Colum McCann was introduced as “one of the greatest living writers in the English language” under a golden chandelier last night at Russell House by Professor Amy Bloom.
He had delivered a Q & A earlier that day and was now here to read from his new Irish-American novel Transatlantic. Behind the podium, perching one loafer atop the other, McCann spun tales of Frederick Douglass’s journey to Ireland during the potato famine, of two RAF pilots who traverse the Atlantic in a plane made of metal bones and harsh winds, and of an old Irish woman cherishing her memories as her cottage is being repossessed. People shut their eyes.
McCann grew up in the suburbs of Dublin, next to the shopping marts and all that. His father wrote for a paper and Colum followed in his footsteps, earning money writing about soccer games and events around Dublin. When he was 17, he moved to America and now calls himself a New Yorker by virtue of his place on the Upper East Side. He has three kids, one of whom is a “cyclist,” Colum added, jesting at the standard-issue pudge that has formed about his waistline. His smile is gruff. His laugh sincere, from the corners of his eyes.
A mob formed with their newly purchased copies of Let the Great World Spin at the ready—a mixture of students, prim adults, and professors. The Red Stripe logo on my shirt stood out uncomfortably.
The first woman in line wore a matching purple dress and Coach wristlet. I could feel the glowing of her eyes as she watched him produce his pen. I could feel the words gathering in her head to form her first sentence, her first impression. Then, disaster struck.
Shit. “My pen is all killed off,” announced Colum. No ink. No autographs.
The woman in Purple looked around to see if other people were looking around at her. She attempted a gasp, then popped open her wristlet to investigate further into the pen matter. This must be solved at once!
I held my Bic out. Mrs. Coach promptly presented it to Mr. McCann. He gave me his spent pen and that was that.
Yet hors d’oeuvres were still being served on the back table and tea was still being poured. The good souls at Russell House made sure to save Mr. McCann a plate, even if he didn’t have time to eat. He is immersed in the book-signing.
Colum McCann is an immersive man. He has spent time living with the homeless, he has had great fun streetwalking in Harlem, he has relished in napping in the middle of a road in Wyoming. His writing process is experiencing and imagining.
He gave me his pen and I gave him mine. His was anchored in a suit pocket, eyed by a Coach clad fan. Mine was cowering next to a Red Stripe logo. I can see that his is covered in sweat and ink. Ink leaked onto the outside, into the hole where the clip used to be, onto the logo that halfway reads “Auberge Resorts.” His new pen, the flimsy twenty-five-cent Bic he now wields, sends shudders through the very frame of the chandelier overhead.
Somewhere on the Upper East Side, amidst ascots and cufflinks, that shitty Bic pen is writing a story.