Famous people

So last week I went to see Anna Faris at her book signing up in Seattle. I mostly know Anna from her podcast, Unqualified, which I really enjoy. I’m always a little hesitant to go meet people of whom I’m “a fan”. I’ve had a few crappy experiences with that, but on her podcast she’s sweet, funny and goofy and it seems to me you can’t really fake that.

The talk was fun. She resisted all attempts of the moderator to answer questions about herself and instead kept going to the audience with questions. She was pretty much exactly like she sounds on her podcast: goofy, fun, self-deprecating to a sometimes frustrating degree.

When it came time for the book signing I completely took advantage of my Mom who came with me and who walks with a cane. People with disabilities to the front of the line? Ok Mom, let’s hustle to get to the front, but you know, limp-y like. (I’m joking around but my Mom totally deserves to be at the front of the line. I really appreciated that they did that because it’s super hard for her to stand for a long time.)

When we got to almost the front of the line, there was a couple standing next to but not in the line. We had actually seen them walking in to the auditorium. They had excitedly told us that their son had dated Anna in college!  And she wrote about him! He’s on page 42 and 101 the woman told us, with a kind of excited fervor.

Since the book is in part about Anna’s romantic history of failed relationships, I found the Mom’s enthusiasm…weird.  I’m trying to imagine my own parents standing in line at my college ex-boyfriend’s book signing (In some alternate universe where there is no God and my ex gets a book deal, probably about accounting.) telling strangers “He Dumped Our Daughter! He Totally Dumped Her! It’s the only thing we’ve talked about in our family for 20 years!”

The couple had clearly come at the line the wrong way (it happens) and were standing as if hoping that someone would let them in. The man had a cane, so they certainly deserved to be near the front. The man said, as if he was talking to his wife but looking at me straight in the eye “I was kinda hoping we could just get in and out!” Of course I let them in ahead of us.

The man clutched a photo in his hand which I got a glimpse of a few times. There was a blonde girl who seemed like maybe she was Anna, and who was holding a baby.  I figured he wanted Anna to sign it.  Sweet.  When it was the couple’s turn I stood a few feet away, not wanting to intrude.  I was chatting with my Mom and the ladies behind us, and TRYING not to be a nosy Nellie, but my husband will confirm that my nosiness is practically beyond my control.  I don’t MEAN to overhear conversations, but I do. And then I have to report them.

Anna was clearly touched and overwhelmed to see the couple.  She thanked them repeatedly for coming. The man held the picture out and Anna took it, while speaking to the woman about how they should get in touch with her parents who would love to see them. Anna glanced and signed it and handed it back.  The man said no, no, this is for you!  Then he pointed to the picture of the pretty blonde. “That’s David’s wife,” he said proudly, “and that’s their baby! She’s named Anna after you!!!!”

Anna never broke smiling, or offering cheery coos and yes yes please call my parents. They’d love to see you! Oh it’s SO good to see you! Thank you SO MUCH for coming!  The husband who insisted he wanted to “get in and get out” seemed ready to pull up a chair and park it for the long haul but his wife forcibly pulled him away and then it was my turn.

Once I stood in line for a very long time to get a book signed by Nick Hornby. I was a huge fan of his since a long time back.  His books are [sound of my head exploding] so f-ing good.  I never know what to say when I meet an author at a book signing, except, thanks so much. I think you’re great. Blah blah.  Or, should I play it cool, like, ‘Oh, is THIS what this line I’ve been standing in is for? To get my book signed by’…check the cover…’Nnick Ho-ern-by? How nice. You must be very proud’.  Because his books meant so much to me, I decided there was nothing for it but to give him the full on fan gush. You’re so awesome. Your books mean everything to me. They’ve impacted me life. Thank you so much.

Hornby stopped, looked up at me from signing my book, then turned to his handler, the one handing him our books, and gave her a LOOK. You know, like, You Never Told Me They Were Allowed to Speak to Me!  Or, SEE, THIS is What I MUST DEAL WITH!  Or, you know, a million things, none of which were happy or kind or cheerful or grateful.  I was crushed. Totally and utterly. I haven’t been able to read his books since.

But that wasn’t even my worst fan girl experience.  That one was with the writer/NPR bon vivant Sarah Vowell.  I love her books so much.  She writes books I would like to write, about history and life, but in a way that’s real and engaging. She’s terribly cynical and terribly hopeful at the same time, just like me!  She’s a ninja with sarcasm, just like me!  She believes that it’s important to know our history, not just because ‘we should’ but because it’s fascinating and full of hilarious people, just like I do!  I had even (blush) written her a fan letter, care of her publisher. I can’t remember what it said. Just, you’re awesome, thanks so much, keep it up.  I don’t know why or what I expected. I just needed her to know that I was out here and I GOT IT.  Yeah, I know, it sounds creepy to me too.

Then, an amazing wonderful thing happened.  Sarah Vowell was the featured speaker at the American Library Association conference in Chicago to discuss her book Assassination Vacation, the book that had driven me to send her that letter!  If you haven’t read it, it’s about the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley (because apparently killing our Presidents was on fleek in the late 1800s). It’s also a travelogue and a ponderation about what it means to be American.  It’s a delightful book.

Now, it happens that on the flight to Chicago, I was reading a fun little book I’d grabbed called Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.  I picked up the book with no expectations except to be distracted, but found myself unexpectedly charmed and even impressed with how, even given the fantastical premise, the author wove actual history into the story.  Not just the obvious things like the log cabin and what not, but the beats of Lincoln’s life, large and small.  I admired the author’s dedication to detail in a genre (fantasy horror) that doesn’t really demand it.

So, anyway, I’m at ALA. I listen to Sarah Vowell. She’s wry and funny and cynical and idealistic and all the things!  She asks if anyone has any questions and my hand shoots up into the air.  This is a huge auditorium in the Chicago convention center full of a few thousand librarians.  I’m not going to get picked.  But, I get picked. I get handed the microphone. I open my mouth and ask Sarah Vowell if she’s read Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

Don’t ask me what I thought would happen.  Maybe I thought she would say “YES, isn’t it AMAZING and HILARIOUS?” and several thousand librarians would think “WOW, who is that amazeballs librarian with her finger on the mother f-ing PULSE?”  Maybe I thought she would say No, but with curiosity, like No, I hadn’t heard of that one. Is it good?  And I would totally book talk Sarah Vowell and an auditorium of my peers who would all say “WOW, who is that amazeballs librarian with her finger on the mother f-ing PULSE?”

But alas, it was not to be.  I did mention she was a sarcasm ninja right?   In short, no, she had not.  With more condescension than I thought was possible for one person to express, she explained that she preferred actual history.  Several thousand librarians, my peers, laughed uproariously.  I died. I’ve never been able to read Sarah Vowell’s books since.

All of this is flashing through my head when the older couple who were parents of Anna Faris’ ex-boyfriend left her with a picture of her ex-boyfriend’s doppelganger of a wife holding their baby named Anna.  I watched Anna carefully, wondering if I should just say oh hey, never mind, I was…looking for the bathroom.

At first Anna looked off into “the middle distance”. She audibly exhaled. She said “I’m sorry. I’m having a…life moment here.”  Then, presto, she looked up at me with a smile. She said “Oh hi! Thanks so much for coming,” while taking my book from me to sign.  I told her that I loved her show, and she made me happy every week.  When I said “This is my Mom” Anna jumped up out of her seat to shake my Mom’s hand. “Oh HI! Thank you SO MUCH for coming!” she said.  I told Anna that, just as her Mom (according to Anna’s book) had kept her from seeing Grease because of its lack of a positive feminist message, my mother had lectured me after seeing Grease that despite the film’s message, a girl DOES NOT need to have sex to be popular.  Anna laughed and said to my Mom, well, you were smart then.

Of course, Anna Faris is a pro.  She’s a pro at being famous, which is a skill set.  She was very sweet to me and my Mom, even though she’d just been through a truly bizarre encounter which would rattle anyone.  I’ve no doubt we were out of her mind before we reached the door, but for a few seconds she conveyed a sincere appreciation that we had come, and left me feeling like maybe it’s not so bad to encounter people you admire.

Anna Faris

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