It takes me two bottles of Trumer Pils to get going.
The first bottle is just for release: opening it, the hiss of fizz and the bottle cap clattering with its restrained and almost childlike whine of cling cling. It’s been a long day at work, though it was only five and a half hours. But it was a long five and a half hours.
The thing about working the Chris Colfer event was understanding how ordinary he was, that despite the fact that I have gotten starstruck before, even when I am not a fan of the person — and I like Glee, but am not a fan — I’ve recently begun to become amazed at the reality that greets me when I meet the famous person. Suddenly, they’re not so famous anymore.
I describe it to Clara like this: “He’s much taller than I thought.”
And here she interrupts, raising her bottle in an unsolicited toast: “Everyone’s taller than you, Joe.”
"I’m talking here, bitch."
The grins on our faces deny the fierceness of our words. We’ve talked like this to each other for twelve years. Now for the first time in all those years, we are roommates. I won’t go into the reasons why it didn’t work out with me and Wolfie, except to say that his wife is still in China building bridges, and we all understood that it was better for me to move in with Clara. Like Wolfie, Clara’s significant other is also out of town a lot, so it often feels like I’m more of a second roommate, not a third.
We often hang out on the stoop of our apartment building like this, but only on weekends. It’s a Wednesday night and after working the Chris Colfer event, all I want to do was crash in bed…
All right. If I’m honest, what I really wanted to do was write a never-to-be-sent. I’m glad that I ran into Clara on the stoop instead. The never-to-be-sent that I would have instead written would probably just be one long whine about my long day. At least hanging out with Clara will give me some space between myself and my day at work. Also, I’m working toward my second bottle. She has four more that she needs help with.
Clara also had a long day at work but she lets me do the talking. Her smart phone is playing a Pandora station. She’s lately been going through a Steely Dan phase but the Pandora algorithm sometimes hilariously picks songs that bear no resemblance to Steely Dan. We have just skipped over Bette Midler, who of course I don’t mind but she isn’t really part of the mood tonight. Steely Dan returns just as I begin to describe the 600 fans who packed our little store earlier.
"They were all teenage girls?" asks Clara.
Well no, of course not, I explain to her. I explain that there were some guys, even a handful of old queens — one of them actually quipped to me on the sly: “This line is no place for old queens” — and of course lots of those teenage girls, who were certainly the majority, were accompanied by their parents.
When it’s all said and done, Linc, the event was actually easy to work. The only reason why it was overwhelming was because of the number of people. But the 600 turned out to be not so bad, except for those selfish folks who pretended not to understand what “no posing” meant. As in: “Please put your cameras and phones away. Chris will not be posing for photographs.” As if these rules were mine and not something that Chris himself wanted. Because they could flout the rules and common courtesy because they would probably never see any of us again. The fans in question clearly heard me, and then turned to pretend that they had not heard me, and then proceeded to sneak in a quick picture while the bodyguard threw me a dirty look for not filtering.
By the way: I didn’t say one word to Chris.
"You didn’t shake his hand?" Clara says, a little surprised. She isn’t a Glee fan either, although like me she likes the songs. (That’s that show’s weakness: great music, mediocre writing. The stories are just not compelling.)
I explain to her that me and a coworker had gone to meet him in the lower level parking garage that was ostensibly free of fans, except that a handful found their way despite our efforts to be sneaky. (They were sneaky too, those buggers. I have already written in prior never-to-be-sents that I don’t like crowds. I now realize that I don’t like fans, either.) We had said, helpfully, “Are you looking for the bookstore?” And then we tried to give them directions, as if we believed they were really lost, and they just stared at us and said “OK” — waiting for Chris.
My coworker and I sighed at each other and got on with our lives.
Chris emerged from a fortress of an SUV — not surprising. Also typical was his entourage, which consisted of the single hulking bodyguard who ran the show and Chris’ “people” — youthful types whose youth, which would fade sooner than most, had brought them this temporary prestige.
We led Chris through the most covert passage that the whole of our modest staff was able to map out but it was still unacceptable. The fans had found us. One of Chris’ people, some blonde woman, kept repeating without shame: “This is a bad idea, this is an unbelievably bad idea.”
I thought to myself, I’m sorry. This is a bookstore. And your man isn’t POTUS.
We took an elevator to the store. Everyone was cordial and strained as these elevator rides go. My coworker made conversation with Chris Colfer. I was too dazed to say much. I didn’t say anything at all. If I’m honest, I have to say that I just wanted to get it all overwith.
Even though he’s taller than me, Chris Colfer looks exactly his age. Before this event, Clara and Spencer would joke with me that I should try to sleep with him. It is technically OK, they joked, since he’s 22. But that night, seeing him all dolled up with his hair gelled to perfect sculpture, I detected in him something adjacent to and barely noticeable from the blinding shine of stardom: he’s just a kid.
Being a public figure is so strange. I know that reads like a simplistic observation but it takes an experience like last night’s event to truly bring home the strangeness. Uncapping my third Trumer — and absently toasting with Clara, for both of us are at this point approaching giggly tipsiness — I recall for her a signing that you once did.
I wasn’t there. In fact, this happened before that fateful ballgame in June 2009, the ballgame that launched this odd and new era of my life. You had done a signing just a few weeks before, at the Embarcadero location of the Giants Dugout store. At that time, you were a rising star, not the established star you are now. You could still sign at a modest venue like the Dugout at the Embarcadero; yet still, I wondered what kind of crowd you had attracted at that time, even in 2009. I wonder if any of the staffers had thought any of the same things I thought about at the Colfer signing.
Between sips, the songs on Pandora change. There are commercials and Clara and I sit in silence, our necks craning up at the sky. Tonight we are two middle classers, and old friends, sharing beers after a long day.
At the signing, my station was the front of the line. When my boss told me that that was where he wanted me to be, at first I was privately horrified. (You can never be honest with your boss when you are presented with a daunting challenge. You just have to suck it up, do your best and hope that he trusts you with another daunting challenge afterward.) But this turned out to be less demanding than I thought. What it did involve was a lot of repetition of policies, constantly reminding the fans to put away their cameras, have their books ready and open to the title page, and mustering enthusiasm on their behalf.
Actually, my excitement for them was, for the most part, genuine. I fed off of their energy. I wouldn’t say that I was being fake for the sake of my job. The thing is that when you have to put on a show like that for almost two hours straight, it takes a lot of energy. I have to give myself an Oscar because these are the trials of life that do not win medals. Selfishly, as I cheered on the fans and repeated policies, I would look down the line and hope that you had wandered in. I thought, Maybe he’s come here to let off some steam by simultaneously watching all the Gleeks and that one guy who writes that crazy blog.
After the event, I helped with all the usual closing procedures and managed to get off at the train stop in my neighborhood by a little before ten. It was almost midnight by the time Clara and I decided to leave the stoop and head back upstairs. Clara was tossing the six pack into the recycling bin — and I was putting my hand around the handle of the second case that we had bought during the course of the evening, the case of which contained just two remaining bottles — just as her smart phone’s speaker began to emanate with a familiar series of notes.
We high-fived (we don’t really know why a high-five was the best reaction, except that we were certainly quite buzzed) at our mutually instant recognition: “Oh yeah, Jim Croce, baby!”
On that sleepy neighborhood block on a Wednesday night, we were the loudest ones.
PS: An epilogue.
Exhaustion and alcohol knock me out fairly quickly after we’ve gone home. But even though I am on the verge of sleep, I still reach for my phone as my head hits my pillow. My fingers slip and slide onto the screen, tapping in the password, flicking through this app and into that app until, finally, I’m in the messaging screen. I pull up the thread from that guy I met a few days ago and linger over my last message.
We were texting, and then I texted back, and suddenly we weren’t texting anymore. I won’t bother you with what I actually said. It was small talk; in fact, maybe I’m overanalyzing and overreacting. Maybe he just got busy. Why does the act of meeting people — this is not even dating, just meeting — make us think these strange thoughts, forcing us into reactionary patterns that we wouldn’t otherwise endure?
Clara had to remind me, “Men are bad at texting. They take days to get back to you.” (We were still on the stoop when she said that. Her words were slurred but she was still making sense. I believed her when she claimed that her husband once took three days to reply to one of her texts and all he wrote was “ok” — just like that, in lowercase.) I fall asleep thinking about text messages, never-to-be-sents, long days at work, rising taxes and unpublished writing and how much longer I can keep going on like this.