by William Thomas

It’s been exactly 25 years since I published my first book:  The Tabloid Zone – Dancing With The Four-Armed Man, a badly-titled collection of columns that had appeared in the Hamilton Spectator.

The day after the books rolled off the printing press, my publisher called.  “We’re going on the book tour,” announced Gordon Green, with the confidence of a general going into battle.  I thought – Vancouver in the fall!  Great!

Actually, Gordon’s brilliant marketing idea was to do a couple of book signings at two of my favourite haunts, namely the Dain City Hotel, in the village of my youth, and Port Colborne’s Belmont Hotel, in the town of my ill spent adulthood.  As the press releases and posters promised, I showed up at “The Dainer” for my late afternoon book signing on a Saturday in May, and there were a lot of people there. Many I remembered from the days I lived in the hamlet on the Welland Canal.

Once the table was set up and nobody approached it, I realized that those people were not there for the signing.  Those people were always at “The Dainer” late on a Saturday afternoon.

Wayne the bartender, seizing a business opportunity, agreed to buy 60 books at half price which I dutifully autographed on the spot.  These two boxes of books, which he was supposed to resell at 100% mark up, mysteriously showed up at Gordon’s office in Hamilton two weeks later with an unpaid invoice and one copy missing.

“Things ‘ll be better tonight at The Belmont,” Gordon assured.  “That’s the big one!”

He was right in the sense that when we arrived at Port Colborne’s infamous watering hole, the place was packed … for “Bob The D.J.”

Gordon set up the signing table in the next room and briefed Bob on how to introduce me. Bob, coming from an afternoon DJ gig at another hotel, was dead drunk.  Bob, who I had said hello to for about 10 years or more, could not remember my name.

Gordon presented Bob with a copy of The Tabloid Zone and told him all he had to do was read the title, say “Here he is!” and read the name at the bottom.  Mine.  Unfortunately, Bob didn’t have reading glasses, and when Gordon asked if he’d forgotten them, maybe in his coat pocket, the man said no, he did need reading glasses but he also didn’t own a pair.

Gordon told Bob to do the best he could, and then joined me at a table in the centre of the tap room.

Bob, holding my book at arm’s length, swayed back and forth and mumbled.  We heard the word “book,” good and “The Trailer Zone,” bad.  We heard “Wainfleet,” “a funny rider” and something about an “overflowed toilet” in the ladies room.

At this point, the crowd was becoming unruly, Gordon had his head in his hands, and I was drinking directly out of the pitcher of draft.

“And here he is …” Bob yelled so loud the microphone malfunctioned and his words echoed off the back wall.

“Here’s the guy who needs no introduction … Wayne Thompson.”

Two people near the stage clapped, then quickly quit when nobody else followed their lead.

I got three-quarters out of my seat to acknowledge Bob’s introduction when the coarse voice of a woman in the back boomed:  “Shut up Bob and play something by Reba McEntire!”

I sat back down, okay, collapsed, as Gordon’s head hit the table – once, twice, three times, and fairly hard too.  The place exploded in laughter as Bob staggered backwards, punched his recording machine twice and Rita MacNeil burst into “It’s a working man I am.”  Gordon and I slipped out at the break, which came when the music stopped and nobody could find Bob.

The Tabloid Zone was Gordon Green’s first venture into the world of publishing.  I understand he’s in the restaurant business today.  Now, eight books later, I still can’t understand why The Tabloid Zone didn’t make it to the bestseller lists.  I mean, the songs of Reba and Rita were always real popular.

There’s a lesson to be learned here for all of us – “The Belmont Rule – know your audience and then avoid it like it has leprosy.”  And yes, funny you should ask.  I do still have copies.

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