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Sandwiching In a Literary Moment

TIMES STAFF WRITER

People go to convenience stores for lots of reasons. They go to buy Slurpees or pantyhose or some other something they can’t do without. That’s the nature of a convenience store; it’s conveniently full of stuff people really need at 6 in the morning when nothing else is open.

Most people don’t go to convenience stores searching for meaningful conversation. There’s not even a place on the shelf for it.

Maybe nobody explained that to Debbie Nigro.

The New York-based radio personality and author held a book signing at a 7-Eleven in Glendale at 6:30 a.m. one day last week and lots of people came. Of course, they didn’t come to talk to her but for other things--like coffee and doughnuts--but Nigro turned their caffeine runs into a regular literary experience.

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Or at least she tried.

“Busy men and women don’t have time to browse through bookstores,” she says, standing in Aisle 2, across from a row of plastic eggs stuffed with pantyhose. “Working mothers are real busy. . . . You gotta catch ‘em where they are--on the move.”

By their nature, book signings are usually pretty staid events, occurring in the comfort of bookstores, galleries and other such genteel places. Imagine Herman Melville signing copies of “Moby Dick” while bobbing and weaving on a barge in the ocean. Or Upton Sinclair, signing copies of “The Jungle” while standing in the muck of a meat-processing factory at the turn of the century.

But then again, Melville and Sinclair weren’t working moms. Working moms have special needs, which is the point of Nigro’s book, “The Working Mom on the Run Manual.” This is why Nigro has chosen this place and time for her outing to persuade real working moms to buy her book.

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She makes it easy for them, since they’ll be in the store anyway, she says. And the first 50 copies are free.

Still this is no easy feat. Sometimes busy men and women don’t even have enough time to accept a free gift at 7-Eleven. They’re late for work. They are desperate to get coffee first. They need to find a pay phone, to call the office or the sitter.

Outside the store, Nigro stands near the door like a friendly sentry, books piled high on a table next to her. She is the perfect pitch person. She talks fast, she talks a lot and she does not accept “no” easily. And she’s full of one-liners.

“You want a book?” she says to one man hurrying back to his truck, his purchase in hand.

The man turns to answer and stumbles off the curb and into the parking lot.

“How about a paramedic?” she says under her breath. “I’ve almost killed two people already.”

In the beginning, the 7-Eleven customers are mostly working men, not moms. They drive up in pickup trucks and utility vehicles, carrying thermos bottles and mugs. Nigro is not deterred by gender.

“Is there a working mom in your life?” she asks as they flow in and out the door.

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Virgil Belair is the first to accept. He’s a construction worker at a nearby site, and comes back later in the morning after scanning the first chapter.

“My wife’s gonna love it,” he says, filling up again at the Coke machine. “There’s a lot of things guys take for granted. We don’t realize what [working mothers] do.”

The book is a quirky collection of sometimes funny, sometimes serious advice for working mothers, designed to help them succeed in the balancing act that is their life.

“It’s really difficult for women to juggle a family, work a full-time job, take care of every little thing in the household, take care of the kids’ schedules, remember people’s birthdays,” Nigro says.

One of the first things Nigro did before the signing started was to browse the store’s toy section. She bought her 8-year-old daughter a Pocahontas pencil set and stickers.

“The hardest part of all this for me is knowing my kid’s halfway across the country,” she says.

Nigro knows that other mothers experience the same things she does and she wants to “champion the cause of working mothers, let them know that nobody is perfect at this.” Under an agreement with 7-Eleven’s owners, she’s touring the country, signing books at their stores.

Glendale is the first stop.

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After a while, Nigro and her partner and boyfriend, Jeff Troncone, figure out a system. While she stands outside, Troncone nabs customers as they stand in line for coffee or wait to pay for their purchases. He approaches the topic gingerly.

“Do you have a wife? Kids? How many?” he asks.

While the customers pay or pour, Troncone walks outside and tells Nigro their particulars.

By the time Marty Crill of Lancaster finishes paying for his Coke, Nigro has signed the book with a personal message to Crill’s wife, Valerie, and hands it to Crill as he exits the store. “She’s definitely a working mom,” says the truck driver and father of three. “This should help a lot.”

Crill also promises to listen to Nigro’s nationally syndicated radio program, “Working Moms on the Run,” which airs on station KHJJ-AM (1380) in Lancaster.

This assembly-line book signing works, but not without some raised eyebrows and suspicious looks.

“They think we’re from the IRS,” Nigro says. “Everybody wants to know. ‘Why? Who are you with?’ ”

Later in the morning, more women begin arriving. Nigro figures it’s because they stay at home longer, getting the kids on their way. Some, like Mimi Lawrence, are easy sells. “I’ll read it,” Lawrence says on her way into the store. “I need all the help I can get.”

She was only slightly surprised at the venue for the signing. “But you know, this is Los Angeles,” she says.

Others aren’t so easy. “Hi, are you a working mom?” Debbie asks. “Yes,” the woman says, without breaking stride.

“You want a book?”

“No.”

“It’s free.”

“No.”

“Why?”

“I don’t have time to read it.”

The woman is Janet Szabo, mother of a 5-year-old. She eventually does accept the book.

“I don’t have any time at all,” she says, unlocking her car door. “It’s a very difficult life.”

The book hits home for Rick Goyette. He and his wife, Sue, are trying to find child care for their youngest.

“Right now we really can’t afford to put her in a day-care center that runs us $350 a month,” he said.

Throughout the morning, Nigro talks to people about the problems of raising kids and going to work. For a moment at least, 7-Eleven becomes less of a Grand Central Station, a crossroads for travelers headed to varying destinations, and more of a town square where people actually talk. It’s not exactly conventional as far as book signings go, but there’s something to be said about reaching people where they live or shop.

Think of it: Ray Bradbury probably would enjoy signing copies of “The Martian Chronicles” from a haunt somewhere on the red planet.

Nigro might be on to something.


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