Of course we were thrown for a loop when we opened the boxes. "That cover looks crooked," Mom pointed out.
Gulp. We pulled all the books out of the box. At least one out of every four was on off center. Oh, brother! We tore the shrinkwrap off some of them.
"Gee, they sure look nice inside, don't they?" Dad smiled. "They did a nice job."
"We'll just sell the best ones first, and we'll have the printer do some covers to replace the ones that aren't on perfectly." Mom decided after we ripped the shrinkwrap off some more of them and tried unsuccessfully to refold the covers.
By the time the books had arrived we had several orders from smaller distributors. They were only for 10, 25, or 50 copies, and they were all at 55% off, but they were orders. We had the printer ship them directly from the plant, so we knew they were on their way. "I'm sure the distributors won't be as picky about the covers as we are," we sighed.
We also had a small pile of orders from some libraries and bookstores that had seen the reviews. They were only for one or two books each, but we worked hard and happily to get the invoices typed up and the books wrapped and shipped out.
When the UPS driver left that night with our 37 packages, we were really happy.
"We just got the book and already we've sold 193 copies!" Dad laughed, clapping his hands. "We're on our way!!!"
Mom had called Maggie earlier, and she stopped by after work for a little celebration with the family over the start of our new venture.
Actually, Maggie had become a lot more involved with the project over the past month. Weeks before we had even gotten the books, she helped design a mailing to all the big newspapers around the country for Valentine's Day. It was a really neat gimmick and layout that started out "I love you, John..." A good couple dozen newspapers had sent back the little postcard we enclosed with our publicity package, so we were expecting a good return on the mailing.
Maggie was filled with ideas. She suggested we do radio talk shows, and we sent out publicity packages to hundreds of radio stations. Twenty stations wanted to interview us for Valentine's day. We were really excited.
Dad was especially excited. He had always wanted to do this sort of thing, he confessed. He did ten out of the twenty radio shows we had booked on Valentine's day and the day before.
I did a couple of talk shows myself. It was kind of neat. The producer calls you up a few minutes beforehand from someplace far away, and then you're on the air. I was nervous, but we had a sheet of points that we wanted to cover, and we marked up a copy of the book and put little index tabs on it so that we could find anything fast. I was almost getting into it for a while. It was fun being famous for a half hour.
Valentine's Day we got fifteen full-price phone call orders. It was exciting. The day after Valentine's Day we got six orders in the mail. Ten the day after that. By the end of the week, though, the orders had slowed down to only one a day. We sold a grand total of fifty-two books during our Valentine's Day campaign.
We were all feeling a little depressed, but Maggie was still bubbling with excitement. "It's such a great book, we'll sell it somehow."
She had one great idea after another. We sent mailers to business magazines highlighting the business Johns in the book. We sent mailings to music magazines and sports magazines. We sent out a "Happy Father's Day, John" mailing. We even made up holidays, like commemorating the birthday of a famous John from a particular state and calling it "John Day," and we sent the announcement to all the newspapers in that state. We sent mailings to bookstores in the cities where we were going to do our radio shows, letting them know we were doing a show there. We were getting a lot of radio bookings, in fact. At least they appreciated us, but unfortunately we only got an average of about 3 book sales per radio show.
We all believed this was still going to work out. It would just take some time for it to catch on.
Meanwhile, I was getting fascinated with all the neat things Maggie could do with a computer. She also showed me some of her computer art, and it was really great. I even blew off the inch of dust on my computer and started using some of the programs Maggie gave me. It was almost fun. Almost as fun as a paintbrush.
We seemed to be getting closer again, too.
Around that time Veronica called me to tell me that she and her husband had talked it out and had decided to get back together. I was really happy for her. She laughed and told me that there must have been something strange in the air at the Adams house. "Can you believe Felicia and Colby are getting married. They started going out after we all left."
I flashed back to all the key-hole adventures I had witnessed outside their office door, and in each one, those two were always the hero and heroine love interests. What an odd coincidence.
"Well, what about you and Maggie?" Veronica inquired.
That was a good question. What about us?
Maybe we could work it out.
The next day, Maggie and I spent the whole day together. We had meant to just meet for lunch to work out a few ideas, but then Maggie mentioned that this friend of ours from school was having an opening in Richmond, and we should go and make a day of it.
"All our old friends will be there...Jerry, Pete, Francis... you haven't seen anybody in a long time, Ricky, it'll be good for you."
She was right. I hadn't seen any of our old friends since we broke up. I guess I just felt I couldn't face anyone. Maybe it was about time I started getting my life back together.
"Please, Ricky, it'll be fun..."
I was still pretty hesitant, though. "Barkin will probably be there. He loves Patrick's work," I reminded her.
"Yes, but we can avoid him. There will be plenty of other people to talk to. Come on, they'd love to see you..." Maggie continued on, but my mind was focused on Barkin and the museum, and it still hurt.
I had been the acting director of his museum for eighteen months. It wasn't painting, but it was an okay job. I got to meet a lot of great people. But that John Barkin would never let me have any responsibility. He was always stepping in, taking control, making all the decision. That's not the way he promised it would be when he hired me.
And then there were those paintings...I mean, I really didn't even like them. I don't go for that sort of thing, personally. I'm into impressionist landscapes, and intimate portraits, and definitely not such stark realism. But there was something gripping about those paintings. It was such a powerful, important statement about the impact of a violent world on a gentle soul. I don't know what it was, but they just spoke something that I knew had to be heard.
They were by a university student who had never exhibited anything before. I thought his time had come.
But Barkin refused to hang them. "They're much to controversial, Mr. Adams," he grunted when I brought him the slides.
"But they're good, Mr. Barkin. I feel really strongly about them."
"They are not going to be exhibited here, Mr. Adams. And that is all I have to say about it."
"Look when I took this job, you said I'd have a lot of control about what this museum does. You haven't given me even enough slack to hang myself. I don't have to take this crap. I want those paintings exhibited!"
"Mr. Adams...Once again your little outbursts reaffirm my contention that you will never amount to anything. You are just a little snot-nosed brat who wants everything his way or not at all. Grow up, Mr. Adams. You have to learn to make compromises in this world, or you will end up with nothing at all. I would have let you go, long ago, if I didn't like you, and think you had great potential -- if only you'd learn how to keep your own feelings out of things."
I was seething. "You can't take away my values and integrity and make me conform to the sterile rules you make up to please your corporate sponsors. We're supposed to be concerned about art, not funding. I can't take it anymore. I'm leaving."
Barkin continued looking over his pages. "If that's your decision, Mr. Adams, then that's your decision. But those paintings will not be exhibited here, nor will any others that do not conform to the high standards of this institution."
"Drop dead, Barkin!" I sneered and walked out.
That was almost a year ago. Was I ready to face him? He'd definitely be at the opening. How could I avoid him?
"Look, Rick," Maggie sighed at my silence. "Why don't you give Barkin a copy of the book. Bury the hatchet and show him you've done something really good that you're proud of."
"Huh?" Actually, that wasn't such a bad idea. Never amount to anything, indeed! This was a darn good book. He couldn't call me a loser anymore!
"Sure, Mag. It sounds like fun."
It was a great day. I had really missed seeing everyone. And Barkin smiled politely when I handed him an autographed copy of the book. He almost looked embarrassed to see me in fact.
Peter, my old college roommate, pulled me aside. "He's kicked himself several times since you left. No one runs his place the way you did -- he's gone through three directors this year, and he's lost some of his funding. Oh, and you know that artist, Schilling, the one you quit over?"
I flinched, and then I nodded numbly.
"Well, some hot-shot New York agent 'discovered' him. He's hot in New York right now. I mean, real hot. Barkin blew it!"
It felt good hearing that. "Say, are you and Maggie getting back together?" he continued.
"I...um...I don't know..." I stammered, suddenly feeling really thirsty.
Peter smiled as he followed me to the bar. "I hope you guys do. You're really right for each other."
I just shrugged. "Well, you never know."
That evening Maggie and I were sitting across from each other at Sammi's, the place where we always used to hang out, once upon a time, and I could feel it building up inside of me. I really did want things to be the way they used to be. I really did want us to work out. At that moment I couldn't even remember why we'd ever broken up.
I looked at her across the table. "You know, Mag, I haven't been out with anyone since we split up."
"I know. Your mother told me. You must really need that stack of Playboys now..." she snickered.
I'm sure she didn't mean to hurt me. She was just kidding around. But it did hurt. I suddenly remembered one of the reasons we broke up -- sex.
Now, don't get me wrong. Sex wasn't THE reason we broke up. There were tons of reasons. I didn't help out enough with Elizabeth. I was too much of a dreamer. I just wouldn't grow up and accept responsibility for my life and family -- like when I just quit my "great job" at the museum and left us in a tricky situation financially, and refused to just take any job.
No, sex wasn't the only reason, but it was a big one.
When we were first married (and before) we did it all the time. It was great. But after Elizabeth was born, things really changed.
I remembered the big turning point when everything started to go sour. We had been in bed and were getting pretty affectionate, when Elizabeth woke up crying. When Maggie finally came back to bed, I snuggled up to her expecting to continue where we left off.
"I'm too tired now," she sighed, moving away from me. "Maybe tomorrow."
I got upset. "Seems like it's always maybe tomorrow," I mumbled.
Then the fight started.
"I found your pile of Playboys in your paintchest while I was straightening up today," she said matter-of-factly from her side of the bed. "Next to a jar of Vaseline."
I was embarrassed.
"I can't believe we're married and you...do that with yourself."
I was really angry, now. "It's better than having an affair with someone like Roger did. What am I supposed to do -- we almost never have sex anymore."
"That's not true at all, and you know it!"
"Yeah, we have sex like once or twice a month!" I growled.
"We make love at least once or twice a week!" she snapped.
"Yeah, right! Whatever it is, it's not enough. A guy just needs it more often, that's all. Once or twice a day would be more like it."
"That's all sex is to you, isn't it. Just a habit...just fulfilling a need? Well, it has to be more for me. A woman has to feel something special. It has to be a time of snuggling and hugging and kissing ... I can't help it if I'm tired from working and I have to take care of Elizabeth when I get home and things are always so hectic. I just don't have the energy..."
"Hey, look, I'm not saying the emotional part isn't wonderful...and I like the real romantic times when we make love, too. But it doesn't always have to be that way. Sometimes it IS just a need to be fulfilled, just sex, and that's OK too."
"I can't just turn it on or off. I have to feel a certain way inside..."
I guess I was really angry by this point. "What does it take," I snapped. "All you have to do is spread your legs..."
"This is sick, Richard," Maggie gasped, sitting up and moving as far away from me on the bed as possible. "Let me get this right. If you're horny and I'm trying to go to sleep, and you want to do it, and I don't want to, I should do it anyway as part of my obligation as your wife?"
"I didn't say that! Well...well...yeah, actually, that is what I mean..."
"That's rape, Richard!"
"Oh, give me a break. Look. I'm just saying a man has needs, and in order to keep things going smoothly in a relationship, sometimes the wife should have sex when she doesn't necessarily feel like it. It's like getting up to eat breakfast. Sometimes you feel like it and sometimes you don't. But you've got to eat."
"Richard, you are a sick chauvinistic pig!"
I slept on the couch that night.
I slept on the couch a lot of nights after that. And we never had sex at all after that. Neither of us was ever in the mood. Everything seemed a big deal, too. We never talked about anything, and just kept bottling all our anger inside.
I guess sex really did have a lot to do with our splitting up. But maybe it was my fault. Maybe I was being childish. Maybe it was all part of my refusal to grow up. But, then, maybe I was right and Maggie was wrong. Maybe we were just too different...maybe...
I swallowed and looked over at Maggie across the table. I could see a tear in her eye, and I knew she had been remembering too. My head was so jumbled. I didn't know what I was feeling at that moment. I don't know, how does a bowl of jello feel? And what was Maggie thinking? Did I care now at all?
"We'd better be getting back, Richard," she coughed, and flagged down our waiter for the check.
I nodded, silently.
We didn't say anything all the rest of the way home, either.
"You want to come in for a second, and say hi to Mom and Dad?" I asked hesitantly as I undid my seatbelt.
"No. I don't think so."
I reached for the latch to open the door. Something was stopping me. This was ridiculous, my heart cried out. I knew I loved her. We should work this out, it insisted.
"Maggie," I said softly, turning to her. She was staring off into the darkness, and the tears were running down her cheeks.
"Maggie, I still love you, and I want to work it out. Please, give me another chance." My eyes were filled with tears, too, and she turned slowly and sniffled.
"I'd like that, Ricky. I miss you."
We kissed out in her car, like teenagers, for a long time. We probably would have been out there all night kissing if we hadn't heard this tapping on the fogged up windows.
"Huh?" I gasped. I rolled the window down. It was Mrs. Filburn.
"It's about time you two worked things out!" she winked, and then she headed back down the street at her usual pace.
I giggled, then turned back to my wife. "Well, I know you'll have to get up early for work tomorrow..."
"No I don't. This is Friday."
"Oh, yeah. Well, can you stay over?"
"Of course, Ricky."
I was so happy. As we got out and walked up the steps, I saw my mom peeking out the window with teary eyes. As we got closer she dashed away, heading for the stairs up to her room. I chuckled. Well, she was probably almost as happy as I was.
"What are we going to do, Mag?" I asked as we tiptoed inside. "You've lent everything you've saved to my folks for this book, and I don't have a dime."
"We'll just float between our parent's places until the Names books break through," she whispered. "Then we'll get our own apartment again."
Thank goodness I had Maggie back. I don't think I could have gotten through it otherwise. By the summertime we'd only sold about 315 copies, and our prospects didn't look that good.
But we still plugged away, trying anything new we could think of. Then the editor for the nationally syndicated column, "WHAT'S HOT?" called and she wanted to do a little piece on our book. This was exactly the break we'd been waiting for. "WHAT'S HOT?" is in practically every Sunday paper in the country. We were floating on a cloud.
The article wasn't going to appear for a whole month, though. The time seemed to drag on forever, and the orders, meanwhile, were as slow as ever.
Super Sunday finally arrived and Dad, Maggie, Mike and I raced to the store at 6 AM, and we crowded around Dad as he opened the paper a little too slowly for our tastes.
"This is going to give us thousands and thousands of orders..." I giggled uncontrollably as Dad turned the pages looking for the right section.
Finally we found it. "THE PERFECT BABY SHOWER GIFT!" the headline of the tiny paragraph read.
"What?" we gasped.
This was the last straw.
"Okay, sure. Babies have names. I know that, right? But what does our book have to do with a baby shower?" Mike sighed. Even his philosophic mind couldn't find even the tiniest existential connection.
"Only a few people even know the sex of their baby at a shower. How many know the baby's name..." Maggie muttered.
"The book isn't even for babies," Dad pouted.
I was speechless.
To put it mildly, we weren't too excited about our big break as we drove home.
"The Names books are dead," Dad sighed as he handed Mom the paper when we got home.
Over the next few weeks
we got only sixty-two orders from that article that 100 million people
might have seen if it hadn't had such a stupid title! Even Maggie was