If you are a parent who finds yourself in a position where you need to get work done on your laptop but you are also responsible for watching your kid, there are worse alternatives to "Television as Babysitter" than taking your kid to McDonald's. You get to watch from a nearby table while accessing the not too overpriced wireless and ogle the stay-at-home MILFs who ran out of scotch at home and threw on their matching sweatsuits to get out of the house for a few precious hours. Your child gets to eat some bland but probably mostly harmless food and burn off calories and psycho-kid energy while running around on giant plastic Habitrail tubes with strangers. As long as you have some fresh fruit and antibacterial handscrub waiting at home, you're golden.
Also, the Happy Meal toys are getting to be downright fancy. Schuyler received a farting cat last time we were there.
The three of us went there last week so that Schuyler could de-vegetate while Julie and I worked on the infamous, soul-eating marketing plan for my book. We'd been working on it for maybe an hour or so when Julie got up to get a drink refill. A man was sitting quietly at the table next to us, reading while his son played (with Schuyler, as it turned out). He took that opportunity to introduce himself, initially by asking an innocuous question about how I was getting internet access. Then he said that he couldn't help but overhear us (not in a creepy way, but in the manner that I imagine you hear bits of a conversation when someone at the next table is a blowhard author talking about himself), and said he was a writer, too, with a book coming out soon.
I'll be perfectly honest with you and admit that I was about to give a condescending little "Oh, really? That's great!" that a newly fancy snob author like me might give to the no doubt esteemed writers that you could expect to meet at McDonald's Playland. ("Ones like you?" -- Shut up.) I was waiting to hear about his no doubt print-on-demand volume (perhaps of cowboy poetry!) when he told me that his book was coming out next month, published by HarperCollins.
At that point, he had my undivided attention. HarperCollins is huge.
We ended up talking for over an hour, all book stuff and marketing and such, the boring yet terrifying parts of this whole publishing adventure that would put most of you to sleep but which are keeping me up at night. He asked a lot of questions about my book, but seemed hesitant to talk much about his own, so I didn't pry.
He mentioned some of the media events he was doing, including some biggies like The Today Show and Tavis Smiley and Diane Rehm (all on my media wish list, of course), and I waited for my internal bullshitometer to go off, but it never did. He'd handed me his card, which had the title of his book on it, and it was ringing a bell like crazy in my head.
While we all talked, his son and Schuyler played and bonded, not in the bullying "I can talk so you do what I say" way that Schuyler has experienced with neurotypical kids in the past, but in a more sincere, egalitarian way. When he invited us to meet his wife and son for ice cream the next night, we agreed immediately.
On the way out the door, he pulled us aside and nervously said, "I just have to tell you one thing since you're going to read it when you go to the HarperCollins site. I was in prison for a long time before I was released after I was cleared by DNA evidence. There's a lot of really bad stuff that happened."
So yeah. We drove home and Googled pretty damned fast.
All of this, just to let you know how it came to pass last week that we became friends with Kerry Max Cook.
I can't tell you the last time I met nicer people, and I can't tell you if I've ever met someone with a story as interesting as his. (My own very strong feelings about the death penalty are pretty well documented.) When his book, Chasing Justice, comes out in February, I'll be picking it up. And when I write my own book on fathers, I'm not sure if I'll write about him and his new, second life as a father trying to raise a sensitive son in what has been for him a brutal, unfair world, but I imagine it'll be hard not to.
So there you go. McDonald's. How random was that?