The Incident

February 2 2009

I’m planning to attend the Romance Writers of America Conference this summer, because it’s the perfect opportunity to learn from dozens of talented writers, publishers and literary agents.  (And, OF COURSE, because I will have a new attachment on my nametag: “published author.”)

      This time I am hoping to avoid the “little incident” that occurred at the conference I attended a few years ago in Atlanta.

      In the late afternoon of my third day there, my legs grew twitchy and my eyelids drooped, so I picked up a slice of pizza and an unnecessarily large bottle of Diet Coke and baled to my quiet room at the dead-end of a corridor.

      After my evening snack, I steamed my achy limbs in the tub, slipped into my nightie and lounged on the bed to read about the next day’s sessions.

      By then my half-full bottle of Coke was getting warm.   I didn’t have a fridge to stick it in, and I hated to waste it.  I figured I could fill the ice bucket and then be able to keep the bottle cold until the next day.

      I hadn’t packed a robe, and with the ice machine barely ten steps from my door, I shrugged off the thought of getting dressed as a bother.  I grabbed my keycard and the plastic liner for the ice bucket and stepped into the empty hall.

      Women’s voices bubbled up from the open atrium below. By the magnitude of the cacophony, I realized I must be the only one going to bed early.

      Right away I had a problem.  With the keycard in one hand, I couldn’t hold the ice bag wide enough to catch the cubes as they tumbled out.

      I adjusted my keycard hand so I could brace the bag better and tried again.  Again cubes bounced off the edge of the bag and onto the grill.

      And then---so did my keycard.

      Stunned, I watched it slip through the grill and out of sight.

      I did not panic.  I want everyone who knows me to try to picture me NOT PANICKING.  Instead, I stood there in my nightie, limp bag in hand, and considered my options.

      Option one: Take the elevator to the lobby, where all the people who weren’t going to bed were gathering, and wait in line to speak to a clerk about a new room key. 

      Option two: Wait in the hall outside my door until someone appeared on my floor, and then beg for help.

      I chose option 3.   I shoved my hand into the grill of the ice machine as far as it would go.  To my surprise, I felt the card beneath my fingers.  Millimeter by millimeter, I shifted the card until I could grasp it.

      But if I grasped tightly, I couldn’t retract my hand from the grill.  I released it slightly, and the card slipped out of my fingers.

      I shoved my hand deeper into the grill, letting my fingers do the walking, until they gripped the keycard again.

      By then my hand was numb, cold and stuck.  I pictured the first person to come across my almost-naked body, collapsed awkwardly on the carpet, feet angled toward the soda machine, one hand wedged in the ice machine’s grasp, the other still clutching the ice bag.

      Dressed in her elegant black dinner dress, flushed with champagne and the knowledge she’d just sold her thirtieth book, my rescuer would muffle her guffaw at my predicament as she punched the number for the hotel security on her cell phone.

      And then I tugged my hand free.

      To complete my mission, I gripped the keycard safely between my knees, clutched the ice bag in two hands, punched the button and watched the ice clunk into the bag.

      I realize now that I may have missed a chance for fame that night.  Below me was a truly star-studded audience.  Just think, if I had managed to appear in the hotel lobby that evening, just as Nora Roberts and Linda Howard were going out with their publishers, they’d always remember me in a very special way.