Some things in life can’t be predicted. Take, for instance, a chance encounter with 50 Cent.
After my first book Love & Vodka: My Surreal Adventures in Ukraine was published, I tried to think out of the box as much as possible in (usually failed) attempts at getting word out about my book. So if something caught my eye that I felt had any remote connection to my book whatsoever, I would jump on it immediately, leaving no stone unturned.
I realize now that many of these were misguided efforts to “bank” on my sudden “success” as a published author. Realize that “success” in this context simply the act of getting published – making a single cent was a whole other issue (let alone 50 cents).
My book doesn’t have a whole to do with vodka to be honest. I mean, there are certainly ample amounts, but the focus of the book is on my travel adventures in Ukraine, rather than a history of vodka…or love for that matter (though I devote a couple paragraphs to the history of vodka…and several chapters to love itself).
So I decided to milk the vodka angle for what it was worth. One event in particular caught my eye – an enormous vodka tasting festival called Vodka Vodka! inside the historic Royal Oak Music Theater just outside Detroit. Dozens of vodka vendors would be on hand, as well as models, a DJ, and miscellaneous other modes of entertainment.
But mostly vodka.
I figured I would fill a niche. I mean, who isn’t looking for a book when they come to a vodka-tasting event? Get people drunk enough and they will do anything.
On a whim, I contacted to the festival organizers to inquire about getting a both to peddle my wares.
“So what kind of vodka is this?”
“No, it’s not vodka. It’s a book. About vodka. Well, not really about vodka. Vodka’s in the title.”
In response to my jabbering, I was finally given a quote of $500.
Let me make this clear: I can’t even do the math required to determine how many books would be required to even break even. Let’s just say it would require a delivery truck and a forklift.
I couldn’t even sell that many copies at a book convention where the only book available was mine.
Suddenly, I found myself thrust into unfamiliar territory: the art of negotiation. Somehow, I managed to talk my way down to $250 when I essentially explained the pitiful reality of how much money there was to be made in this for me. Even at that rate, I would still be in the red, but I managed to convince myself that the exposure would make it all worth it in the end. Besides, I was also hoping to partner with a local vodka distillery with the hope of some sort of cross-promotional partnership (it never happened).
As the event drew nearer, I started having serious doubts as to why I was willing to shell out so much money just so I could sit awkwardly at a table with a stack of my books that would never sell. Hell, if I wanted to go for the eye candy alone, I could have just bought a ticket and attended the event as a spectator.
Just when I was about to inquire about getting a refund, I received an e-mail announcing a special guest celebrity who would be in attendance.
And just who might be gracing us with his/her presence? None other than:
On the surface, it made little sense.
But I came to realize that he was there to promote Effen Vodka, which he was somehow involved with.
And just like that, I had a singular focus: get my book into 50’s hands. At all costs. And it would be worth every last cent (it no longer mattered that I was unlikely to make the equivalent of his monetary moniker).
So why this irrational excitement for a washed up rapper who was never that great to begin with? It wasn’t like I was a huge 50 Cent fan even back when he was a thing. (Who was?) I mean, a casual fan, yes. (Who wasn’t?) And it wasn’t like rappers were a coveted demographic for my book. Not to say they wouldn’t like it. Point is, the idea of getting 50 Cent a copy of my book quickly became my latest obsession just for the randomness of it. I didn’t care if I didn’t actually meet him. But one way or another, my book would.
The event finally arrived – a cold, Michigan January night. My publisher, Jon, and I headed to the venue, hauling a couple of boxes of books inside, found our booth, nestled between Tito’s Handmade Vodka and a stairwell, which at least ensure maximum visibility. Attendees were sure to at least notice the book. The bright yellow cover drew people like moths to light.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. As it turned out, most people didn’t so much as glanced in our general direction, their internal GPS wired to take them directly en route to the next vodka booth. A small handful glanced our way, but nothing more than a precursory one. And often seemed annoyed by the books’ very presence.
After we settled in, we cashed in a couple of drink tickets to sample some vodka, but otherwise remained stationed at our booth. Jon made noble attempts to pass out post cards promoting the book – most of which were either ignored, or dropped to the ground seconds later, where they would be trampled on by the increasingly drunken attendees.
And an hour into the event, there was no sign of 50 Cent.
Where was the motherfucker?
Maybe it was all a ruse. Maybe he changed his plans. Then again, what else would 50 Cent possibly have on his agenda?
The Effen Vodka booth, which was located about four booths or so away from mine was certainly far more elaborate than everyone else’s.
For one thing, it included a VIP lounge.
And in the middle of the lounge was none other than a dancer pole.
Certainly seemed tailor-made for the 50-cent king himself!
At one point, Jon decided to make the rounds, and I remained behind to man the booth. We weren’t exactly staying busy.
As I sat there twiddling my thumbs, peering over two evenly stacked piles of books, I observed a clearly intoxicated woman in her late making it a point to make out with just a bout any random guy she could get her hands on. Particularly, random guys under 30. Most went along with it, as it was safe to assume that they were probably intoxicated, too.
Then she headed my way. The first one to actually pay a modicum of attention to us.
And she was drunk as fuck.
“What is this?” she asked, pointing at my table.
Though I sort of assumed she was getting at my books, I still wasn’t entirely sure. My guess is that she was wondering where the fucking vodka was (not to be confused with Effen Vodka).
“What are these,” the woman asked, as though discovering books for the first time.
“Books!” I said with feigned enthusiasm. By that point, I was feeling pretty down about this $250 decision – even with the promise of 50 Cent looming.
“What kind of books?”
“A memoir. Love & Vodka.”
“Oh, does it have vodka recipes?”
“No. It’s about my experiences traveling in Ukraine.”
“Oh. So you are some kind of author?”
“Yes. Some kind for sure.”
“Ohhh, I’ve never been with an author before”, she said, rubbing her finger alongside my cheek.
“Oh, well, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, utterly flabbergasted.
“I can’t remember the last time I read a book,” she said with a hearty chuckle.
“Well, then you should read this one!”
“Yeah. Right,” she said with a sarcastic laugh.
And with that, she walked away. Better than nothing!
Within seconds, she was making out with a douchebag in a faux hawk.
I suddenly found myself asking: is a vodka festival such a good idea to begin with? It just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Anyway, I wasn’t there to judge.
I was there to sell books.
And meet 50 Cent.
Almost another hour passed by with 1.) no sales and 2.) no sign of 50 Cent.
What was more likely to happen? Sell a book? Or, 50’s arrival?
Probably 50 Cent.
A duo of attractive and presumably highly-intoxicated (but not anywhere as obnoxious) women approached.
Perhaps I would work my nerdy charm and sell a fucking book.
“Hello!” one of them said – the clearly far more sober one. Her friend was really struggling to stand on her own two feet and seemed mostly oblivious to everything.
“Hi there!” I said, hoping for the best. But expecting the worst.
“So is this your book?”
“Yes, it is!”
“How cool! You wrote it?”
“Yep. Every word. And edited by this guy right here,” I said, pointing to Jon, still eagerly attempting to hand out postcards to anyone who passed by.
The less-drunk woman grabbed a copy and started thumbing through it. Despite reading the back cover, she still felt compelled asked:
“What’s it about?”
“My travel experiences in Ukraine.”
“So it’s fiction?”
“No. Non-fiction. Memoir.”
“So you went to Russia?”
She continued to analyze the book like a scientist unique specimen. Unlike my previous customer, she seemed to at least understand what a book was.
“I’ll buy it!”
“Will you sign it?”
“Of course! Who should I make it out to?”
“With one ‘M’?” I joked.
“Nevermind.” I got to work signing her book, which I wrapped up by with my signature fox, which looked more like a rat.
As I continued writing, she asked me:
“So are you excited about 50 Cent?”
“Yeah! Very excited.”
“I hope to get his autograph, too! And maybe a little something more, if you know what I mean.”
“That would be awesome!” I responded, handing my book over to her.
“Do you accept credit card?”
“Sadly, not. I don’t have one of those card reader things.”
“Let me ask my friend. Britney, do you have cash?”
What Britney seemed to have was an extremely high blood-alcohol level, as she continued to struggle to find her balance.
“What?” Britney asked.
“Cash. I need cash.”
“I don’t think so. Let me check.”
She clumsily dug through her wallet. All she could produce were seven singles.
“I’m so sorry,” Maria said.
Now under ordinary circumstances, this would mean no sale. But since the book was personalized, I would either have to wait for another Maria to buy my book…or, sell it to her for a deep discount, which would mean I would lost $3.00 on the book when it was all said and done (now that math, I could handle).
“Are you sure?” Maria asked.
“Yes. For me, the satisfaction comes from knowing that somebody read my book. Enjoy!”
“I’ll pay you back.”
“No, I will. Are you on Facebook?”
“Yes! Feel free to add me!”
She never did. But at least I was going home with one less book.
That was as close to a sale as I would get that night. The question remained, however: would I be able to hand deliver a copy to the 50 Cent? I was beginning to hope that he would show up, let alone get my book to him.
As Maria and Britney made their way down the steps to the next booth, Britney tumbled, spilling the entire contents of her purse. Lying on the ground were what appeared to be several bills. Even if they were only singles, they certainly would have covered the balance of what they owed me.
“Ladies and gentleman!” said the emcee’s booming voice, as 50 Cent’s 2002 smash hit “In Da Club” started blasting throughout the theater. The crowd went nuts. Because everyone knew what this meant, even before the announcement was made:
“The moment we’ve all been waiting for! Put your hands together for 50….Cent!”
Louder cheers. A mob of people rushed toward the Effen Vodka booth as an entourage entered to a medley of 50’s Greatest Hits (all of which were said and done by 2005).
The hits included snippets of such golden chestnuts as: “Candy Shop”, “P.I.M.P.”., “21 Questions”, “Just a Lil Bit”, “Disco Inferno” and “Wanksta”.
The half-dollar king had entered the building! And the world couldn’t be a better place…for “just a lil bit”.
Though I couldn’t make get a visual on 50 himself, it was a safe bet that he was insulated by his posse, as he made his way toward his booth, which now showcased a half-naked dancer twirling on the pole.
Throngs of women (liquored up enough to believe that it was 2002 and that thongs were still in fashion) rushed the booth, hoping to get a piece of 50. I even spotted Maria, pulling a hapless Britney along by the hand, determined to get an autograph… and the full 50 Cent piece.
After a few minutes, as a crowd gathered around the V.I.P. booth five rows thick, it became apparent that 50 had no desire to drink vodka – or Bicardi for that matter – with the masses. Didn’t matter if was anyone’s birthday as far as 50 Cent was concerned.
I would need to find a way to penetrate through 50 Cent’s remaining, rabid female fan base.
I was less concerned about my ability to do so and more concerned how others might assume I was that desperate to get a piece of the magic stick. But I wasn’t going to let judgments from the masses deter me. Not after I got this far! Without a moment to lose, I grabbed a copy of my book and personalized it as follows:
Dear 50 Cent,
Hope you enjoy my book. Always and forever a fan.
Of course, I included my patented fox drawing and put my contact info in there for good measure. Because doing so at least magnified my chance of hearing directly from him, than if I didn’t include it at all.
I realized that if my plan didn’t work out, then I would be forever stuck with it. And unlike “Maria”, I would have a much lesser chance of finding another 50 Cent. Signing it was a calculated risk I had to take. Somehow, I couldn’t help but feel that my destiny was sealed.
I took a deep breath and headed toward the two-quarter hip hop legend – or, at least the crowd of people surrounding him – all clamoring for the same thing, I realized that having a tangible item to deliver to him might actually improve my chances.
I stopped just short of shouting “Special delivery for 50 Cent!”
I strategized to find my best point of entry. After several attempts at getting nowhere fast, I decided I was going to have to be more aggressive. Nobody was going to politely allow me to push past them. I would just have to plow through, looking like the biggest dick in the process. Clearly, nobody was giving up on the hope that 50 would actually interact with them, which would have made my life so much easier if they had. I just had to work my way through, one female fan at a time.
And next thing I know, I was standing on the outer edge of his 50’s lair, smack dab in front of the pole and dancer. And then, I spotted him…sittin’ on a couch, watching the same dancer I was, and sipping on a drink.
I felt a kinship to him like no other for that one moment.
I even managed to snap a few pics.
But now what?
I noticed a couple of sentries guarding the VIP lair’s entrance. That was my golden ticket! But it required muscling my way past more women eager to do the same. But I already got this far. Now, I just had to move laterally about 15 feet.
But my biggest challenge lay ahead.
The first few feet were a cinch.
But standing a half dollar between me and fifty were three large black women who did not want a scrawny white boy taking a piece of the birthday cake.
“Oh, hell no!”
“Who the fuck this boy think he is?”
And next thing I knew, I was flat on my ass, knocked down in what I think was an accident, despite not being fully sure.
I sat back up and from my vantage point, watched the women attempt to bust through security, but they were promptly turned away.
“Fuck this shit,” the one who “accidentally” knocked me down said. “Let’s go get some motherfuckin’ Goose.”
And there was my opening.
On the precipice of a dream!
I walked right on up to security, who braced themselves for a ruckus.
“So, I’m the author of this book here. And was wondering if I could some how, um, get this book to Mr. 50 Cent.”
They looked at me, then the book, then me again.”
“You wrote this?” one of them asked.
“Sure did! The whole thing! Since he’s into vodka, thought he might like to read this.”
“Okay, sure. We’ll get it to him.”
I handed my book over. And then watched my book pass not through just one channel of security. Not two channels. Or, even three. But four. And then, through a small opening, I saw 50 Cent himself receive my book. And it required someone having to stand between 50 Cent…and the 50-cent dancer was he was ogling over with quasi-indifference. He stared down at my book, then produced an expression that seemed to suggest “What da fuck?”
And then I walked away.
I often wonder whatever happened to that copy of my book.
For all I know, 50 tossed it into the first trashcan he found. Or, pawned it off onto a member of his entourage. Or, perhaps he left it in his V.I.P. booth, leaving it totally up for grabs (which more than likely meant trash).
Of course, it was also possible he kept it, but never read it, nor has any intention to. I also acknowledge the possibility that just maybe 50 Cent has read my book. Stranger things have happened!
At the very least, I take great pleasure in knowing the possibility that – if only for one fleeting moments – there existed a copy of my book addressed to fucking 50 Cent. How many writers can take claim of that fact?
I could hold my head up high, no longer a wanksta…but much more gloriously, a gangsta.
The bottom line is this: I went in with a goal. And left with the goal accomplished.
And in this business, success in measured in small increments. One cent at a time.