Books and Ducklings

“Go, little book!”
– Robert Louis Stevenson

The day I closed the book deal with Knopf nearly two years ago, my wife and I went to a baseball game. I don’t remember who the Twins played or who won that night. I do remember standing outside, waiting for the doors to open.

I was excited but nervous about my first book deal, because I wasn’t sure exactly what would happen. My agent was at that very moment talking to my future editor, hashing out the details, discussing abstract concepts like global versus North American rights and audio book rights and other things new authors haven’t dreamt of in their philosophies. I stopped fretting for a moment as a duckling hopped by us, close to the edge of the building, saying Peep! Peep! Peep! Peep!

The animal was obviously too young to be going to a baseball game by itself, and we realized in horror that it must be separated from its mother, and that it was sounding its homing device in hopes that she would come back. I suppose that Mama Duck was less than a mile away, making her own distressed quacking noises… they were just a mite too far apart to hear each other.

People are mean and careless, in many ways, but hop a helpless tiny peeping water fowl past them and they become neighborly and kind and eager to help. Concerned whispers rippled up and down the ragtag line. One woman was prepared to dump the contents of her purse to make a net (and by one woman, I mean, of course, my wife) while a man in his mid-thirties (not me) who’d found a cardboard box somewhere started cautiously approaching, ready to snare the fuzzy waif. “And then what?” was a crucial yet unconsidered part of both these schemes: what would either of them do? Take the creature inside with them and feed it popcorn?

Suddenly there was a strident beeping, and we parted to allow a kind of golf-cart to pass — the kind of vehicle TC Bear drives around inside the dome, and perhaps that very vehicle, but the playing surface at the Dome is seventy-odd rows and two decks below street level, so it must have taken them time to haul it up and get it outside. Two men wearing Twins-logoed polo shirts and official-looking ID badges drove toward the bird, scooped it up in a butterfly net (perhaps a prop for one of TC Bear’s shenanigans?), and drove away. People hushed and muttered, but one of the guys in the golf cart half-stood and announced as the cart disappeared around the bend that the duck would be taken to nearby Loring Park, a haven for ducks and geese.

I felt then, and now, that the fates of that duckling and my book were inexorably bound, as all things must eventually swim and/or fly on their own, to make it or die trying in a world that is fraught with peril… but also a world filled with kind-hearted people who may not use their turn signals and may selfishly slash a dozen jobs before calling it a day, but most of whom, when they see such a small, helpless creature as a motherless duckling or a debut novel struggling by on its own — clearly in need of companionship, and sounding its high lonesome Peep! — those people start emptying their purses to make a little net and casting about for cardboard boxes, not thinking much ahead, but wanting to give at least one little orphan a home.

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