Meeting David Adams Richards

27Jun09

David Adams Richards

I haven’t met many notable writers. In fact, I’ve met only one. Even then, it wasn’t so much a ‘meeting’ as it was an ‘alienating.’ I have a knack for that sort of thing. Why discriminate based on fame or notability? That’s what I say. Of course, I didn’t say a blessed thing upon meeting Mr. David Adams Richards: one of the finest living writers in the English language. And probably other languages too. But that’s not the point.

The point is, I met David Adams Richards at a book-signing a couple of years ago and behaved in a manner befitting an asshole. I was living in Miramichi that summer and got word he was appearing at a local bookstore to sign copies of his then latest novel, The Friends of Meager Fortune. I had yet to read it and decided to drop by after work to pick up a copy and maybe chew the fat with the man himself. It didn’t quite turn out that way. You see, I can be a rather awkward young man in most social situations.

I froze. Solid.

There he was, sitting at a table chatting pleasantly with an elderly lady who had probably known him since childhood, but here I come, destroyer of worlds in ill-fitting shorts and ugly sandals.

The bookstore was empty save the table’s occupants and the clerk, busying herself with godknowswhat behind the counter where another man leaned casually, nursing a mug of coffee. I made my way down the aisle, trying to look interested in a book on display in the comedy section so as not to appear too aggressive. It was too late. He had already seen me, ambling aimlessly along like a tranquilized chicken with its head cut off. We met eyes. The lady turned around to acknowledge me, cut her conversation short, shook his hand and rose slowly from her chair, making her way past me with a smile and a nod.

I sat down.

And there I was, face to face with a man whose words have often left me inspired, awed and depressed, but always in a cathartic way. I was near panic, but showed a steely calm. What do I say? What do I do? Do I ask him cliched bullshit about inspiration and integrity in the face of an ever-increasingly illiterate and apathetic public? God no. Should I mention that I write too? No, that would be ridiculous. He probably gets that all the time from every Moleskin-toting jackass on the block. Besides, what have I written? A lot of crap. Has any of it been published? Well, no, of course not. So I said nothing and sat like a bump on a log, a barnacle on the arse of time grinning like a halfwit with my hands on my knees, wringing the fabric of my shorts as though they were my only lifeline back to the place from whence I came. A place where I had never met David Adams Richards. A place where I had slightly more than average confidence in my ability to function as a generally normal human being.

I feigned a smile.

He didn’t smile back. He stared a hole through the back of my skull then gestured at a pile of novels to his left.

“You want one?”

Of course I want one. I need something to show for this spectacle of quiet suffering.

“Uh, yeah. Yes. Please.”

He plucked one from the top of the stack and opened it. Still, I said nothing. Small talk? Not happening. What do I say? What do I do? Nothing. He’s waiting. What was he waiting for?

“Your name?”

Of course, my name!

“Uh, Kirk. Kirk Williams.”

Shit. I should have used a fake name. Shit, I should have used a fake me.

He scribbled something, closed the novel firmly and pushed it across the table at me and sat back in his chair looking expectant and, possibly, confrontational. That’s what I quickly told myself, silent the while, sitting there like some ignorant d-bag. This guy hates me. I interrupted his maternal bonding session and for what? This. That’s what. I put the chase to his pseudo-mom only to sit here, stealing oxygen. And still, he stares. Why is he staring? Probably because I’m sitting across from him. Why can’t there be more people? A lineup, like a mass or holy communion: here’s your autograph, you’re a good egg, now off you go. An assembly line of cursive gratification. Thank god I didn’t say that out loud. All I managed was

“Thanks.”

And up I got. But instead of leaving with a shred of dignity intact, tail between legs as it was, I wandered to the counter, nodded pleasantly to the clerk and browsed the high-end chocolates. Then I proceeded to engage the man with the coffee in a spirited fifteen minute, multi-topic, free ranging philosophical discussion on everything from potatoes to toe jam. All the while, no one else came in. David Adams Richards sat alone at his table looking confused and maybe a bit pissed off. After a couple of minutes, he got up, gathered his belongings and said his goodbyes to both the clerk and the man with the coffee.

I stood on, grinning like an idiot. He’s leaving. You’ve just met one of your favorite writers and you’ve acted atrociously. Now is the time to make amends. Say something. Say “I read your book, you magnificent son of a bitch!” and hope he gets the reference. Say, “Sorry for being such a miserable wretch.” Say anything.

But no.

There I stood, stock still and mute, slack-jawed grin firmly in place as he approached, meeting my eyes briefly then looking away with what I imagined to be a look of utter contempt. He walked past me as though I was not there and how I wished for the ground beneath to give way and swallow me whole.

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