Guest Blogger Dan: Waiting for Eggers
V Note: As many of you know, Dan is a friend of mine and an excellent blogger/writer. Today he writes about meeting the brilliant writer Dave Eggers.
Join me as I take the scenic route to a small, unremarkable destination.
As a boy, I filled my summers with many activities, from baseball, to video games, to filling old milk cartons with fine topsoil from the 80 acres surrounding our rural home. My mother saw to it that I read, too. I was allowed to choose the books I was interested in from a catalog; the books would be mailed to us, and when I finished, Mom would mail them back. I'm not sure what this service was called, how much it cost, or why we participated -- especially considering a sizeable branch library was 15 minutes away. I am sure that, once I aged beyond the Choose Your Own Adventure series, I stopped most of my leisure reading to concentrate on less productive activities.
Reading For Pleasure didn't resurface until my sleepy college town morphed into a comatose, summertime college town. After a successful reintroduction toliterature via biography The Catcher was a Spy, I perused the same bookstore shelf for my next challenge. I picked up a paperback because of its title, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius I bought it because I thought its Library of Congress page was hilarious.
Dave Eggers' memoir came to be my favorite book. As a result, I launched into all things Eggers, including the McSweeney's website. When the McSweeney's vs. They Might Be Giants extravaganza rolled into the Fitzgerald Theater, I was there, dragging three friends in my wake.
This is the story of October 24, 2002, a Thursday, the day I had off from work. I considered skipping class, too, but sitting around all day waiting to leave did not sound appealing.
I took went to Ruminator Books in St. Paul where Dave Eggers was supposed to appear at 3 p.m., according to the McSweeney's website. Of course, I had called the bookstore the night before, and they didn't know if he was going to show or not.
After a poor job of parallel parking, an employee told me that she was sorry, and he was not coming at 3, they hadn't updated their website. I had an afternoon to waste, so I wandered around the bookstore. Part of me thought he would waltz in despite the cancellation. Part of me *knew* Dave Eggers. I knew he was a good-intentioned man that made too many appointments to possibly keep, but had a vague grasp of all of them, and he'd show up late, but he'd show up.
He did not show up. He did call. "Dave Eggers on line one," I heard the employee tell the other (apparently more senior) employee. Awarded for my patience and prophecy, I was treated to an Eggers phone call. Sadly, I did not hear his part of the call, but the more senior woman's. She gave him directions to the store, told him that it would be great if he could come, etc etc. I then heard her tell the underling that he might show up later, and he was planning on meeting and signing at the event.
The event was billed as a "rock show for your head" featuring slides, music, poetry, and prose. It was terribly difficult to get anyone to come with. Steph was on board because it was Dave, and Jeff and Rachel were convinced because they are good sports. In the end, the concert/show/event was much less strange than I anticipated, with only the hobo poet act too artsy and strange for most people's mainstream tastes.
I read a little about Carry A. Nation's exploits in Wichita and left the bookstore.
What the hell else did I need to do today? I remembered the errand I had neglected running for several months: battery terminal cleaner. The Honda has always refused to start unless the terminals and the cables were sparkling and free of corrosion, particularly in the winter. And, since fall lasted precisely 5 days in Minneapolis this year, the chore was more urgent.
I drove to Checkers Auto Parts, a store that I get all my auto parts from. Every time I need an auto part, I think, "I'll go to Checkers". Every time I step up to the counter in Checkers, I think, "Why can't they work quicker here? Why must I stand here like an idiot for 3 minutes waiting to buy one item for $2?"
I did not have the chance to think either of these thoughts after pulling into a parking stall. I was immediately approached by a man whom I heard before I saw.
"Do you know anything about cars?"
"I've got a broken fan belt and they don't have the part I need here."
"I just need somebody to help me out."
"I can't fix a fan belt."
"I NEED A RIDE to the Napa store. I can't get there because my truck is broken - my wife and kid have been waiting here in this parking lot for an hour and we can't get anywhere."
"OH! You want me to drive you!"
"Yeah! What did you think I wanted?"
If I turned him down, on my day off, when I was just looking for something to occupy my time, when the Napa was only a few miles away, karma would render me its bitch. Before we got going, he mentioned that he also need to pick up his daughter's prescription, and that he didn't have enough money to pay for both that and the fan belt (it was the serpentine belt - the big boy) and asked for a loan. $20, he figured. I said we'd figure something out.
When we got moving I immediately feared tuberculosis. One middle-aged man should not be able to cough that much, that often - he certainly had TB, probably one of the drug-resistant forms (multi-resistant probably), and I was already infected, and for the rest of my life I'd be fighting this affliction, all of my resources pouring into the illness and the cause; I would publicly speak against these evils on some sort of circuit that invited people like me to talk. "Don't let it happen to you," I'd say.
"I've got bronchitis. I've been out in this cold air for too long today."
He had tuberculosis. That fucking liar.
His name was Taylor. It took longer than it should have to get that introduction out of the way - it seemed like he wouldn't mind making the trip in silence, but with my radio on The Dan Patrick Show I thought it was necessary to converse. It was that or think of reasons to tell him why my radio was tuned to The Dan Patrick Show.
He worked for a living - he wanted me to know that. Drill press. I was going to ask where he worked a drill press, but I didn't want my ignorance of the drill press to show, so I thought against it. He lived pretty nearby - he kept saying the intersection, not knowing that information was lost on me.
"…Paycheck doesn't last very long with those four kids. But I love my kids, though."
I wanted to agree, "Yeah, I feel you there. I know how that goes…" I smiled a little instead.
"So the prescription costs XX, the fan belt is XX, and I have XX. How much more do I need? I'm not really good at math." I'm not great at math, particularly when I'm driving, but he needed me.
"But it's XX, XX, and XX. Isn't it 24?"
"Oh," I laughed, "Yes it is."
Thank God he didn't know I was in graduate school.
I dropped him off at Walgreen's, which was very near the Napa. I wrote my name and address on a piece of paper and gave him the $30 I got out of the ATM that morning. (Karma.) He promised he would "take care of me."
Fast-forward to the Fitzgerald Theater, after the comic strip guy, the hobo poet guy, Eggers himself, the Seattle family (including a nine-year-old little girl on the drums) playing music set to old slides, and They Might Be Giants.
There is a line (not really a line) to get things signed by Eggers. Book people are not nice. Book people are despicable for several reasons less material than the scarves and the black-rimmed glasses. Take the woman, a few years older than me probably, behind Steph and I in line, to the talkative man next to her: "I was just wondering whether it was really worth waiting here for an hour to talk to someone I don't know for, like, 10 seconds." It was, because she pushed her way toward the front.
You know how these "lines" go. Lots of merging - nice for the late arriving but not so nice for the defensive drivers. I could make a snide comment about the value of just chatting rather than getting something signed (you have a program! Everyone got a fucking program!) or a picture taken, but I will not. Karma.
I wanted to ask many things, to express many feelings to Dave Eggers. He is really something to me. Combined with the fact that I like questions and their answers, I fretted all day about what to ask him. I offered Steph some of these comments, as that would work well, combining the 20 seconds or so the each of us would be afforded into something like a full minute. Perfect.
Steph said nothing except her name. He wrote it on the hardback. Silence, signing.
"Would you sign a paperback?"
Sigh. I had been fighting her on this for several days. Never mind it's a paperback, never mind it's his old book. Why do you need 2 books signed? One is fine. One is enough. One is proof.
His second effort went like this: "Stephanie: We meet again." His Sharpie hovered over the page for a few brief seconds until he laughed and gave up, returning the paperback to her.
I wanted to say about 4 things:
1. The reference to Keith Van Horn was funny. Unique. A precedent.
2. The reference to epidemiology was interesting, because I am studying that.
3. The references to Kansas spoke to me, but more than that, it's nice to read something that compares things to something other than New York City, etc.
4. As I read it, the book made me wish I had something to feel really sad about. That's saying something, I think.
I should have considered allowing time to answer these questions or address these thoughts. I did not. I ended up saying 10 things at once. I told him my name, and as he doodled (if you didn't know, he doodles at book signings - you get your name, a doodle, and his name) I started.
"I enjoyed the Keith Van Horn reference and the Kansas reference and the epidemiology reference."
"Yeah, I was surprised the New Yorker actually mentioned that in their review--"
"Yeah I saw that."
"What other reference were you saying?"
"Steph and I are studying epidemiology and I noticed your mention of an epidemiologists' conference in the book and yeah they can be…boring."
"Oh yeah--" He interrupted himself remembering the tiny epidemiology blurb in his book and handed back my book. "--This is Steve the Grinning Handbag," he smiled.
It was. I thought about asking why the anthropomorphic hand bag named Steve, but I thought better of it. He continued slowly, retrieving his brain's information.
"Yeah there was this guy--" The book guy behind me in line tossed a magazine directly in front of Dave, who took his eyes off of me and directed them toward the periodical. "Huh?"
"Yeah, you're in this list here twice," guy behind me said, pointing to the page.
It was, from what I could tell then and later confirmed, the newest issue ofVanity Fair. A man my age had brought the current issue of Vanity Fair to the show and was having it signed. Was he being ironic? Did he want to keep this glossy magazine the rest of his life, even if it was signed by an author mentioned (twice!) in some sort of Hot/Cold list? How do you display that sort of thing?
"I never read anything…" Eggers explained why he was bewildered.
Meanwhile, I stood with my book, still in front of the man, next to magazine guy, wondering what to do now. I had been in line for about 40 minutes. I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stick it out and see what he was talking about. I didn't want to upset the others in line, though, even if they were book people and not worth of the air they were breathing in their Democratic, cynical lungs.
Of course, they probably saw me as "dude whose lady-friend got 2 books signed." Seconds more passed. Magazine guy had Dave's full attention. I slinked away melodramatically - I took one slow step backwards, eyes darting side to side, then another step, then another and soon I was in the lobby.
Yeah, there was this guy… Whatever the story was, there is no way it is actually as fascinating as it is in my brain, resting comfortably now for the rest of my life. Karma.