Scenes from a book tour
Book tours are debilitating. My body clock is so screwed up that, on consecutive nights, I woke up in the middle of the night and had no idea where I was. My right thumb has swelled to 140 percent the size of my left thumb. My back is crumbling like blue cheese. My immune system might turn me into Patient X of Swine Flu 2.0 before everything's said and done. Even my BlackBerry mouse no longer can move to the right.
The good news: All of these things are fixable. (Well, except for my right thumb. Can't feel anything. Might have to chop if off Ronnie Lott-style.) What can't be fixed is my formerly hot NFL picks season. Sayonara, My Best Record Ever. It's gone. Out the window. And all because my book tour prevented me from properly following football. Or, because I suck at picking games and was destined to go cold. It's one or the other.
Because I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy, I have decided to blame the tour for my picking woes. In 11 days, I went from Washington to Philly to Bristol to Manhattan to Boston to Los Angeles to Chicago to Phoenix to San Francisco to San Diego. I would do it again. See, the worst thing about being a writer is that you can't see the people who are reading you. They are just nameless, faceless people with e-mail addresses. Book signings put a face on these people. That's why I like them. I also happen to have an exceedingly nice and appreciative group of readers. Which makes it so much fun to go visit them.
Of course, when you bang out 11 signings in 11 days, memories invariably jumble together and stop belonging to a sequence. They become jumbled. Like one of those smoothies that have 11 different fruits in them. I can't even tell the fruits apart anymore. So here are the jumbled memories of my book tour. I could not present them any other way. It's all one big unrecognizable smoothie.
• I slept in nine different beds in four different time zones. Two of those times, I rolled out of bed and immediately appeared on a morning show. Like, immediately. Like, I hit the snooze button three times, begrudgingly woke up, peed, then groggily called the show. They will not be sending these interviews to the Radio Hall of Fame.
• I brought my Dad to every signing this week. In Chicago, someone noticed him and joked, "My God, David Crosby has lost a ton of weight!" That was followed by the debut of my Dad's "Wait, I didn't know I was going to be heckled on my son's book tour" face. High comedy.
• In Philly, I met the legendary NBA statistician Harvey Pollack, one of the few remaining people who witnessed Wilt's 100-point game. He even made the "100" sign that Wilt held up. He is Yoda old. I loved him. We exchanged books. We took a picture. My night was made.
• Two Mondays ago, I woke up in D.C. at 6:20 a.m., went to bed 22 hours later after a signing, woke up five hours later, fell asleep in Philly at 1:30 a.m. after another signing, woke up at 5:22 a.m. to catch a plane, then banged out two more signings in Bristol and New York City. After that last one, my friend Jacoby took us to a Russian bar and ordered us a round of beers called Baltika 3. They were delicious. They were going down like water. I was so overtired that I kept drinking them. At one point, someone said, "Don't you have to be on 'Morning Joe' in a few hours?" My response? "Yeah, but it's not in HD." I went to bed at 2:45 and woke up less than four hours later. At this point, I looked like holy hell warmed over and caramelized. Was "Morning Joe" in HD? Of course it was.
• We flew from Philly to Hartford on something called Republic Airlines -- or as I mistakenly called it, "Raconteur Airlines" -- on a plane so small that when it started dipping during a thunderstorm, my friend (and PR guy for my book) Lewis and I started spouting out "Almost Famous" lines. I once ran over a man in Dearborn, Michigan. I can still see his face
• In San Francisco, I rode a trolley car with my father and took a picture of Alcatraz, which remains one of the secretly coolest "Wait, there it is!" landmarks in the United States
• In Washington, fellow Holy Cross grad Jon Favreau (Obama's speechwriter, not the actor/director) gave me and my friends a West Wing tour. It's like a bed and breakfast with offices. Much smaller and creakier than any of us expected. Also, the Oval Office is much happier than I would have imagined. It's on the first floor, with three bay windows behind the president's desk, so you can see the yard and grass behind it. Should I have just said, "Wow, this is much happier than I expected" instead of "Wow, this doesn't look anything like the Oval Office in '24'"? Of course. I'm an idiot. But you knew that already.
• The alarm for my BlackBerry doubles as some techno song that Stewart Copeland made specifically for alarms. I heard it so many times over the past two weeks that it runs through my head constantly. It won't go away. On the other hand, it's a step up from the "Max and Ruby" theme.
• We ran out of books in D.C. again. Second straight time. This gave birth to a new face: the Bill Simmons "They Promised Me This Wouldn't Happen in D.C. Again" face. I still feel awful. I will be back, D.C. I will be back.
• Two Grizzlies fans showed up for my San Fran signing. I thought this was so strange that I snapped a picture of them. There are Grizzlies fans? Really?
• In Bristol, I made a cameo on "SportsNation," where they shot my book with two different guns. The book stopped the first bullet on page 552. The second gun blew it away. I vaguely remember making a joke about climbing on a limo like Jackie O to pick up the pieces of the pages, followed by Michelle Beadle quickly changing the subject. I should not be allowed on live TV.
• Before my first New York signing (a nighttime affair at Professor Thom's), we had three hours to drive from Bristol to Manhattan, check into a hotel, change, then get to Professor Thom's. My book company hired us a driver for this trek. He was between 72 and 135 years old. Every few minutes on the highway, he'd start drifting into the right lane, followed by someone angrily beeping at us, then the car jerking back into our lane, then Lewis and I glancing at each other in unequivocal panic. It went like this for two solid hours. And yet I still felt safer than I did on Raconteur Airlines.
• Somehow I saw my four oldest high school friends, my two closest college friends, my two closest Boston friends and everyone in my Vegas crew. Just worked out that way. Like "This Is Your Life."
• The World Series started and finished during my tour. In the Newark airport, Lewis and I watched the second and third innings of Game 2, then had to board a plane not knowing whether Pedro would survive our flight. The plane landed in Boston an hour later. I glanced at my BlackBerry. The top e-mail read like this: "GOOD GOD, THAT'S GRADY LITTLE'S MUSIC!" Say no more. I didn't even have to look at the score.
• I filmed Five Good Minutes for "PTI." A tough one. I don't have enough reps yet with the whole "Dead-quiet studio, we're back from commercial, let's start talking sports, and by the way, bring up your energy even though it's dead quiet in here!" routine yet. Harder than you think. I just remember waving my hands a lot and Kornheiser looking at me like I had four heads when I screwed up my "Why Durant has a chance to have a more successful career than LeBron" point.
• This happened at every signing: I'd be banging out signatures and talking to people when suddenly I'd hear the sound of a little kid either yelling or crying somewhere in line. A weird nature-type thing happened each time: The sound made me happy. What is it about being a parent that, if you're away from your kids for a few days, even the unhappy sounds of other people's kids make you happy? Bizarre.
• A few minutes before we left Bristol, I dramatically kept alive my streak of "Consecutive times visiting Bristol and running into Brian Kenny as he is in a heated argument about boxing with someone." It's almost like he popped out of nowhere on cue. He was discussing Pacquiao/Cotto with either an associate producer or whomever ESPN hires to argue boxing in the office with him. This should be an ESPN2 show: "ESPN Co-Workers Try To Get Away From A Boxing Argument With Brian Kenny."
• In San Francisco, I looked up at the next person in line, saw someone smiling at me, then realized it was my sports editor from my freshman year in college. His name is Gary Sulentic. Three weeks into my first semester, I wrote a sports column that he liked. He ran it. I wrote another one. He ran it. Couldn't have been more supportive. By November, the column belonged to me. I had it for that semester and the next seven. Now he was standing there with a big smile on his face. "I thanked you in the acknowledgements of my book," I told him. "I know," he said.
• While I was waiting in the green room at "The Colbert Report," Stephen Colbert popped in to say hello and said, "It's nice to finally meet you!" I had to remind him that I had appeared on his show in 2005. In his defense, I was so forgettable that I would have forgotten me, too. This time went better. There's a 53 percent chance he will remember me the next time.
• In Washington, it seemed like three dozen people asked me to sign "SNYDER SUCKS" on a book. In Phoenix, 25 people (I counted) asked for "SARVER SUCKS." In San Francisco, we had more than a few "COHAN SUCKS" requests. This guy summed up everyone's feelings.
• In Phoenix, I got tired of dressing up for signings and wore a sweatshirt with a Batman T-shirt. I didn't think anyone would care. The fifth guy in line said, "Hey, thanks for dressing up for us!" Well, then.
• The bad news from our White House visit: We missed Obama by 15 minutes. The good news: We met Reggie Love, who has arguably replaced Charles Oakley as the world's single coolest sidekick. I left a book behind for Obama and signed it like this: "DEAR POTUS, PLEASE DON'T READ THIS UNTIL 2017." Because, if he does, we're all in trouble. It's 700 pages. I'd rather he figured out health care first.
• Every time someone asked me to sign a book for a friend who was getting engaged, I signed it, "WELCOME TO HELL." I just thought this was funny. Nine out of every 10 people agreed. The 10th person seemed horrified. Whatever. Ninety percent is solid.
• In New York, I never ate lunch or dinner -- just potato chips -- before finishing my signing. At that point, I inhaled a buffalo chicken wrap at Professor Thom's at 10:30 at night. I was so hungry that I wasn't even chewing it. I was inhaling it the same way a snake would swallow a mouse. Just big pieces at a time. One of my friends noticed and said, "This is like watching one of the Survivors eat after they win a rewards challenge." And it was. You could say this deserves its own phrase -- I wasn't just hungry, I was Survivor Reward Challenge Hungry.
• I did enough radio interviews that, by the time I talked to NPR this Thursday, I realized that I could discuss my book on autopilot. I had turned into a Book-Pimping Jukebox. Press A-2 and I will tell you why Oscar's triple-double is overrated. Press C-7 and I will tell you why the Basketball Hall of Fame needs to be blown up.
• The ESPN Zone in D.C. has a giant Washington Mystics mural on one of its walls. And, um well
• I sat four feet away from Tony Kornheiser in the "PTI" offices as producer Matt Kelliher read him a list of possible birthdays to mention for their Oct. 26 show. When Kelliher got to Jaclyn Smith turning 62, even as he was saying the words, "Sm---" we all knew how the next two minutes would unfold. Needless to say, Jaclyn Smith was wished a happy 62nd birthday by Tony Kornheiser.
• Two days ago, I was doing a phone interview in my San Fran hotel room when my BlackBerry started vibrating like crazy. It kept vibrating and vibrating. I thought the Red Sox had traded Jacoby Ellsbury or something. The interview ended and I called back the last person who called. Turned out to be my editor at Random House, Mark Tavani. He told me that my book made No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction. I don't remember anything that happened for the next 113 seconds. It now totally makes sense to me why all Oscar and Emmy speeches suck. You just go blank.
• The previous paragraph made my father briefly morph into a stage dad. He called anyone and everyone he ever met for the next two hours. He even told the concierge at our hotel. He was completely out of control. "You will be the same way when your kids get older and something good happens for them," he explained. "You will be the same way."
• In New York, I successfully signed a piece of raw veal with a Sharpie. The only thing that would have been tougher? Signing an oyster or a kidney.
• In Chicago, a woman asked me to sign her chest, followed by a Borders representative saying, "No, he can't do that!" and an extra second when I nearly yelped, "Wait a second, I'd be happy to sign your chest!" before realizing that that was an absolutely terrible idea.
• In Washington, an assistant for a recently defunct WNBA team introduced himself and asked me to sign his book. I wanted to sign it, "SORRY YOU DIDN'T HAVE NEXT." Then I realized he might take it personally. I can't remember what I wrote.
• I stayed at a hotel room in Manhattan that had an awesome view of Central Park. Had no idea it extended as long as it does.
• During my nighttime New York signing, some friends were sitting with me and decided to do a "Celebs Under 50 Death Pool Fantasy Draft." I joined even though I was busy. In the fourth round, I started a run on pro wrestlers. I am still trying to find a scenario in which a Weird Topic Fantasy Draft isn't fun.
• A few years ago, I ran a mailbag question in which a reader warned me that someone named Jeff Dorman was trying to get into my mailbag, and if he did, then to answer that "Jeff Dorman sucks." A few questions later, I ran Jeff's e-mail and answered that "Jeff Dorman sucks." In the Chicago signing this week, Jeff Dorman's brother-in-law showed up for the obligatory "Jeff Dorman still sucks" signature. Which I came through on. Delightedly.
• I signed 20-plus printed-out mailbag columns that included questions from the actual reader who had sent in the question. The highlight: when the girl who wrote in a few weeks ago asked me to sign her "What's the most offensive Halloween costume to wear in New York?" question, and a few minutes later, someone else showed up dressed like Derek Cheater (from that same mailbag question). You couldn't make this stuff up.
• In Phoenix, this guy wanted me to take over the Suns. Is he helping my case or hurting it? I can't decide.
• Following the afternoon New York signing in Wall Street, we drove right by ground zero. Eight and a half years later and there's still nothing there. Just bad memories. That's it.
• In Chicago, we were heading toward our hotel and I mentioned that it was windy and cold. Our driver quickly answered, "Oh no, it's beautiful today!" It was 49 degrees outside. I have lived either too long in LA, or not long enough.
• My weirdest interview was with BBC America in D.C. You know you're headed for fun when the producer tells you, "Be careful, [the host] knows nothing about American sports." Part of me wanted to make up stuff and say things like, "The key to the NBA this season will be if Jimmy Chitwood and Teen Wolf can turn the Knicks around." But I didn't. I should have. Crap.
• Every Mets fan at every signing asked me the same question: "Who do I root for in the World Series?" And each time, I told them, "Just avoid it completely." Why torture yourself?
• I watched the Lakers get their rings with Lewis (a Lakers fan) in a Philly sports bar with no sound. Right around the time they introduced Rick Fox on the heels of Magic, West and Kareem as a Lakers legend, I got bitter. "We'll see you in June," I hissed at Lewis, meaning the Celtics. And we will.
• Strangest pop-culture-related request for a signing: Three different people asked me to write the "I used to (expletive) guys like you in prison" line from "Road House." Can you imagine someone's great-grandkid stumbling across that in 2079? Wow, look at this old basketball book! And it was signed to Papa! Wait a second
• I wrote my Week 8 Picks column half asleep on a Saturday cross-country flight, didn't finish it before my battery ran out, then wrote the last third of the column on my BlackBerry. You're not gonna believe this, but I finished 4-9.
• Four readers showed up in San Fran who had worked with David Stern on a project that I won't name. They told me a story that I can't recount here. It involved the words "F" and "bomb." I continue to love David Stern.
• In Boston, I made a cameo on the Celtics-Bulls telecast. Sat right between Mike Breen and Hubie Brown at halfcourt for a few minutes. Asked Hubie questions. Narrated a replay. Watched Joakim Noah silently mutter F-bombs to himself after stupidly drawing a technical, only he was two feet away, so I could hear him. Meant to mention that someone on Chicago had tremendous upside potential and forgot. Regardless, there is no greater job. None.
• More than a few readers had me sign books for friends in Iraq and Afghanistan. I always wrote the same thing: "STAY SAFE OUT THERE." A few of the ones getting signatures were the fathers. You could see the fear in their eyes. Just a trace. I never knew quite what to say. What can you say?
• I watched Week 7 football at a Steelers bar in Virginia called "The Tortoise and Hare." The first time Pittsburgh scored against Minnesota, the bar erupted and they started blaring the "Here We Go" Steelers song. Some guy came out of the kitchen came dancing out and hopping around like a maniac. And as all of this was going on, the referee popped up on TV and called the touchdown back. Followed the sound of the song abruptly ending and the kitchen dancer quickly scampering back into the kitchen. OK, you had to be there.
• At that same bar, I complained that people were allowed to smoke inside. My buddy House explained that indoor smoking remained legal in Virginia, adding, "And it should -- they created cigarettes here." Nobody at the table challenged him. I looked it up when I got back to my hotel room. Not even remotely true. Cigarettes were created in France. Which brings me to my point: Did you know cigarettes were created in France? So if you're keeping score, France gave us Burgundy wine, cigarettes, berets, B.O., brie and the Napoleon complex.
• More than a few readers were aspiring writers asking for advice. I always told them the same thing: "Don't get discouraged; keep plugging away." The truth is, I don't know the answer. Because there isn't one.
• In San Fran, a reader gave me a picture of Matthew Modine celebrating ecstatically at a WNBA game. He said that he and a buddy had been forwarding it to each other for years. They thought it was the funniest thing ever. They wanted me to have it. I have to admit it's pretty funny. I have looked at it 25 times and laughed 19 of them.
• I had a Sausage McMuffin in either Philly or Boston at 6:30 a.m. I can't remember. I was barely awake. At the same time, I remember thoroughly enjoying it.
• I got some funny gifts at the signings. An Ovechkin bobblehead. A mini lacrosse stick. A 200-page thesis from an Amherst College grad about race and the NBA. DVDs and CDs. An autographed Carlton Fisk T-shirt. A No. 33 Blackhawks jersey with my name on it. A Teen Wolf T-shirt. A "Karate Kid" novelization. Doug and Jackie Christie's book. But nothing topped what happened in Boston, where two readers gave me a copy of my own basketball book, which they had brought to some Harvard event the night before and gotten signed by various stars of "The Wire." I thought that was going to cruise to "Best Gift of the Tour" until the second Boston signing, when a girl nervously handed me a painting of Larry Bird that she had painted herself. I unwrapped it never thinking that it would be cool. It was. It was astoundingly cool. It was so cool that, really, none of us knew what to do. My buddy J-Bug was sitting next to me at the table; he was staring at it in complete disbelief. This painting was beautiful. Like, "hang it in your living room" beautiful. And just like that, she scurried off.
• That was my second-favorite memory of the tour. This one was first: I stopped the signings for two days so I could spend Halloween weekend with my kids. We live in a neighborhood that gets slammed by trick-or-treaters; this time, we ran out of candy with dozens of trick-or-treaters left. Just as we were about to start turning people away, my daughter announced that she wanted to give away her candy to the remaining trick-or-treaters. And she did. She's 4. She is going to be a good kid. I know it. This was the happiest moment of my book tour, hands down. My father told me I would understand someday, but I already do.
On to the Week 9 super-quick picks
(Home teams in caps.)
GREAT CALL OF THE WEEK
It's time for the Miller Lite Great Call of the Week, where I either praise a call I loved or defend a call previously thought to be indefensible.
On Monday night, Atlanta coach Mike Smith became the latest to screw up the "down by two scores in the final two minutes" conundrum. If you missed it, the Falcons recovered a fumble with 1:23 remaining on their own 47. Trailing by 11, they got two quick first downs and reached New Orleans' 23 with less than a minute to play. Right there, they should have spiked the ball, kicked a field goal and gone for the onside kick-Hail Mary combo. Nope. They kept plowing ahead. Quarterback Matt Ryan suffered a sack and was forced to spike the ball on second down. Tick tick tick On third-and-13, they wasted a few more seconds on a quick slant out of bounds. Finally, their kicker nailed the 40-yarder that they could have had 25 seconds earlier. To make it worse, they recovered the onside kick but didn't have enough time (just 28 seconds) to get in Hail Mary range.
Now, if they had hired a 17-year-old video game nerd as their Madden Late-Game Coordinator, he would have told them to grab that 40-yarder as soon as they could get it. This happens all the time. So let's call this a futuristic Great Call of the Week: I'd like to hand it out to the first NFL coach smart enough to hire a 17-year-old video game nerd for these situations. Someday. We can only hope.
FALCONS (-10) over Redskins
"Most despised owner by his own fans" rankings for November: 1. Snyder; 2. Sterling; 3. Angelos; 4. Cohan; 5. Lerner; 6. Davis; 7. Sarver.
Cards (+3) over BEARS
Just when you think Zona will zig, they zag. And when you think they'll zag, they zig. By the way, Kurt Warner is one game away from passing Joe Namath as the Hall of Fame QB with the most "don't you feel dumb for gambling on me" stinkbombs in NFL history.
Ravens (-3) over BENGALS
A little AFC North revenge. There's a decent chance that Baltimore isn't losing again until Week 16 (at Pittsburgh). Not a reverse jinx, I swear.
Texans (+9) over COLTS
Seems a little high. Also, congrats to Steve Slaton for somehow edging LDT and Matt Forte as this year's biggest fantasy murderer. No small feat. There needs to be a fantasy awards show where these awards are actually handed out. Uh-oh, Erik Kuselias is buying a tux and renting out a banquet hall somebody stop him! I was just kidding!
Chiefs (+6.5) over JAGS
Will there be 20,000 people at this game? It's a serious question. They should even black out this game from the Red Zone Channel.
Packers (-9.5) over BUCS
Mayday! Mayday! The Josh Freeman 2009 White Flag has been thrown. By the way, Aaron Rodgers is this year's Great Game Against A Bad Team MVP. His stats have no correlation with his actual effectiveness. Even Al Bundy didn't hold his balls this long.
Dolphins (+10) over PATS
When's the last time the Pats played a real team? A month ago? Expect a little rust from my boys. Also, this has all the makings of a classic Belichick "we have some big games coming up, I don't want to give too much away in this one, let's grind out an ugly home win" game. I hate those. Not good for my nervous system.
NINERS (-4) over Titans
The strangest line of the year. I don't get it. Vince Young on the road against a good defense getting just four? Really? We're afraid of Chris Johnson that much?
Panthers (+13) over SAINTS
Why do I feel like this is a good matchup for Carolina? And when will Jake Delhomme stop roping me in? This decade, has anyone either (a) murdered more suicide pools and three-team teasers than Jake, or (b) made more people feel dumb more times for picking him? He should wear the number 666.
SEAHAWKS (-10) over Lions
Look, I can't believe I'm laying this many points, either. Can you really take a team that's 2-29 in its last 31 games at Qwest Field? I say no.
Chargers (+4.5) over GIANTS
Phil Rivers, would you like some ketchup or A1 sauce with the Giants' secondary? And how would you like them cooked? Is medium rare good? I'm making this my Underdog Lock of the Week. Chargers 38, Giants 30. By the way, I watched the G-men self-destruct against Philly with my dad last Sunday. At one point he said sadly, "Why didn't we get this Eli for the [Giants-Pats] Super Bowl?" He's still not over it. And neither am I.
EAGLES (-3) over Cowboys
Tony Romo hasn't had one of those goofy, surreal, gambler-assassinating, "What the hell is he doing?" Tony Romo games in a while. He's overdue.
BRONCOS (+3) over Steelers
I am not buying the whole "Baltimore proved how to stop Denver's offense" thing. At all. Guarantee Josh McDaniels studied what the Ravens did for 75 hours this week and made all the necessary adjustments. Beware of the altitude; beware of Elvis and Knowshon; and most of all, beware of the Neck Beard.
Last week: 4-9
Underdog locks: 5-5
Bill Simmons is a columnist for ESPN.com. For every Simmons column, as well as podcasts, videos and more, check out Sports Guy's World. His new book, "The Book of Basketball," is now available.
NFL WEEK 9 PREVIEW