeting, but Cavett waved at Conde Nast to come back.  Andrea appeared at Cavett’s side as he opened my book without looking at it to sign as if it were his own.  Andrea said “Victoria Pynchon,” I said “it’s for you, Mr. Cavett” and was hustled away from the table.

It wasn’t my fondest Writers’ Bloc memory.  My finest moment came when I raised my hand at the Martin Amis-Elmore Leonard conversation and Amis pointed in my general direction.

Was it difficult to write Times Arrow backwards?” I’d asked, hoping the question wasn’t inane.  I truly wondered what it had felt like all day to craft a narrative in reverse.

Amis smiled his $30,000 smile and said “it felt like I’d been at sea all day and always took me awhile to get my land legs back.”  Satisfying.  Once another writer friend asked Annie Proulx if her characters ever “got away” from her to which she gave the response of an Old Testament God.  “Never!” she snapped.  “If my characters don’t forward the plot I kill them.”  Chastened, my friend the memoirist blushed and folded her hands back in her lap.

This is how life should be.  Our artists come, briefly, to mingle with us so that we can hear their conversation and learn something about their art, the importance of craft and patience, diligence and reward.  And sometimes, not often, we’re allowed to place a small gift in their hands.

Victoria Pynchon is an author, attorney, mediator and negotiation consultant and trainer.  Her book, A is for Asshole, the ABCs of Conflict Resolution can be found on Amazon.com, tens of thousands of ranks lower than Dick Cavett’s terrific new book, Talk Show.