Flight Attendant Joe reads at the OutWrite Book Festival 2016

Photo credit to OutWrite Book Festival 2016
Photo credit to OutWrite Book Festival 2016

My nerves were shot. Palms sweaty. And I was short of breath before even walking into the D.C. Center.

Now that I think about it, it was most likely from the Washington D.C. humidity that hung in the air at 10:00 a.m. As Matt and I followed our Google map directions from the Hilton Washington, my mind raced with exactly what I’d do at the reading once it was my turn to read. My manager, Garon, informed me that I would read first. Get it done and over with. Set the tone for the four other authors who’d be reading from their memoirs during the, True to Life: Memoir Readings hour.

To be honest, I was extremely nervous about how to approach the trans readers. I am slightly crass and often don’t know how to handle myself in public. Alright, I am extremely crass. I don’t even know why I said slightly. That’s ridiculous. My husband is forever telling, “Please be on your best behavior.” I am serious. I can’t help myself. 

Garon informed me that some of the transsexuals don’t like being referred to as him or her, but as they. How the fuck was I suppose to know who wanted to be called what? I panicked thinking I’d piss off the trans community for using the wrong pronoun. Once you piss off the trans community, you might as pull down the Caitlyn Jenner posters above your bed and call it a day.

And I mean Caitlyn Jenner posters, not Bruce Jenner Wheaties posters. Upsetting the transexuals should have been the least of my worries, but it was up there with shitting myself and forgetting how to read. 

The really important thought racing through my brain was questioning myself on the piece I chose to read. Prior to arriving, Garon texted me, “So listen, when you read, you have to read something that isn’t: sexist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, or anything else like that.”

I scratched my bald head and responded, “Jesus Christ. Should I just read the title of the book?”

He lol’d,“They said you can swear and talk about sex.”

Relief. “That’s great. If I couldn’t do that, I’d just cancel.”

The morning of the read, with my sweaty palms and swamp ass, we mingled around the vendor market and took photos of my book being displayed at the table. It felt great. Rewarding. This great feeling of accomplishment slightly squashed my fear of reading my book to strangers.

What was I afraid of? I spent years performing on stage in front of hundreds of people in community theatre. Thousands if you counted the entire run of a performance. All I had to do was sit in front of a group of people and read my own words. Isn’t that the reason I write exactly how I speak? So that when the time comes to read, I am reading it like I would tell it to my friends at the bar? 

Then a lovely woman and her husband approached me, “Joe Thomas? Hi. I’m Jennifer,” she reached out her hand to shake mine, “I follow you on your blog. This is my husband. He’s a pilot.”

Holy fuck! Fans! Fans who actually came to see me read my book. I had to pull my shit together. Another fear — trust me, I have many — is that people will read my blog, Facebook page, and Instagram account and think I’m funny, but then meet me in person and say, “Oh. Is that it? He’s not that great.”

Or something that like. Something that destroys ones self esteem and makes them never leave the house again.

I spoke with Jennifer and her pilot husband, signed the copy of the book they purchased (THANK YOU), and we made our way into the reading room a few minutes before 11:00 a.m.

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Photo Credit: Mike S

My heart raced like a hummingbirds. My friend Mike, who flew up from Tampa with his boyfriend to watch me read live for the first time, suggested I hand out nuts at the reading. That wasn’t an option. It was a great idea, but I simply had no time to run to the store to buy an unlimited supply of individual wrapped bags of nuts.

What I did have were bag tags. A genius idea came into my head and I went with it.

One of the readers cancelled for personal issues (it was the trans reader, so I didn’t have to worry about confusing him with her or he with she and they with them) and while we waited on the other two readers to enter the room, I took this as my chance to impress the audience. 

I started talking with the people in the front row and the first thing I said out loud to the room was, “This is the first time I’m reading to other living creatures besides my cats.”

The lady in the front row immediately asked, “What are your cats names?”

As I answered her, I grabbed a handful of Flight Attendant Joe bag tags and started handing them out, “Would you like a bag tag? Take two. Would you like a sticker and a bag tag?”

They loved it. A gentleman in the front row sitting against the wall said, “You are much nicer in person than I expected.” I didn’t know him, but from his comment I expected he followed my Facebook page. This goes to show you that just because you are snarky and tell dick jokes, you can still be a nice guy.

Once the other two authors arrived, we were introduced and I was the first to read. I stayed seated while I spoke to the audience, “As you know, my name is Joe and this is my book, Fasten Your Seat Belts And Eat Your Fucking Nuts. It’s a comedy. I hope you aren’t easily offended.” And I was off. Reading an excerpt from the first chapter, Fear Is Not An Option.

I read from that chapter for about 2 1/2 minutes. My nerves were on fire. The sweat cascaded down my back like an Hawaiian waterfall. I stayed the course — never flinching — but stumbled over a few words here and there. And I read fast. Too fast. But I had to think about the punchline for the jokes. It was this battle of staying calm, reading clearly — not reading too fast — but also being funny.

It was fucking exhausting.

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Photo Credit: OutWrite Book Festival 2016

Once I finished my few minutes on that chapter I moved onto a funny story that takes place on the airplane. It was from the chapter, Operation: Tomato Ass, about an obese female passenger who spills her Bloody Mary in her lap and does her best to convince me to wipe it off her ass.

While I read, I tried making eye contact with the audience. Matt was seated in the back, but moved around to snap pictures from different parts of the room. I looked up and then down. I made eye contact with my friend Mike the most because he was sitting in the second row next to his boyfriend and a friend of his named, Irene. Her laugh was infectious. I loved it. Everyone’s laughs comforted me and made it easier to stay seated instead of running for the door, out onto the busy streets of D.C., and throwing myself under a truck.

I know, I am dramatic. I expect someone to take offense on how dramatic I am and write something on the blog like, “You over-dramatic fag. You are retarded. And you smell. And your cats are ugly. And you are fat and not funny.”

Some of you people are brutal!

Okay, back to the reading. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I was hitting some good laughs. Even the two authors sitting next to me, Craig Stewart and Rashod Ollison, were laughing. I saw later from pictures taken that Rashod was laughing so hard he had to wipe away the tears. That was incredible and gave me such a boost of confidence.

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Photo Credit: Matt

When I was done I was relieved. A sense of euphoria like I had just climaxed. In a way, I had. An authors climax. Reading your book for the first time — or probably anytime — and receiving applause and laughs is something that every creative person strives for, especially when they’ve written a comedy. It was almost better than sex. Or an unlimited supply of chocolate. Whichever you find satisfying.

After I finished reading, the next two authors read. I was mesmerized by their words. Two professional authors sharing personal stories about their struggles in life. It made my dick jokes seem irrelevant. I thought to myself, “What the fuck am I doing up here with these two? They are REAL writers. I am just ridiculous.”

But I continued to smile and listen to them recite their words putting everyone in a trance. Craig’s voice was so smooth and sexy he could melt frozen butter. He’d do great in Paula Deen’s kitchen. Actually, scratch that. He’s black. I doubt he’d wanna be slicing up butter for Mrs. Deen. Rashod’s Little Rock accent propelled you into his childhood home and I felt like I was sitting there on the bed with his mom while she put her hair up in rollers.

Again, why was I sitting up here with these authors when all I wrote about was some fat airline passenger who spilled tomato juice in her crotch? I almost wanted to run screaming, but I remained seated.

Once everyone was finished, there was a Q&A. Nobody asked me a question. I was torn about it. I wanted someone to ask a question, but I also just wanted to be done. I expected that someone would ask me, “Are you this bitchy on the airplane?” Or, “That poor obese woman. Don’t you feel bad for writing that?”

I’d live through not having to answer any of that bullshit.

When we dispersed a writer for The Huffington Post approached me and said, “You need your own television show. You need to be on tv.” 

I instantly turned red, “Oh my god. Thank you so much. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

She said, “I had a question for you but I don’t want to end up in your second book.”

We both laughed. Side note: she will be interviewing me for a piece she will do for The Huffington Post

Score.

Later than night, Mike said, “I had a question for you at the reading. I was going to ask you who was your favorite person to write about.”

“That was a great question. You should have asked that.”

At least I knew an answer to that… my friend Evan.

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Photo Credit: Matt

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