Author Bumping. It’s a talent I come by naturally. I have literally fallen into a full body bump with some pretty big name writers. These unplanned slams usually occur with hilarious results.
Author Robert B. Parker was a lovely man. He was considered the Dean of American Crime Fiction. He created the wise cracking, street-smart Boston private eye, Spenser. The New York Times said of the Spenser novels, “We are witness to one of the great series in the history of the American Detective Story.”
My first meeting with Robert B. Parker was not the auspicious event I would have preferred. I slammed into the poor guy as if he were home base. All one hundred and twenty pounds of me hitting his chubby frame with an oomph!
But let me back up and get a running start into this story.
I was attending a writers’ workshop in London. A small group of dedicated hopefuls were there to hone their craft with instructors, Robert B. Parker, Stephen King, and PD James.
Gary Goshgarian, a professor of English Literature at Northeastern University, organized the workshop. Goshgarian writes powerful crime thrillers under the pen name of Gary Braver.
The workshop took place at what was then known as the London Polytechnic University campus on Marylebone Road across from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It was summer and the ugly concrete inner city buildings were deserted, even the tourists found it too hot to be out and about. The 1950s style buildings have since been renovated, but at the time the semi-deserted campus was the perfect setting for a gathering of would-be thriller authors.
I took a seat in an old lecture hall placing my knapsack and duffel bag on the floor at my feet. I was pleased I had traveled light and finally got the hang of looking like a true writer wearing only black-on-black and carrying dozens of yellow pads.
Someone spoke from the stage telling us where to find our campus dorms. But for the time being we were to remain seated. We would receive further instructions within the half-hour. I settled back and admired the carved wood panelings and Phantom of the Opera ambiance of the lecture hall in stark contrast to the exterior of the building.
A slightly disorganized-looking woman turned to me. “Hi, my name is Shirley. I really have to find a ladies room. Would you watch my bags for me?”
I introduced myself and realized I needed a trip to the loo, too. Safety in numbers and all that, I joined Shirley. We left our bags in the care of a lady who didn’t have to loo-it.
Shirley and I set out in search of a potty. The halls outside the theater were silent. The slippery marble floors, stone walls, and dim lights creating one of those movie scenes where the audience screams, don’t go out there!
No loos and no guards on the first floor.
“Maybe the restrooms are on the second floor,” I said looking up at the wide dark staircase.
We walked up a level. No loos. And the lights grew dimmer. Shirley and I agreed to hike up just one more floor.
It was evident the floors had recently been polished to an icy sheen. It took a firm grip on the railings for me to avoid slipping off the marble stairs.
Third floor. Loo-less and guard-less.
“One more floor?” I asked.
Shirley nodded, her thick glasses barely hiding her trepidation.
We made our way to the fourth floor clinging to the banisters; the only sound was our panting. A good tinkle was now at the top of my list of most desirable things to do in London.
On the fourth floor we finally found a ladies’ loo. The room felt like the men’s room scene in Kubrick’s The Shining. Jack Nicholson meets the long dead manager of the Overlook Hotel. Okay… my nerves were a bit prickly.
Shirley grabbed one stall and I took another a few spaces away. I had clicked the door shut and was in bladder-emptying ecstasy when the door shook.
Someone began pounding and pushing on the stall door.
“Open up or I’ll break the door down!” said a cockney-accented male voice.
“Absolutely not!” I said. (I’m notoriously polite and slow to recognize danger.)
“If you don’t open this bloody door, I’m going to put it under the door!” The voice threatened.
I understood exactly what he meant by it.
“You do and I’ll step on it!” I said, finally recognizing danger.
“Barbara! What’s going on?” Shirley called from her stall, the panic in her voice resonating off the walls.
“Hang on, Shirley!”
Silence. Not a word. Not a footstep. Only the sound of Shirley whimpering from her position two stalls down. I pulled up my slacks.
More silence. He was either waiting outside the door with a Jack the Ripper knife or he had run away.
I made an executive decision. “Shirley, at the count of three we are going to make a run for it. One—”
“Barbara, I can’t!” Shirley yelped. “I can’t get my girdle up. I’m too sweaty!”
Girdle? Who wears a girdle? I was trapped in a farce with a woman in a girdle and a guy who might possess a rather large body part that just might fit under the door.
“Shirley… drop your girdle. We’re running for it! Two, Three!”
We broke from the stalls like two racehorses out for the Triple Crown. When we hit the marble floor our feet were moving á la Fred Flintstone. Funny thing about running on slippery surfaces is you can build up some real speed.
At the second level, Shirley went reeling.
“Turn into your skid!” I yelled.
She squealed and then righted herself.
By the time we hit the ground we were moving at a hundred miles an hour…or at least it felt like it.
A group of people stood outside the entrance to the lecture hall. Robert B. Parker was among them. At that point I had lost all traction and went into a thirty-foot slide.
I hit Parker’s portly belly with a slam.
A security guard came running in response to our screams, possibly thinking Shirley and I were Stephen King’s groupies.
Shirley blubbered while I pried myself from Parker and recounted what had happened.
“What did the bloke look like?” asked the guard.
“I didn’t get a look at him, but he had a cockney accent and he must be very large!” I said.
The guard raised one bushy eyebrow.
I attempted to explain what I meant, stepping carefully around the impolite words and blushing beet-red.
Parker burst into a hearty laugh, and then collected himself realizing we might have been harmed.
“He was going to put it under the door!” I said. “I told him if he did, I would step on it!” I tried to sound rational, but it was too late. The laughter echoed off the stone and marble halls.
Bob Parker wasn’t my first Author Bumping, but he was one of the more memorable ones.
As I write this post, I imagine bumping into Jane Austen in a quiet teashop in Meryton. I spill my tea on her notebook as she sits at a small table. After blotting and apologizing I blather on, stunned to see her.
“You are Jane Austen!” I might say.
“I know my own name.” Her smile is charitable.
I slip into the opposite chair. “Pride and Prejudice is one of the most popular novels in English literature.”
Jane gives me a puzzled look. She studies my clothing. She gazes out the window as cars move slowly down the avenue.
A grin breaks over her lovely face. “I knew it! I knew it!” she cries.
Giving me a quick hug, Jane Austen skips out of the teashop. She stands on the street, punches the air and yells, “YES!”