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Coming to your town ... if your town is Billings, Missoula or New York.

* — The world being significantly downsized, what with the price of gas.

Tomorrow — Thursday, April 7, for you calendar clutchers — I’ll be giving a speech to the combined conference of the Montana Library Association and the Mountain Library Association, right here in Billings. (See, I told you it would be a small world, after all.) This happens at 2:15 p.m. at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center.

I was told that I didn’t have to prepare a speech on any particular theme, which frankly is an alarming and possibly dangerous amount of latitude, but I’ve managed to celebrate libraries and librarians without even noting the time that my college roommate had an amorous adventure in the Fort Worth Public Library. In any case, I think that sort of thing is entirely inappropriate, especially considering it didn’t happen to me.

Tomorrow’s gig launches a flurry of activity on the whole be-out-in-public front. Here’s the rundown:

Saturday, April 16: I’ll be at Parmly Billings Library, 510 N. Broadway, at 11 a.m. for a talk and presentation on 600 Hours of Edward as part of its selection for the One Book Billings program. This will be the culmination of a week’s worth of conversations around town about the book, so I predict a spike in drivers making right turns and spaghetti-eating in greater Yellowstone County. If you’re interested in taking part in any of the community conversations, please call the library at 406-657-8258. The library is providing copies of the book.

Tuesday, April 19: I need no good excuse to visit Missoula. Luckily, I have a great one: I’ll be at Fact & Fiction, 220 N. Higgins, at 7 p.m. to read from my new novel, The Summer Son, and sign copies of it. Please come.

Thursday, April 28: I point the car west again and head out to the University of Montana Western in Dillon for a reading as part of the school’s Dances With Words program. I’ll be reading selections from both books, taking questions, doing rope tricks and all kinds of other fabulous stuff.

Finally …

Monday and Tuesday, May 23-24: I’ll be in New York, baby, for Book Expo America. Forty-one years into my life, I finally visit the only city in the world worth seeing, to hear New Yorkers tell it. I’m expecting an interesting collision of literary and tourism-intensive pursuits. In other words, I’ll be the first person in history to wear an ascot and a fanny pack simultaneously.

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A man in black with a plaque.

Friday night, 600 Hours of Edward was honored with the High Plains Book Award for best first book. I won’t bore you with the story behind the story; it’s been covered many times. I’ve taken to calling Edward the little book that could, and Friday night, it did.

That the honor happened right here in my adopted hometown of Billings, on a night when so many other works were similarly recognized, was nothing short of wonderful. My “dates” for the evening were my father, Ron, and my mother, Leslie. They’ve been divorced for 37 of my 40 years, but we all enjoyed a night out, something I have no memory of from our brief time as a nuclear family. That was beyond cool.

It’s a wonderful thing to look out across a room and see a couple hundred people who absolutely love books, and every one of us — William Notter (poetry), Linda Hasselstrom (Zonta Best Woman Writer), Steven Grafe (nonfiction), Kent Meyers (fiction) and Margaret Coel (emeritus) — paid particular tribute to them. (I did so perhaps a bit too colorfully, expressing the wish that I could multiply them — and realizing only after I sat down that my entreaty could have been interpreted as a come-on.)

All in all, it was a lovely evening. Big thanks to the Parmly Billings Library and the many, many volunteers who make the awards happen; Riverbend Publishing for sending Edward out into the world; and especially to the readers who have spent a few of their hours with Edward.

Yesterday’s post of a Toastmasters speech reminds me that I have another one in my back pocket, a (purportedly) humorous one called “Noble Misfits of the Work Force.” It is presented here for your edification:

If there’s a singular reason I’ve survived twenty-two years as a professional journalist – aside from being of questionable character and having no other marketable skill, I mean – it’s the people. Journalists, by and large, are the noble misfits of the professional class. Most of them – emphasis on “most” – are smart enough to be tremendously successful in any other line of work: high finance, the arts, street peddling. Instead, they choose journalism. Why? A million reasons, and some of them actually brush up against the idea of digging out the truth and exposing corruption. (Me, I chose it because I wanted a profession that let me sleep in until noon and made me just enough money to remain well-stocked in pizza and compact discs. I’m glad that this crowd is sufficiently unhip that I don’t have to explain an antiquity like “compact disc.”)

Suffice to say that the profession attracts people who skate on the other side of the ice. People who march to the beat of a different drum. People who view life through a different lens. People who overuse metaphors. Some of my older colleagues contend that the heyday for the noble misfit was actually several decades ago, that the most colorful days of journalism ended when newspapers added HR departments and began frowning on those who carried flasks in their desk drawers. Poppycock, I say! The times no doubt have demanded that alterations be made, but I find that the flask fits perfectly fine in my overcoat.

It’s been my pleasure to know some of these irascible characters in my career, and today, I would like to introduce you to a few of them:

THE TWISTED WIRE EDITOR

A wire editor, my friends, is someone who gathers the news from the various cooperatives – the Associated Press, etc. – and condenses that huge pile of offerings into a daily report inside your newspaper. When you’re a wire editor, you quickly become numb to man’s ghastly capacity for unmentionable cruelty. Whether it’s police brutality in Poughkeepsie, shootings in Saratoga, murder-suicide in Milwaukee or beheadings in Birmingham, a wire editor reads it all.

One of my colleagues in San Jose, Calif., who held this job would meticulously harvest the lead paragraphs of stories of mayhem and transplant them onto a take he kept squirreled away in his personal queue. There, he would perform a bit of mad-genius surgery to the snippet of story, removing the name of the perpetrator and inserting a new one:

Mother Teresa’s.

Thus, someone reading this take would come across items like this:

“SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Police say that Mother Teresa was arrested Friday after a traffic stop and search that revealed she was carrying three tons of marijuana in the trailer of her semi-truck.”

“ELKO, Nev. – Mother Teresa was taken into custody Wednesday after a four-hour armed conflict in which two police officers were shot, one critically.”

“JORDAN, Mont. – Mother Teresa is being held on $15,000 bail after being arrested and charged in the poaching of seven elk.”

We don’t know why this wire editor did this. (In truth, we don’t know why he’s still walking around as a free man.) But the point is, he was perfectly at home in a newsroom. Celebrated, even.

THE RECALCITRANT SPORTS EDITOR

I didn’t witness this, but I have it on good authority that it went down this way.

It’s a Friday night in 1968, and the sports desk at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is humming along at a brisk pace when the elevator pings and two men who don’t belong in a newsroom step off. (When you work in a newsroom, you develop a sixth sense for interlopers. They have personal hygiene. Their socks match. That sort of thing.) They make a beeline for Charles Clines, who was working that night, and say, “Is Charles Clines working tonight?”

Charlie, as he was known, says, “I’m not sure. Let me check the schedule.” He walks to the opposite wall, puts his finger on the schedule, and says, “Nope. He’s off tonight.” The two men thank him and head back to the elevator. Unfortunately for Charlie, his coworkers launch a long, cascading laugh, and the two men pivot and walk back into the newsroom, past the sports desk, on their way to the managing editor’s office. Charlie, figuring he’s done for but showing the can-do spirit of a desperate fugitive, dashes into a side office, shuts the door and turns off the light.

It’s all for naught. The managing editor and the two men show up, unlock the office door, and place Charlie in handcuffs. The men were cops, and the reason they came for Charlie is that he hadn’t paid his parking tickets. Ever. He was paraded through the newsroom and received a standing ovation.

(The reason I know this story? Charlie is my stepfather.)

FINALLY, A LOVE LETTER TO THE PEOPLE WE COVER

The first two examples I cited were people inside the newsroom. But at least half the fun of the profession lies in who you get to know outside the office.

Down in central Texas sits a town that’s spelled M-E-X-I-A. It’s famously mispronounced even by longtime Texans; it’s not MEX-ia, but MA-HEY-UH. Back when Grant Teaff coached the football team at Baylor, he made a recruiting visit to that town and, as the story goes, he stopped off at a local restaurant for a bite to eat.

“Ma’am,” he says to the woman behind the counter, “I always get this wrong. Could you tell me again, real slow, where I am?”

The woman looks at him and says, “DAI-REE QUEEEEEN.”

Finally, here’s one that actually happened to me:

Early in my career, maybe 1990 or 1991, I’m covering the Texas Golden Gloves at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth. One of the championship fights comes down to a Dallas fighter against a Fort Worth fighter. Given the pro-Fort Worth bias of the crowd, the Dallas fighter is lustily booed, both as he enters the ring and throughout the fight. Despite facing this hostility, the Dallas fighter ends up winning in a knockout.

I hightail it back to the interview area and catch him as his gloves are being cut off.

“So,” I say, “did the boos motivate you?”

He flashes with anger, balls up his fists and says, “Naw, man, I don’t drink.”

Too bad. I had this flask, right there in my overcoat …

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