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Updated: Aug 26, 2022

I understand that part of my job description as a writer is to promote my books. This includes doing podcasts. However, I now also understand why certain people refuse to do interviews. The potential to make a complete ass of yourself, like I did in my last podcast appearance, is just too great.

The podcast was called “It’s Casual,” hosted by my good friend Rory Penland and his co-host Renee Yaworsky.

I’ve known Rory since high school and he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. You should definitely check out his YouTube channel: Cosmos Creative Television. He was one of the star talents of our small town community college. He can do an impression of absolutely anyone. Perform any role. Seriously—the guy is a one man entertainment industry.

I’m also proud to say Rory was one of the first authors I ever published with my independent book publishing company Palm Circle Press.

Late last year he had the great kindness to invite me on his podcast to talk about my books. Unfortunately something came up at the last minute with work and I had to canceI, which I felt horrible about. I once hosted a literary reading series at KGB Bar in Manhattan’s East Village and I couldn’t imagine someone canceling on me at the last minute. I would’ve killed them. Still, life happens and there was truly nothing I could do.

Thankfully Rory was a good sport about it, likely because he had another guest on the same show able to fill in for my absence. Rory was even nice enough to give me a second chance earlier this year and, naturally, the exact same thing happened. I was running an independent bookstore in Washington, DC, right in the shadow of the Washington Monument. Covid had left the place short staffed, so I found myself having to work the night of the podcast again. Not wanting another cancelation on my conscious, I decided I would do the podcast from the bookstore. There was a laptop there with an integrated webcam. I would make the podcast work. Somehow.

I informed Rory of the situation and we decided my interview would be second after songwriter Curby Alexander who I was sharing the podcast with. I figured this should’ve worked even though the store would still be open. The last half-hour before closing was always dead. Predictably, this was not the case that night…at all. Around the corner from the bookstore was a concert venue. That night of all nights it hosted a performance from a former member of One Direction. (Don’t remember his name, but not Harry Styles.) As a result, the bookstore was mobbed with pre-teen girls, some browsing books to kill time before the show, though most merely wanted to use the restroom. Each time I would direct them to the public restroom across the street. So many girls asked me that it even led to an embarrassing incident in which I preemptively asked two girls entering the store if they needed to use the restroom. They looked at me sideways until one of them said, “Um, noooo… ” Like I was the worst kind of weirdo. Terrific.

I was supposed to log-in for the podcast at 8:15ish. Instead it was 8:30 and my store was overrun. I finally got everyone to leave by announcing I had an emergency, forcing me to close. Luckily this worked. I managed to get everyone out after only a few minutes. When I logged-in, I was grateful to discover Curby Alexander was holding his own and that my arrival into the podcast was actually more of an interruption.

I took the time to try recollecting myself from the panic of being so late. And I failed. I was too flustered, too unfocused. Also, I looked absolutely horrendous, having not considered how overexposed and “washed out” the store’s fluorescent lighting would make me appear. My hair looked completely gray. The lines in my face were deeper. The overhead lighting made every facial blemish cast its own shadow. I looked as though I’d died a year ago.

My interview was a disaster from the first question. Earlier that day, in a pre-interview phone call, I had joked with Rory about some unthinkable acts I could do to truly make the episode unforgettable. This backfired when Rory called me out on it, catching me off-guard. The rest of the interview sailed downhill from there.

He asked me about my book publishing company and I offered a brief, uninspiring history. He asked me why I had written a fantasy novel and I gave the stalest, dumbest answer imaginable: “Because I’ve always wanted to.” I could tell he was waiting for some elaboration, but I had nothing. My mind was blank. In fact, all of my answers were stilted and unimaginative, my delivery pure wood.

It got worse. When Rory asked me about the other writers on my publishing company’s roster, I couldn’t think of a single one of their names. I was that rattled. I accidentally referred to one as “Colin Jost.” Rory corrected me by pointing out that was actually the name of the comedian who currently did Weekend Updateon Saturday night Live. This spawned a lame-brained tangent about SNL alumni. I sounded like an idiot.

It got worse even still. I introduced a one-page story I was going to read by suggesting it as “a good way to close the show.” But I’d glanced at the time display on the laptop wrong. Poor Rory was forced to point out to me there was still another 15 minutes left. He still had other things he wanted to show and tell, if I didn’t mind. Gulp. Nice one, Lee.

Rory had Renee cue up an old orientation video he and I had filmed together for our community college. I’d played the role of “student totally unprepared” while Rory was a Risky Business-era Tom Cruise-type of student—dark blazer over a white t-shirt and Ray Ban shades—showing me how I might change my calamitous ways. Looking back all these years later, I could see why I had gotten the part. I was a scrawny geek with hair so bushy I resembled a human dandelion. I wondered what this kid would’ve said if he could’ve seen me now: looking so pale and old, working within the neighborhood of our nation’s capitol, pinned under a mortgage with a wife who was the best thing to ever happen to him. I imagined that kid would’ve been pretty disgusted.

The next morning I emailed Rory to apologize for my goofy excuse for a podcast appearance, but he insisted I was great. I do very seriously doubt that though. To this day I haven’t watched the podcast, but I’ve included it down below in case you enjoy a good cringe. I know I sometimes do.

Just not when it’s me.

(I appear around the 41 minute mark…)

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