Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Waiting Gift

Waiting in line is a constant game of risk vs. reward. As in:

Do I need $57 worth of makeup and workout pants at Target enough to watch the cashier move through slow-drying cement?


How many overdue bills make it worth a trip to the bank, just before closing, for a deposit?

I am impatient. I know this. I haven't always been this way. But I am now and it makes ordinary tasks like going to the grocery store interminable when too many other people are there. It also makes book signings a special kind of torture.

I've been to two different book signings in the past year. At the first, I was extremely patient and it was rewarding and excellent. A week or two after I was fired, I bought a copy of Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball and stood in line at ESPNZone for two hours to meet the author. The line wrapped around an entire block and I was ten people from the end. Outside. In November. By the time I reached the table, Simmons looked like he was minutes from death and I was so frozen my smile looked less like happiness and more like I had just sat on something sharp. But I was wearing my Red Sox hat and a green coat, and Bill Simmons took one look at me and said, "Boston!"

He signed my book "Go Sox!" I was ecstatic.

At the other, I was miserably intolerant and ditched out early. On Tuesday, David Sedaris stopped by Borders. I have been coveting his new book, "Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk" and figured this was as good an excuse a chance as any to buy it. Dumbly, I assumed this would be the same setup as the Simmons signing, so I cruised the scene before parking. I didn't see a line at all, not even inside. After buying the book, a red polo-ed employee tagged my wrist with a silver band. He told me to head upstairs. This was a mean trick. Apparently Borders has a secret room where they keep authors. A small room with two sets of doors. Two lines grew from each set of doors, spreading like a wet spot on a carpet into the maze of shelves. I pushed my way to the front of the second set of doors, feeling like a car that drives for too long in the imminently-ending lane. The car that everyone hates.

Another red polo-ed employee began handing out post-its so we could each write our own name on the inside cover of the book. This would streamline the process for Sedaris, who would now be writing out names for all of eternity inside Borders. Being a good foot shorter than the person directly in front of me, I raised my hand and asked for a post-it, thinking that since they were being offered, this would ensure I would receive a post-it. Not so.

"I will GET to you," Red Polo shouted. My coat warmed itself and I began sweating. Suddenly I was seven, waiting for Santa and being yelled at by an elf. An elf with the power to deny me access to my wishes. I shut my mouth. And I never got a post-it.

I did, however, wriggle myself far enough into the secret room to see Sedaris as he read from his new book. He was engaging and genuine and did not pretend to be anything other than his own voice.

I was happy.

Then the elves descended and told us to line up by wristband color. We were to wait in our separate lines, to then be called into the secret room and wait for Sedaris to sign our books. I shuttled into formation along with the other silver bracelets. Behind a man who had pulled his clothes out of the bottom of a Guiness Records-worthy pile of dirty laundry. In front of a screaming child. Between shelves of mass-marketed children's games that had all been placed upside down. I waited for thirty minutes, attempting to shut out all my senses except the one that was internally keeping track of my rapidly expiring meter time. I gave up. Not even the promise of Sedaris laughing at my obviously hilarious jokes could keep me in that cage. The reward did not outweigh the risk of insanity.

So what happened to me? Last year I was perfectly content to listen to pretentious posturing at the back of a line with nothing to read and nothing to do. This year I was gasping for air inside a store I could spend hours in on any other day. The main difference is that last year I literally had NOTHING ELSE TO DO. I had just been fired and was searching for things to keep me occupied and buoyant. This year, I was running to get to Borders after working no less than two of my three and a half jobs. My brain is starting to feel like a little rubber ball bouncing around my head. It does not need any more ricochet-able surfaces.

The other difference is that the Sedaris signing was not a gift. The Simmons signing was for me, but I also had him sign it to M, because he wanted to read it too. M was the first person who told me to read Simmons' online column and I've been hooked ever since. I bought the Sedaris book just for me and do not plan to give it away. There was nothing keeping me in that line except my ego. And my ego HATES crowds.

The only other time I have waited in a line like that was for the second Harry Potter book. My brother was 12 and he wanted that book BAD. I was home from college and it was released at midnight. So I drove my brother and I to Barnes and Noble at 11pm. We snaked our way around the children's section, alternating between standing and sitting and talking and dozing. I honestly don't remember much of the waiting part. Partly because we had each other to keep company. But also because I saw people I knew from far away and spent much of the time wondering if they saw me. (They did. It was fine. I immediately realized Harry Potter had become something a lot cooler than I had originally thought.)

My brother had saved up money to buy this book himself. Granted, it was money from my parents for doing things like cleaning his room which he had debatably completed, but my brother does not spend money easily. I have seen him waffle over a pair of $5 sunglasses for days. So when we finally got to the front of the line, I bought the book for him as an early birthday present.

Any risk involved in this line was catapulted out of contention by my brother's lightning-bolt-tattooed, 12-yr old face.

1 comment:

  1. Look at it this way, Kate: you didn't hand over control of your life when asked to. I think that's great.