Saturday, June 21, 2008, marks a special day in history. The original plan for the day was to hop on a plane and head back to Los Angeles. Instead, I opted out of traveling a couple of days ago by extending my trip through next Friday. One of the best side effects of this decision? I got to attend my first ever book signing. The author was none other than David Sedaris (whom I shall refer to as "David" from now on, since it's easier to type than his full name or Mr. Sedaris, and also since I got to shake his hand and talk to him for a few minutes, so we're practically old friends anyway; plus, all the employees kept calling him Mr. Sedaris, and since they got on my nerves, I'm refraining from typing anything that reminds me of them), the fabulous and observant humor writer who stole my literary heart with a short story called Go Carolina. I was in my second year of college when I heard this story, and suddenly, at the tender age of 19, it hit me that all those feelings inside that spelled "gay" should be met with humor instead of fear. Such is the power of the written word.
While waiting for the book reading to start, Robert and I took up residence near where David was to present. We had asked, when we arrived just under two hours early, where he would be standing: on the second floor, by a railing overlooking the first floor. Because Barnes & Noble has shit for lecture space. We were very nearby, and had a sort of side view from which to spectate. I found it odd that they were going to make the poor writer stand behind a table display of books, and mentioned that to someone when I was waiting in line to get my book signed before the official reading started. I was wrong though, and ten minutes before the event commenced, a flurry of B&N staff rushed to the area, cordoned it off, and went about setting up the microphone and podium. Which prompted me to butcher a famous butchered joke: "How many Barnes & Noble employees does it take to set up a podium and microphone?" The answer is: I don't know, I lost count of how many there were.
While we waited for everything to officially start, I found myself people-watching uncontrollably. I saw old high school classmates I never really knew, and wondered if they didn't recognize me on account of the fact that I now sport facial hair. The scariest person I saw, hands down, was this woman who was probably in her mid-60's. She had tall red hair that was more maroon than red, and curls that measured five inches in diameter each. My time in LA helped me pick out some evidence of plastic surgery on her face, too. (This made me proud at first, and then horrified.) And she also showcased a spaghetti strap top and shorts that read "US Body", which did nothing to help her.
As my first ever book signing event, I of course wanted to get a book signed. I've not yet purchased the newest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, but luckily I'd left behind my favorite one, Me Talk Pretty One Day, for Robert to read. So I snagged it and brought it with me, throwing caution to the wind for the whole "IF YOU BRING YOUR OWN BOOK YOU MUST HAVE A RECEIPT TO PROVE IT'S YOURS" rule.
Though the book signing was technically scheduled for after the reading, David Sedaris is awesome and showed up early to get a jump start. So I jumped in line and eagerly awaited my turn to get my book signed. I felt it especially appropriate that the book I was having signed was the first book I'd read by him. While in line, a silver-haired woman in black pants and a black-and-white designer top walked up and down the line handing out sticky notes. "Open your books to the title page and fold the dust jacket over to make it easy for Mr. Sedaris to find the page to sign." Then she'd take names and slap the stickies into the books. When she got to me, she stopped.
Silver-Haired Woman: What's this one? Phil: Me Talk Pretty One Day. SHW: I've never read it. Phil: What do you mean you've never read it? SHW: I don't know it. Phil: But you work for the guy. Surely you jest.
But she didn't jest. So I did the only thing I could do: I discredited her completely. Anything she said to me from that moment on was like it had never been spoken at all. And when I saw her later, sitting on the floor just behind David, I imagined I could see right through her and read the titles of the books against which she was leaning on the shelves.
I've not had many brushes with fame. Though I recently met some pretty well-known stand-up comics, I consider it a tad different because I had no idea who they were beforehand. David Sedaris is a writer I've long enjoyed reading. Hence, I was thrilled at the prospect of getting to say hello and have a book signed, and just generally be in the presence of such awesomeness for a while.
While waiting in line, I ended up chatting amicably with a very fun group of people in front of me. I say "very fun" because that's the only way to describe conversation with complete strangers that consists of colostomy bags, prostitutes, and illegal valet parking.
As I got closer to the table to get books signed, I could overhear bits and pieces of conversation between fans and David Sedaris. The writer had fun little quips and banter with everyone, it seemed. He'd ask questions like "Oooh, what's that you're drinking there?" or "What kind of sunglasses do you own?", and then he'd sign the book, shake the hand, and greet the next person in line. I wasn't having anything to drink and I was wearing a green polo shirt, so I presented no obvious conversation starters. Here's how it went:
David Sedaris: So, are you with this gang? Phil: I am now. They adopted me as their new friend. Group of new friends: He's ours now, yeah. David Sedaris: Oh. Okay, uh, well, what do you do? Phil: You'll either love this or hate this, but I'm studying to be a speech pathologist. David Sedaris: Okay. Phil: I'll be the gayest speech pathologist ever. David Sedaris: Well good. The world could really benefit from a homosexual speech pathologist. Phil: I thought so too.
And then he signed my book and sent me on my way. Mine says "To Phil," then has a stamp that reads "AKYPO" in red, and then he signed his signature. Looking at it now, his signature looks like an O with a handlebar mustache for his first name, and a fucked up Greek Epsilon followed by a vertical line and a strange cursive "m" for his last name. It's awesome. I asked him what the AKYPO was about, and he explained that it means "invalid" in Latin or some other dead language. Cool.
At 7 or so, David took to the podium and read a couple of stories from his new book. Then he read parts of his diary that he'd brought along to share, which was the real icing on the cake. And he ended with a brief question-answer session. Several of the questions asked were the same questions that had been used for an interview for a local publication, The Weekly Alibi. Original.
Though I'd gotten my book signed, Robert didn't yet have a book to be signed, and we weren't exactly keen to jump in line behind the mass of people who suddenly appeared in line and starting arguing about whose numbered ticket got to go first. So when David said that any grown men who were 5'6" or shorter could skip right to the front of the line, we had our ticket in. And it wasn't on account of my 6'1" frame.
To David Sedaris: thank you for being real, and for being an inspiration.