Arrive early and talk to Rita and her friends, unsure if they’re also on mushrooms, as they’d previously agreed to be, because Rita giggles nonsequiturly even when sober, until an unsmiling woman in her 40s—the event organizer—approaches saying something about “housekeeping.” Follow her into the backroom. Learn it’s important you speak clearly tonight because your reading and Q&A are going to be “livestreamed” onto the internet. Because of the mushrooms this—and most things the next 90 to 120 minutes—will seem like evidence that the universe is idly but skillfully thwarting you to weakly amuse itself. Sign a waiver agreeing to be “livestreamed.” In the bathroom, text message Rita asking if she’s on mushrooms. About 10 minutes later, walk toward the bookstore’s exit—beyond which is Haight Street—distantly amused that you don’t know where you’re going. An acquaintance you haven’t seen in two years enters the bookstore staring at you. Suspect he knows you’re on mushrooms. Walk to Rita and ask if she’s on mushrooms. Read, “Yes we all are. Have fun!” from her cell phone’s screen held toward your face. Walk away a little and say, “I feel worried,” and, “I feel scared,” to no one. When the event organizer introduces you, for some reason using the word “housekeeping” again, you’re “loitering” alone near the magazines, not apparently doing anything. Walk carefully to the podium and open Richard Yates, your second novel.
Everything seems vaguely normal, in that things seem predictably surreal, as you read sentences about Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning Gmail chatting about hamsters, until, after maybe two minutes, you realize you’ve been ignoring that there are tribal-tattoo patterns near the page’s margins and in other places and that the text is glowing reddish black and sometimes has a slightly 3D nature, like it’s projecting a holograph of itself an inch above the page. While trying to discern if your microphone is making science-fiction-like noises because it’s broken, because you’re making those noises, or because the mushrooms are causing you to hear things, realize that your heart is beating very hard and your upper body seems to be sweating profusely. Earnestly panic while also feeling unexpectedly calmed by a sudden, convincing, “dark” sensation that from the perspective of being dead it’s irrelevant if everyone in the room views you as insane. Briefly fixate on how you aren’t sure if you should be panicking or not. Should you just act completely insane? Think, “Hunter S. Thompson,” and have images of the movie Aliens. Consider saying, “Is there something wrong with the microphone, or is it the mushrooms?” before realizing, with some alarm and a shrinking feeling of aloneness, that the audience doesn’t know you’re on mushrooms. Prepare to maybe say, “I’m having a bad drug experience right now,” before going to the backroom to lay in darkness in a fetal position, returning to complete the reading when you’re normal, but sort of “remember” that it will be hours before you’re normal and that starting now things are going to seem increasingly incoherent. Attempt to retain control by thinking, “You probably look completely normal to them,” and, “People act insane all the time, normal people are insane,” while focusing on reading in a steady, speed-controlled, volume-controlled manner. Realize you’ve been becoming conscious of certain things in media res, which means you’ve repeatedly been unconscious for unknown amounts of time. Focus on not moving your head or limbs or body, because if you don’t move it will be more difficult to do something completely insane. Become increasingly convinced that you’re about to lose control of everything. Feel confused about what’s going to happen. Seems like you’re going to cry loudly.
At some point, realize you’ve been staring catatonically at the page, which seems like it’s liquidly moving within itself, for an unknown amount of time. Look up with unfocused eyes and a scared facial expression and say, “I’m just taking a break for a second.” Focus on different areas of the audience. Realize that looking at different things causes you to feel much more in control and begin to look up sometimes while reading, in a manner you’ve never done before but that’s normal for most authors, holding the book charismatically in front of you and sometimes smiling a little. At some point, become fixated on an unseemly image of yourself “flailing” in a jellylike manner. Focus on not moving in a jellylike manner while feeling like you’re uncontrollably exhibiting a jellylike presence, no matter what you do, it seems, and notice you can’t seem to find the words “just come please” which you remember having just read. Stare at the page discerning only a mental projection of the word “just” in the foreground of a blurry mass that seems to be “roiling.” Think, “Seems completely impossible, really seems completely impossible,” and close the book. Look up slowly and say, “That’s all I’m going to read,” while grinning a little. Most of the audience seems to be viewing you with strong disapproval. An older couple in the front row seem “not amused” in a movie-like parody of being not amused. Think, “They disapprove of everything about me, especially that I’m on drugs right now,” and, “Why are they here, in the front row?” For a microsecond the entire audience seems to “squirm” in their seats. Think, “Hunter S. Thompson.”
During the Q&A, sometimes notice that some of your fingers are moving in a languidly tentacle-like manner, independent of your overall feeling of paranoid fear. At one point, move your hand away from your face after realizing you’ve been unconsciously covering your mouth in a vulnerable, childlike manner for an unknown amount of time. Almost every question causes you to think, “They don’t make any sense, they seem completely insane,” in an enthusiastic manner, as if something has been proven, then, “No, it’s the mushrooms,” then, “No, this is normal, remember how people just normally don’t make sense?” Someone asks a question, in a tone like they’re at a White House press meeting, that you can only comprehend as implying that your entire book was written using only “Gmail chat.”
After the Q&A, walk carefully to a table and a chair about 10 feet to your left, where you will personalize copies of your books by drawing hamsters and upside-down crosses in them for the 20 or so people who have formed a line. Seem engrossed in your drawings to prevent people from attempting to engage you in conversation. Notice that some of the hamsters you’ve drawn have oval eyes instead of round eyes, which has never happened before, and think, “Brand, your brand.” Fear egregious mistakes like writing, “To Tao / from Tao.” Sometimes stare “helplessly” into the distance, “searching” for the other people who are on mushrooms and seeing “no one.” When someone says to personalize their book “to Michael” write “to Frank” with a feeling of competency. When he sheepishly corrects you, saying, “That’s okay,” and reaching for the book, think, “Oh my god…” and laugh, then cross out “Frank” and write “Michael” and apologize three to five times while grinning insanely.