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Once a long time ago in a story I may have told before, I was in a coffee shop on the California coast when out of the blue two women at the table next to mine began talking about my books.

Now then. I was on book tour at the time, with a reading scheduled in the adjacent city that evening, but over the course of the women’s conversation it became clear they were completely unaware of their proximity to this pending live literary explosion and were simply discussing my oeuvre of their own volition, a coincidence a widely-unknown Midwestern midlister such as I ranks as frankly astounding.

This is not fake self-deprecation. The tour to that point had been a real humbler, a series of what might be called “intimate” events with an average single-digit attendance allowing me to learn the names of everyone involved and still ask after their families. So it goes, far from home. The numbers don’t lie, and Chippewa County is so far from Sonoma.

So, of course, I could hardly keep my eyes straight when I overheard two strangers saying nice things about my typing. I had a copy of the book I was touring for in my backpack, and it took everything I had to keep from casually drawing it out and then “accidentally” dropping it, front-cover-up, beside them. Oh how their eyes would widen. “Is it…is it…you?!?” they would yodel as they fanned themselves and begged me to read a favorite passage. In fact, once they recovered their facilities they would plead with me to stay put while they rushed home for their well-worn copies so that I might sign the whole works. Naturally this stir would attract attention, a crowd would gather, word would spread and shortly the barista would slip over to humbly inquire if I might consent to stand on a chair in the window and share the bounty of my work with as many art-thirsty folk as the fire marshal would allow. Invariably the local media would show, one viral thing would lead to another, my publisher would extend the tour across an infinite stretch of all the major cosmopolitan outlets of the nation, send a fruit basket, and replace my rental car with a flannel-lined Gulfstream.

I reached into my backpack. The latest book — titled

“Visiting Tom” — was at my fingertips. “I heard he has a new book out!” said one of the women, excitedly. “Yes, yes!” said the other. “It’s called…ah…um…”

“Oh it’s right at the tip of my tongue,” said the first woman.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin!” exclaimed the other.

“Yes! Yes! That’s it!”

I let my backpack fall back against my chair. By the time I finished my coffee the women were gone. There were six people at the reading that evening. I recognized no one, but we had a lovely time. On the way out of town I refueled the rental car and got dinner to go at the gas station. I was careful to keep my receipts.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”( Read more from Michael Perry at