January 30, 2007

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood?

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?


Sara said...

My family always gets frustrated with me when I start up conversations with strangers, but you never know who you might meet, right?!

MileMasterSarah said...

Wow, That's awesome! What an experience! I hope that dinner goes wonderfully.

Vivian said...

That is so awesome. Things work out the way they are supposed to and it doesn't matter the surroundings. I am glad your precious little girl found a good friend. Good luck on your marketing, we will be sending positive thoughts your way.

Dawn said...

HAHA OMG ~ thats awesome :D

Emily said...

That's amazing. What a small world we live in today. Hope that it continues to bless you all.

And, seriously..McDonalds of all places. Crazy.

Jim Howard said...

Wow! The Karmic Boomerang must be operating in the McDonald's in some way!

Keri said...

Wow. What are the chances of that happening? I will be picking up Kerry's book now that I'm completely intrigued!

tina said...

That is remarkable, Rob. McDonald's, eh? The world's a screwy place, isn't it. I'd call this a piece of serendipity, for sure.

Rebecca M. said...

I've been following a news story about a Florida woman who was jailed on an outstanding warrant after reporting a rape and was denied emergency contraception while imprisoned. I'm not saying it's analogous to Mr. Cook's case at all, but it's sobering and infuriating to realize just how badly the system can fail and/or be misused.

It's a crazy, screwed-up, scary world we live in. Thank goodness for the people who try to make it a better one.

(And really - McDonalds? That is freaking cool.)

Shannon and Carey said...

Crazy. What a crazy world we live in. I will be requesting his book at the library. (and yours when it comes out!) Thank you so much for sharing his story and all the other people you've introduced us to in the past months.
Shannon :)

Kaivalya said...

Wow, wow, wow!! Stories like this are what convince me that everything happens for a reason. His story had me riveted - I'm definitely going to read that book (and yours, of course!)

alaska kim said...

Sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Now I'm interested in his book, I'll be picking up a copy when it comes out.

Anonymous said...

God, I hate prosecutors. As far as I can tell, prosecutors are a bunch of unethical, glory-hungry media whores who care only about advancing their careers, not about whether they comply with the rules of criminal procedure or their oath of office. I mean, not just cases like Cook's, but all the high-profile prosecutions of people like Martha Stewart, who didn't even commit securities fraud, for crying out loud, all she did was lie to investigators about it and so all they could charge her with was "obstruction of justice." For god's sake, all kinds of crimes get pled out every day for lack of resources and some fame-chasing prosecutor is going to spend my tax dollars prosecuting and jailing some woman whose only "wrong" was that she lied about why she sold some stock?

Prosecutors work hard and get paid crap. They are jealous of everyone in private practice who gets paid a hell of a lot better than they do. Their only compensation for this frustration is the hope that they'll become famous in connection with a high-profile case. That's why they like to send people to death row: not because they think it deters crime (we know that it does not) and not because they think it rights some universal balance of right and wrong (of course it doesn't) but because it might get them a photo in their local paper.

Prosecutors are the scum of the earth, in my opinion. Anyone who is in a position to use the power and authority of the justice system to send people to their deaths should do that job with the greatest humility, indeed, with fear and trembling, and with rigorous honesty, but I don't see many prosecutors who even attempt to live up to these ideals. They're not selfless servants of the public good; they're motivated by vanity. They just want to win and to make a name for themselves. Gah.

nellymom said...

What a cool coincidence. I will now take a second look at some of the other people in McDonald's when we go there. But that doesn't mean I'm going to talk to the ones who are muttering to themselves.

And for the record, I don't drink vodka...at least, not on a daily basis.

sari said...

...and last time we were there, storey got a cat that does armpit farts. now that's amazing.

Kirsty Worth said...

Thats totally cool...yet nother interesting book that probably wont be widely availible in the UK, which sucks big time...Somebody really doesnt like prosecutors there ^^

Michelle O'Neil said...


Great story.

(The friendship hook up, not the falsely accused).

tiff said...

Wow. I read the blurb and am amazed that he came out as normal-sounding as you say.

People are resilient to the extreme.

Jana said...

Wow, that is an amazing story! I have to let go of my reluctance to talk to "strangers" I guess.