The most exciting, most surreal, yet most unnerving, and embarrassing part of the evening with David Sedaris (yeah this totally sounds like I spent some intimate hours with him, doesn’t it? THIS is why I have a blog: so I can alter reality with the power of my words) came when, more than half way through the book reading, he said that he often would get 10 copies of his books in a foreign language and would keep a copy while giving the rest away. “I just got this book today. It is in…” Chinese. Please let it be Chinese! I thought hard. My fists tightened. “… Chinese. So if anybody here who can speak Chinese, please come to the book signing table after this, just come to the front of the line and I will give the book to you.”
Oh my god! I cannot believe this is happening! oh my god oh my god oh my god!
“Me!” My heart pounding, my head spinning, I forgot I was in the middle of a jam-packed auditorium, I shot up, yelling, my right hand outstretched. Fortunately, the theatre was darkened. As fast as I stood up and made a fool of myself, I sank back down in my seat again. Fortunately I was surrounded by the enlightened, liberal type so I only detected smiles and shared joy from my seatmates.
When the show was over, I stood up and immediately was crushed: the crowd swarmed the exits and there was simply no way for me to make a quick getaway. I decided to resign myself to the inevitable fate: I would be late to the table and the book would have been claimed, for shirley I cannot be the only Chinese person in the whole theatre…? If I give up hope now, it will save me from some debilitating disappointment. When things are too good to be true, you know it is too good to be true…
When I finally inched my way to the lobby, I got into a line that was surprisingly short. When I congratulated myself for the relatively short line, the lady in front of me kindly informed me that the line was for purchasing the books. I fought the crowd that were leaving the theatre to the other side of the lobby and saw a line that snaked along the corridor all the way back into the auditorium. As I accepted my fate and walked towards the end which I could not even see, something clicked. I did an about-face and marched to the front of the lobby where the table was.
“Excuse me, sir.” I said to the man that was at the very front manning the line. “During the book signing, he said he had a book in Chinese to give out and if anybody speaks Chinese, they should come to the table and ask for it.” I was so relieved when he did not dismiss me as an opportunistic nutjob and instead referred me to a lady who seemed to be in charge of the event. I repeated my line and she said, “Oh yes! Let’s see. We need to talk to his, ugh, his…” And she ushered me to the table as Mr. Sedaris was sitting down at the table.
I wish I could tell you that we had a
sincilating scintillating conversation. Or that we hugged. Or that I took millions of pictures of him with his arm around me. (“Absolutely no photography allowed.” Several signs were strategically posted around the theatre, with one right by the table). Or that I licked him for the gals (after all, there was NO sign that said “Absolutely NO licking allowed!”)
Everything happened so quickly that I had no time to mentally prepare myself (and yes I knew I would meet him at book singing but I was expecting to psyche myself up when I was waiting in line! And no, I am not complaining about being able to skip ahead hours of waiting…) I was simply tongue-tied and brain-dead.
“So you speak Chinese?” He cocked his eyebrow. *melting*
“I can actually read this book. You see the two words literally means ‘Fire’ and ‘Flame’. And this is in traditional Chinese which means the book is from Taiwan and that’s where I came from!” I rattled off. He did not seem impressed or interested actually.
“I’ll give you this book and I can sign it for you. What’s your name?”
“So Lin. What are you doing here?”
HUH? Is this a trick question? Should I say “I am here for your book reading?”
“Uh. I… live here?”
Certain that this answer was not enough, I added in rapid succession, “I came in 1993 and got my Ph.D. in theatre, got married and I’ve never left since.”
UGH. WHY did you tell him this? What the fuck does he care about this?! You are such an idiot!
“Is this book for you too? And it is Lin, L-I-N?” He asked as I handed him my copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. I nodded and idiotically pointed to myself.
I had an out of body experience right then and there observing and criticizing myself and yet there was nothing the out-of-body me could do to change the course.
“So, Lin, what are you doing here?”
I want to die. Ok, maybe that’s a bit too dramatic. I want to cry. I have no idea what he means by this question. Is it philosophical? Existential? Is he asking me about the meaning of life?
“What are you doing here?” He asked again.
“I came, I got married, I had kids, I never left. And now I am in suburban hell.” I said, barely able to catch my breath.
THAT. is my best shot. W.T.F, Self?!
Now I want to die.
“Well, it’s very nice meeting you!” He extended his hand and I shook it. After that there was nothing else I could do but leave, trying to ignore the murderous daggers shot from the long line of people waiting to be up close and personal to brilliance.
I walked out of the theatre and I began to cry.
On the way home I could not concentrate on driving at all. I kept replaying everything in my head (Yeah, like you haven’t heard that before…) obsessively going through every tiny detail in my less than one minute of face-to-face with David Sedaris.
It felt as though I was given the chance of a life time and I blew it. <— Yes, I am a drama queen. The Court Jester in the Kingdom of Hyperbole. The rational side of me could see this perfectly. Now.
I wanted to kick myself but of course I couldn’t because I was driving, speeding away in the darkened highway besieged by sudden torrential rain.
“What are you doing here? What does he mean by that? And why did he ask me the same question more than once? Is it a code? Did he want me to tell him a joke? Did he want me to tell him something more than mundane?”
Then it hit me. I wish I had made up some sort of story about my ending up where I am. I should have said I was an acrobat. A magician. An origami artist. I should have said that I ran away from the circus I was traveling with and I am currently hiding in middle America, trying my darnedest to blend in.
I could picture his mind going, “Damn. How come of the 2 billion Chinese people in the world, I gave my book to the most boring one?!” <— Yes. This is gross self-aggrandizement. The rational side of me could see this perfectly. Now.
All I wanted was a do-over. To turn back time so I could regale him with my wittiness. The bizarre, funny, yet strangely universal story of how I landed here. In this way, the story I told would be eerily similar to his.
Instead, I raced home and collapsed in my conviction that I would never be given an once-in-a-lifetime so grand as this one and the self pity that I had gone and wasted it. <— See above. Thanks.
It took me the whole day staring at the autograph, and finally asking my son to decipher it for me, to realize the word is not feces or feeble but feeling.
If anybody needs me right now, I’ll be wallowing in my chamber with my smelling salt.
O, woe is me, To have seen what I have seen, see what I see!