Sudden and inexplicable manifestations of the Almighty in the affairs of ordinary people have been extensively chronicled by students of the occult. Such events have been known to occur, unexpectedly and unbidden, at any time, any place. But I am willing to lay 40 to one that, among all the varieties of religious experiences, there is no account of an epiphany that took place at BookExpo America—until mine.
It came about this way: owing to the fact that my wife and business partner, Leslie Curtis, was unable to accompany me to last year’s show, it fell to me to pick up advance reading copies of galleys that she wanted to read. She gave me a list of those that she was interested in, culled from the book fair’s bulletins, but as for those not mentioned in the bulletins, I was charged with guessing which she might like.
This mission was fraught with intense anxiety, for my wife is a most discerning reader and I did not want to disappoint her. Because I have only lived with her for 35 years, her selection criteria for books remains relatively opaque to me. (I take no comfort in the fact that her taste in shoes and handbags are equally enigmatic.)
Nevertheless, after sauntering up and down the aisles, examining galleys and dropping those I thought my wife would like into shopping bags that I brought along for the occasion, I was optimistic that I had correctly anticipated her preferences. I phoned her and read the titles to her. Score! She proclaimed every selection exactly to her liking and praised me lavishly. I looked forward to an extra tot of rum and a double serving of Entenmann’s crumb cake when I returned home with my prizes.
The prospect of spending more hours working the convention, inviting the wrath of the great god Hernia by schlepping two weighty shopping bags around, was not a happy one. I solved the problem by depositing them in the baggage check area at the Javits Center. Relieved of my burdens, I returned to the show floor to work the room for several more carefree hours.
At the end of the day I returned to claim my bags and—Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!—they weren’t there! A frantic search and a flurry of phone calls to supervisors were of no avail. One of the clerks vaguely recalled a visitor claiming a number of white bags. Mine, which were also white and bore the distinctive icon of a Manhattan gourmet food store, had obviously been accidentally mingled with the other visitor’s.
I took the phone number of the baggage service’s manager, but the ARCs seemed as good as gone, and I found their loss so utterly depressing that I could not bring myself to call my wife. Disconsolate, I left the convention center, gazing in vain at parcels carried by other departing BEA attendees. I trudged out of Javits wondering how I could admit this mortifying defeat to my dear partner.
I directed my feet downtown in the direction of a cocktail party, feeling as festive as a guest at a funeral. When lo! On the corner of 35th Street stood a couple waiting for a car. At their feet were seven or eight shopping bags—white shopping bags—filled with galleys. And there, nestled among them...
“Excuse me, I believe two of those are my bags.” They looked at me skeptically—this is New York City after all—but I showed them the claim check and, reciting the identifying symbols on my bags, I pointed to mine. “Oh my!” groaned the lady, examining them. “Yours must have been parked beside our own.” She relinquished them without hesitation, asking, “What are the odds?”
What indeed? But if you agree that ascertaining the value of pi is easier than calculating the odds that I would recover those books, you will surely concur that this could not possibly be a coincidence. Since then I have carried that claim check in my wallet, a talisman of the mysterious power that guided me that day.
So, if you see someone sacrificing a bullock on the floor of BEA, you’ll know it’s me.