I took Saturday off.
Sounds weird, unless your day job is in the service industry, or theatre, which has been the case for me for as long as I’ve been working. I’ve never had normal hours (and don’t get me wrong, if I change up my day job and end up in a standard 9-5 one of the things that I will miss is my Monday off: such a beautiful thing to not have to compete with normal people for things like places in line at the sandwich shop or for seats at the movie theatre). The thing about working on Friday nights and Saturdays is that sometimes you miss out on things. I’ve been working hard on shifting up my schedule so that I have a few more evenings off, so that maybe I can do that thing on Friday night when all of my friends are doing it (I still have friends, right … I’ve been working theatre for a while now and unable to do stuff …)
On Tuesday, I see a Facebook post from the Barnes & Noble at the Galleria Mall in Edina. Michael Chabon is scheduled to do a reading and book signing there! I get excited. What night, I wonder? Am I free. He is, in fact, doing said reading/ signing on Saturday afternoon, December 3rd, at 3pm. Well, shit. I’ve got shows. I’ve missed a lot due to that reason. I look at the schedule and see that I have options, there are people on that I can rearrange, who can supervise so that I can take the day. But I almost never take the day. I show up sick quite a bit. I’m always left with carryover vacation time and the challenge of taking as many days as possible in June before the days vanish. I feel weird about taking a day to do something fun, for me. It almost feels selfish.
It’s Friday before I finally make my decision that I will indeed take Saturday off. I’d already floated it with one of my staff, so I knew that I had a plan in place. It just took me that long to finally pull the trigger and give myself the permission.
So, I went to see Michael Chabon at the Barnes & Noble (newly remodeled with their new floor plan and “Barnes & Noble Kitchen” serving beer … but not mochas on Saturday–no Starbucks and the girl assured me that despite the listing on the menu, they wouldn’t be able to prepare a mocha for me). Despite the B&N feeling more like a Crate & Barrel, I was excited. Michael Chabon is one of my favorite writers. I haven’t been able to keep up with all of his books (though I own almost all of them) but he wrote one of my favorite novels, Wonder Boys, which was also turned into a (one of my favorite) movie starring Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. Despite my copy of the book having been a little mangled while it was loaned out, I had to get it signed.
I arrived early, got my wristband/ number and found a seat (I usually gamble and take a row 2 seat … the first row always seems a little too close to the front, but it’s a gamble because you might get a few tall people with silly hats sitting in front of you and blocking your view. Thankfully, that did not happen this time). By the time Mr. Chabon was coming out to the podium, the area was pretty packed and it was standing room only.
I’ve gone to a fair number of readings/ signings and they often have a weird vibe to them. The event is performative, but often the person performing them would prefer to be in front of a computer instead of a crowd. And even if they’ve done a number of events and have become a little more accustomed to that aspect of it, or if they teach as an adjacent career, it can still be a clumsy affair. I’ve been to readings where the person is affable and fun and the whole thing is breezy like a cabaret show done by a seasoned actor/ singer/ comedian. I’ve also been to readings where the person barely looks at the audience, mumbles into the microphone during the reading and, not having any sort of presentation/ anecdotes fumble right into the Q&A where the lack of presentation/ anecdotes is even more pronounced as they try to find a way to cleverly answer a question like “where do you get your ideas?”
I was happy to find out that, while he may be more comfortable behind the notepad or in front of the computer, Mr Chabon was delightful in his presentation. He started with a reading for about 15 minutes and then answered questions that the audience submitted on notecards. The nice thing about the notecard method is that you don’t get the people who raise their hand and instead of asking a question, opine for several minutes about their opinion of this or that thing with out ever giving the writer anything to answer. It’s also nice because while he is selecting what he will and won’t answer, flipping thought the cards and composing himself, it allows him something to riff off of in a performative manner. I may steal that technique, should I ever become a published author who is doing a reading in front of a crowd of any number. Really the only pitfall is if you can’t read the writing on the card, which is balanced by the potential pitfall of not being able to hear the person trying to ask you the question.
Afterward, during the signing he allowed selfies to be taken (no passing you phone/ camera off to a B&N employee to take a slightly motion blurry photo, no friend, you’re responsible for the quality and for the stupid look on your face in the photo, because you pressed the button yourself). He was generous and affable (and slightly bemused/ taken aback by the condition of the cover of my copy of Wonder Boys … apparently, if a book gets left in a car for 3 month one of the side effects may be that the coating on the glossy cover may start to shrink and look like you wrapped the book in packing tape). And after a short conversation as he scribbled “To Tom” and his signature in the books, where I thanked him for, you know, being really awesome, and stuff (I’ll let you determine if I’m joking about that or if I lost control of being able to say adult things like “Wonder Boys is one of my favorite books, I discovered it in college and it meant a lot to me and probably helped prod me toward eventually getting my MFA in writing”) he took a selfie with me and then he was on to the next person in line (a cool girl who also lives with too many books and who had loaned her copy of Yiddish Policemen’s Union to a friend who had taken it camping and after having said copy returned, discovered that reading a book in the woods might result in a lot of tiny flies finding their ends between the pages of a book by a Pulitzer Prize winner) and I was off.
It was a good day and an enjoyable event. I’m glad that I had an opportunity to meet him (and my question, “What are you excited to be working on next?” was the question that he closed out the Q&A with).
More later …