Strange Publishing Stories, Issue #1

March 2nd, 2010 — 8:13pm

For the first dozen or so years of my career, I was a book publicist. I worked at different Bay Area publishing companies, including Ten Speed Press (eclectica), Mercury House (literary fiction), EarthWorks (environmental), Nolo (self help law) and Collins Publishers SF (big picture books, food and sports). I always liked being a publicist because I got to visit different people’s worlds, briefly, and then leave.

Turns out, I’ve visited a lot of strange worlds. So, as I procrastinate finishing “Ravenous”, my food and eating memoir which is due at my publishers end of this month, I thought I’d share a few stories.

It was 1987, and I was the receptionist at Ten Speed Press. Somehow, while answering the phone and taking messages, I booked Ermie Mickler, author of the seminal and wonderful “White Trash Cooking” on the David Letterman show. I got promoted to publicist the next week.

I flew to New York and met Ernie and his partner, whose name I no longer remember. We went to the Letterman show, where Ernie was booked to cook chicken feet.

Ernie doused an electric skillet with enough oil to cause a heart attack from just looking at it. When the oil was hot, Ernie cooked the feet, which still had the toenails on. The feet curled in on themselves, turning into something from a horror movie. I seem to remember some jokes about foot fetish. Ernie ate a few feet on air, I think Letterman demurred.

After the show, we went to get some drinks down in the meat packing district, which was a lot more funky then than it is today. After, I put Ernie and his friend into a cab, then stood on the corner, waiting for another one to show. It didn’t. But a cop car kept circling the block, and finally stopped and pulled up to speak with me.

They thought I was a hooker.

I said, pardon me, but do hookers generally wear a black pant suit, pumps, pearls, and carry a Coach briefcase?

You have a point, they told me.

Still, I said, thanks for the thought.

Eventually I caught a cab and called it a night.

That wasn’t the last time I visited the Letterman Show. About a year later, I worked on a weird little book called “How to Repair Food“. I pitched it to the show, saying that if you stick limp celery into ice water, it stands straight up again. Well, they loved that, so I’m soon back to the show with the book’s co-author, John Bear, who demonstrated how to make a limp celery stalk erect.

I call this period of my career, my “food porn phase.”

Which was shortly to be followed by the “scatological phase.”

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