I am finally, after a long day of airplane travel, back in Iowa City, where I went to graduate school, and where I will be giving the first reading for my novel, this coming Tuesday. My old friend Jane Monson kindly picked me up at the airport in Cedar Rapids and brought me into town, and as we walked to the Atlas Cafe for dinner--an old favorite haunt--we passed Praire Lights bookstore, where I will be reading with Sabrina Mark, and where my book was on display in the window. This was the first time I saw it for sale at a bookstore (it's not technically released until 3/9) and Jane obliged me by posing with her copy in front of the window. Self-indulgent? Absolutely. But it seemed like seeing your first book for the first time in a bookstore was worth a commemorative picture.
It's fun to be back here, doing my first reading in Iowa City, where I wrote the first draft of the story that eventually became this novel. A lot of the material was inspired by my first year here in Iowa City, where I lived in a house with landlords who monitored my coming and going, and would leave angry notes when I left a light on (costing them electricity). That house, which was split down the middle--one half painted white, the other half left red brick--got demolished in a tornado (!) the year after I moved away. Jane drove us down Iowa Avenue, to see the vacant lot where it had stood.
Packing for this trip, I grabbed the first small suitcase that I found under the bed. It wasn't until I was at the San Francisco airport that I realized that this happened to be the same suitcase I'd had since graduate school. I knew this because the plastic handle had been gnawed by the squirrels that lived in the attic that stretched around the room where my roommate and good friend, Cathy Park Hong, slept. We used to hear them galloping around, and when we'd open the door to the storage area they would freeze, and we'd see dozens of pairs of glowing green eyes in the darkness. They were too numerous and terrifying to take on, and so we let them sharpen their teeth on our stored possessions--hence my masticated suitcase, which now seems like the perfect thing to pack for this particular trip, my first time back in 8 years.
Tonight I learned from Jane, who also lived in the building (in the same lot as a double-wide trailer-turned bar) that the landlord, Bill Winkle, died last year. He used to make rather shoddy (RIP Bill Winkle) pine furniture in a wood shop on the first floor, so we'd interact with him whenever we entered or left the building. He had about three remaining teeth, and liked to eat tortilla chips that he would leave to wilt on a cookie sheet. He bragged that when his daughter got married, he gave her an option: he'd either wear a tux or his false teeth, which he hated. She chose the tux.
Planning this trip, I had thought that March meant spring--having lived so long now in California. I forgot that this is not the case in Iowa City, where it can be (and is) 7 degrees in March. I won't be spending the next few days strolling around quite as idly as I'd fantasized. The streets are narrowed by dirty snowbanks. There's nothing green in sight. Still, it's nice to be back in this place I once called home, and the bed and breakfast where I'm staying seems squirrel-free.