Don’t Say ‘Penis’ In Dallas, Texas: A Brit’s Book Tour

Thursday, Sept. 26- My arrival in the nation’s capital coincides with what’s being billed as the largest demonstration in Washington since Vietnam. I knew my book wouldn’t be very popular outside New York, but this is ridiculous. Actually, it’s something to do with the I.M.F. and the World Bank, both of which are holding their annual meetings in Washington this weekend. When I arrive at the book shop in Dupont Circle, the manager greets me with the news that 18 people have shown up.

“That’s pretty good, under the circumstances,” he says. I nod and smile politely while putting an imaginary gun to my head. I quickly calculate that if every person in the room buys a copy of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People , my publisher won’t make enough money to cover the hotel bill. It would’ve been more cost-effective to have stayed in London, picked 18 people at random out of the Washington phone book, and simply read them an extract over the telephone.

At 8.30 p.m., I hurry across town to Cafe Milano, where David Bass, the deputy publisher of The Weekly Standard , is hosting a dinner for me. I’m seated next to Lloyd Grove, the gossip columnist of The Washington Post , who tells me about a conversation he had with Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “I asked him who he’d like to be played by if your book’s ever made into a movie,” David says. Apparently, Graydon replied: “I don’t know about me, but for Toby Young, they’ve got to get Verne Troyer.” When I look blankly at David, he explains that Verne Troyer is the dwarf who plays Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movies.

Saturday, Sept. 28-

After the low turnout in Washington, I’m anxious about this evening’s reading at Barnes & Noble in Harvard Square. My publisher, Da Capo Press, is based in Cambridge, and the publisher, John Radziewicz, has promised to put in an appearance.

To my immense relief, I count 24 people in the audience. Admittedly, four of them, including John Radziewicz, are from Da Capo, but still. It could be worse. Then, just as I’m about to start reading, a kerfuffle breaks out.

“What’s going on?” shouts a middle-aged man in the front row. “Who the hell is this guy?”

It turns out that I’ve been double-booked with the authors of Living in the Dead Zone , an academic tome about borderline-personality disorder.

Monday, Sept. 30-

I finally draw a decent crowd in New York. During the Q&A afterward, a woman asks me whether the book has turned me into a bit of a celebrity, and I’m forced to admit that it hasn’t. The only time I’ve ever been asked for my autograph was just after a radio interview at the BBC in London. A professional autograph-hunter- the kind of man who loiters outside the BBC all day-approached me rather hesitantly with a pen and a card, clearly unsure whether I was worth bothering with. I grabbed the pen and said, “You know, you’re the first person who’s ever asked me.” It was the wrong thing to say. I literally had to chase him down the street in order to give him my autograph.

Wednesday, Oct. 2-

I arrive in Dallas at the invitation of David Davis, the public-relations director of the Adolphus Hotel, who’s convinced I’ll draw as big a crowd as the authors of The Nanny Diaries . Since the hotel is charging $45 a head for the privilege of listening to me-they throw in a three-course lunch-I think that’s unlikely. Nevertheless, David is very upbeat.

Thursday, Oct. 3-

I’m woken at 8:05 a.m. by David wanting to know where I am. We’re due at the Dallas Morning News studio at 8:15 a.m.

As I’m having my makeup done, I say to the lady, “In keeping with the local custom, will my makeup be really, really heavy?” She laughs politely. It’s only then that I think to look at her makeup. Duh!

There’s a cheerleading troop in the studio called the Dallas Desperados, and after my interview, I ask if I can hang around to watch them strut their stuff. I must look pretty goggle-eyed, because one of the producers asks me if I’d like to join them in front of the cameras. I think he’s joking, but it turns out he’s not. “Go ‘head,” he says, shoving me in front of the studio lights. I end up dancing a jig alongside the Dallas Desperados, holding my book aloft like some old-fashioned detergent salesman.

Friday, Oct. 4-

Incredibly, David Davis has managed to sell all 75 tickets. I’m extremely flattered but my euphoria is short-lived. The woman who’s interviewing me kicks off by asking how many people in the audience have read my book. Not a single person raises their hand.

The interviewer asks me to name my most difficult journalistic assignment, and without thinking I say, “That would be when I went undercover for a consultation with a penis-enlargement surgeon.” The women in the audience stare at me in open-mouthed disbelief. I was warned by David Davis beforehand not to use any “curse words,” and judging from the look on his face, “penis” falls into this category. Nevertheless, I plow on. The punch line involves me doing an impersonation of the Italian penis-enlargement surgeon delivering his verdict after he’s subjected me to a thorough examination: “Yes, Meester Yong, I think I can ‘elp you.”

It doesn’t get a single laugh.

Tuesday, Oct. 8-

The climax of the tour takes place on the roof of the Downtown Standard in Los Angeles, where I’ve organized a book party with the L.A. Press Club. I’d resigned myself to picking up the tab for this event, but at the last minute a helpful publicist finds a sponsor in the form of Stella Artois.

Only afterward does she explain that, in order to keep the sponsor happy, I’ll have to invite some A-list movie stars. Consequently, I’ve spent the last 48 hours frantically working the phones, trying to persuade my friends to trawl their Rolodexes. By the time the party starts, I’ve got copper-bottomed commitments from Josh Hartnett, Courtney Love, Tobey Maguire, Eric Stoltz and Quentin Tarantino. None of them show up.

One of the guests at the party is an Englishman called Adrian Butcher. He raves about the sexual opportunities available to Brits in L.A. “Out here, having an English accent is like being a Calvin Klein underwear model,” he drawls.

I can scarcely believe it. Clearly, I spent five years trying to make it on the wrong coast. I quickly formulate a plan to come back to America for another five years, only this time to L.A. When I inevitably fail, I can then write a sequel about screwing up in Hollywood: How to Lose Friends & Alienate People II .