Snuck Into National Book Awards

by “David Shapiro”

i am at the National Book Awards at the Cipriani on Wall Street and i am standing fifteen feet away from Tina Brown. Tina Brown is sitting at her table and she just finished her dinner and i am waiting with my friends Mike and Nate to interview her to ask her how many times she has presented Tom Wolfe with an award, but right now she looks like she’s having a pretty intense conversation with some old dude and if i interrupted her conversation she probably wouldn’t do my interview. a cater waiter just walked by carrying some plates with slices of pie on them and the pie had confectioner’s sugar on it, and someone bumped into the cater waiter as she walked past Tina Brown and some confectioner’s sugar spilled off the pie and onto Tina Brown’s back

Tina Brown didn’t notice because confectioner’s sugar is really light, you know, and it’s on her back, and then some other old dude came over to Tina Brown and stood behind her and talked to her for a minute, he probably congratulated her about her website The Daily Beast merging with Newsweek, and then when he was done talking to her he patted her on the back and unwittingly smudged the confectioner’s sugar and then she went back to talking to the first old dude, so now there is a palm-sized splotch of confectioner’s sugar on the back of Tina Brown’s black dress and i can’t take my eyes off it 🙂

we brainstorm questions for Tina Brown while we wait for her conversation to end. Nate says to Mike, “ask her how she has time to come to parties like this when she’s running a publication that hemorrhages five hundred grand a week!!!!” and Nate’s eyes look up but his head stays level and he holds his hands up and shakes them and he goes “OH NO! OH NO!” and me and Mike laugh and then i excuse myself and walk to the bar and get a white wine and scurry back. eventually there is a lull in Tina Brown’s conversation and Mike goes up to her to interview her and she tells him to come back after dinner and so we go back to the press area to wait out Tina Brown’s dinner

anyway, and i want to slip this in before i go on because i thought it was a good story, the way that i sneaked into this National Book Awards is that last night i emailed Choire, the editor of this website, and i said i wanted to cover the National Book Awards, and he emailed me back and was like “excellent!” and i wrote back “but like can you get me in though?” and he said he would see what he could do on such short notice. and then this morning i got an email from him that said “you’re in luck! you can go, but there’s a catch: you have to say you are…” and he gave me a name that was an incontrovertibly female name that i will say is “Patricia Simpson” for the purposes of this post, “…and that you write for…” and the publication i have to say i write for is, let’s say, a prestigious French literary journal

so i brainstormed ideas about how to get in, i thought about saying my name is Patrick Simpson and they got it wrong on the list, or that i also work for this literary journal and i am going in Patricia’s place. it is hard for a swarthy unshaven 22-year-old kid to pretend to be a “Patricia Simpson” that works for a prestigious French literary journal, and then so tonight me and Mike and Nate walk in to the National Book Awards and i am so nervous and the woman with press clipboard asks for Mike’s name and she looks through the list and says his name isn’t on the list and he says “maybe it’s under my editor’s name?” and then he gives the press list woman the name of his female editor, and then a figurative lightbulb went on over my head and i tell the press list woman that my editor is Patricia Simpson and i give her the name of the prestigious literary journal, and then Nate gave her his name and she let us inside! i was so happy, i’ve never been to an awards show like this

so anyway now i am in the press area and it is dinnertime and there are other reporters and bloggers standing around here too. the press area is centered around a buffet that is against the far wall of the restaurant/gala hall. this room is so big that you could probably play softball in it and the walls wouldn’t be that much of an impediment. in the press buffet there is some pasta with plain sauce and some, ummmm, uninspired sandwiches and salad, kind of a weak dinner compared to the filet mignons or tuna filets that the regular attendees of the awards ceremony are getting, and it makes me think that if the regular attendees get filet mignons in the dining area of the ballroom, and the press gets sandwiches on the edge of the ballroom, than the cater waiters are probably eating dog food in the back and i shouldn’t complain about the sandwiches

also right now the first half of the awards ceremony is over, i got here late so i missed almost all of it except the part where Tina Brown gave Tom Wolfe a lifetime achievement award and he thanked her for it and said something about how she started blog news, which i am positive is a complete falsehood but everyone likes him so it’s not a big deal, and now i am trying to gauge the importance of this awards ceremony among the bloggers and reporters. i ask what the equivalent of the National Book Awards is in movies, like is it like The Oscars or like The Golden Globes?, and there is some debate around the table, and then the reporter who i looked at when i was asking, so i guess he is the point man on this question, makes up his mind and declares “this is cannes and the fuckin pulitzers are the oscars” and then quickly adds “this is on deep background by the way, not for attribution” and he laughs and then says “actually i don’t give a shit”. when he said “deep background” it made me think of that movie about Watergate with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

a few minutes later, Foster Kamer, a blogger for the Village Voice, goes “okay i got my headline for tomorrow!” to Katie Baker, a blogger for Deadspin, and people around the table look at him expectantly and he says he isn’t telling and we’re like “come on man” and he says “okay fine — it’s NBA Jam!” and he smiles and we laugh. it makes me try to think of a funny title for this post. a few minutes later, Mike realizes that he forgot to remove a piece of extra stitching from his new suit and we talk about the suit for a minute and Foster leans over to Mike and smiles and says “that’s the J. Crew Ludlow right?” i think he is a little embarrassed that he knows the name and brand of the suit but also proud, maybe he is blushing but the lighting in here isn’t good, and then he looks at me and says he knows his menswear

Mike and Katie Baker talk for a while and then Mike hands Katie his Blackberry with a new contact screen open and her name in the contact info but the phone number and e-mail address fields are blank, she says “do i fill it in?” and mike says “yeah” and i say “that’s a smooth move dude” and he grins and looks at Katie and says “i’m gay!!” so she doesn’t think he’s trying to get her number romantically. despite his sexual orientation Mike is actually really gettin it with the ladies tonight, his date here is the blogger Molly Young and he told me he feels like the luckiest guy on the Lower East Side and i asked him if he thinks he’s gonna score later and he said he hopes so

then the second round of the awards ceremony starts and people take their seats. we stay around the press table and watch. a woman who looks like the platonic ideal of a school librarian wins the young adult book award, some other people win some awards that i didn’t write down, and then Patti Smith is up for an award and then she wins and Nate and Foster give each other a high five and both say “BOOM!” in unison and clap and yell “woo!!” as she goes up onstage. Patti Smith gets teary during her speech and says that when she was younger she dreamed about winning a National Book Award. this is maybe a dubious claim but hey, who knows, people have weird dreams i guess. a few minutes later, Foster tells me that the host of this awards ceremony is Andy Borowitz, the creator of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and i almost have a conniption because that’s one of my favorite shows

eventually the awards get boring and Mike says “this thing is a snooze! and you can quote me on that” and Katie laughs and Nate asks if anyone wants to go out for a cigarette and i drink a white wine

then the awards end and it’s dessert time and most of the attendees get up and start schmoozing. i mill around looking for desserts to take off peoples’ plates who are leaving or have left and wonder if i am getting too drunk to function normally. then i see Andy Borowitz standing by the bar and he is by himself. he is tall and very thin, imagine David Bowie but with a big schnoz and straight, medium-length salt and pepper hair, and wearing a crisp suit. i go over to him to interview him about The Fresh Prince, i introduce myself and tell him i want to interview him and also that i love The Fresh Prince. he says something to indicate that he is getting a kick out of talking about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air at the National Book Awards, i would interview him about something more relevant but i don’t know what he has done since that show, i should have read his wikipedia beforehand, and we talk about the show for a while and he smiles a lot and seems jovial, i smile too but i try to not look insane by grinning constantly, and then he says “you want a drink?” and i say “sure!” and we walk over to the bar and he orders a white wine and then asks what i want and i tell him i want a jack daniel’s and diet coke and he laughs and goes “is that some sort of hipster drink?” and we both laugh. he is mostly joking i think

i ask him what episode of The Fresh Prince he would recommend someone watching if they had never seen an episode before, which i guess is my official interview question for lack of a better one, and he says “the one where they got up and did the striptease — well, i’m not saying that one is the best, but that’s the one that’s most viral on youtube” and he thinks about whether that is a valid way of determining what is the best first episode to watch and then seems to decide that it is and he smiles and says “i hope that’s in my NYT obit!” he is really friendly and i try to conceal how drunk i am. he says, “are you going to the afterbeast?” because the afterparty for this awards show is hosted by The Daily Beast and i tell him i think i am. we talk about Fresh Prince for another few minutes and then i excuse myself because i suspect i seem really drunk and i don’t want to drunkenly linger

i wander around looking for Jonathan Safran-Foer or Patti Smith or Tina Brown to interview them but i can’t find them. i steal a chocolate-covered strawberry off an unattended plate and then spot Katie Baker and two other bloggers across the room, i am afraid i am nearing that stage of drunkenness where like i don’t even have to say anything for my presence to be alienating, like when you know someone you are around is so drunk that it makes you uncomfortable because really drunk people are unpleasant and unpredictable, so i try to keep my mouth shut to not alienate these people. the bloggers are very nice to me and i like listening to them, they talk about insidery-seeming internet stuff that i don’t really understand, and then we all go outside and go around a corner and the bloggers smoke cigarettes and marijuana and we chat about different websites

and then it is getting late and the bloggers go back inside and i say bye to Katie and put my headphones on and walk to the subway. now i am on the subway listening to the Nicki Minaj record that leaked today and i really like it, she raps a lot about New York, or more than she does on most of her guest features, and sometimes i think about leaving New York because it can be a psychically crushing place but right now listening to Nicki Minaj on the subway after sneaking into the National Book Awards i am happy to be here

Sent via Blackberry from T-Mobile

David “Shapiro” is 22 and lives in New York City and has a Tumblr.

Photo by Mike, taken this morning, on the street.