Meeting Michael Chabon

Note:  Originally Published 5-24-07

About a year ago, Michael Chabon (who is, in my opinion, America’s greatest living author) had been scheduled to do a book signing at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago in order to promote his latest novel, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

One problem-the book got delayed for many different reasons.

That being said, the Chicago appearance obviously was cancelled, and I was devastated.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I was very disappointed.  Chabon is my literary hero, and I wanted to meet him terribly.

So several weeks ago, I discovered that with the novel coming out on May 1st of 2007, his appearance at the Harold Washington Library had been rescheduled for the 21st of May.  Well, after losing out last time, I knew I would always regret it if I let this opportunity pass.  I took a personal day from work, and Kristen and I made a trip out of it.

Monday night arrived and we made our way to the Harold Washington branch of the Chicago Public Library.  Neither of us had ever been there before, so after finding our way inside we asked a helpful security guard to direct us to the Michael Chabon signing.  She pointed us into the next room, and from there a staff member escorted us to a reserved elevator.  Had we not been with a few other anonymous Chabon fans I would have been a little unsettled by the strange proceedings. 

All was well, for when we got off the elevator we were immediately faced with multiple persons waiting in line to sign in and get their reserved tickets.  Luckily, my self-diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder served us well as we were nearly an hour early.  Even so, after receiving our ticket and entering the room he would actually be speaking in, we only got about a fourth of the way to his podium; all of the front seats had already been filled.

So, Kristen and I sat and waited.  I had a wonderful time listening to all of the conversations taking place around us as people discussed their favorite works of Chabon.  Several minutes passed and then, finally, I caught a glimpse of Michael Chabon coming from the front of the room and grabbing a seat in the first row. 

I seemed to be the only one who saw him!

I immediately wanted to scream, “There he is!” but, thankfully, my common sense prevailed and I instead grabbed my wife’s arm and whispered loudly, “There he is!”

What kind of fans were these?  No one seemed to even care he had entered the room!

Anyway, several of the event’s organizers gave their spiel and then they finally introduced Michael Chabon.  Just before he opened his mouth, I realized that all the trouble of taking the personal day and traveling to Chicago had totally been worth it.

Then he spoke.  (Man, I totally sound like a freakazoid stalker, don’t I?)

I won’t recount the entire talk and reading, but let me just say that this man is a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  This is a world-renowned author.  He is, in every conceivable way, a very big deal.  Best of all?  He was totally cool. 

I couldn’t believe the humility and warmth the man exuded!  He genuinely seemed like a nice guy, and that made me feel very good about touting him as our greatest living author.  So many times, people reach his stature and become-how should we put it?-arrogant.  Not so with him.  He cracked many jokes at his own expense, and when the audience put forth questions (some of them asinine in every sense of the word), he handled them with grace and respect.  The faulty microphone they gave to the questioners didn’t even faze him.  He was a class act, without a doubt.

When it came time for the actual book signing, our tickets all had a number on them.  Because five hundred people had showed up, they had us get in line by groups of fifty.  I was ninety-one and Kristen was ninety-three (don’t know how that happened), so we had to sit and wait for quite a while, which was fine.  We didn’t actually have to get in line in numerical order, but they have the first fifty people get in line, then the next fifty, and so on. 

My all-time favorite book by Chabon is called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (if you haven’t read it, leave your computer, get in your car, drive to your nearest bookstore, and purchase it immediately-I’ll wait for you to return … Back already?  Good, I’ll continue).  I realize it’s considered common courtesy to only have an author sign one or two items, so as much as I wanted to bring my entire Chabon collection up for him to sign, I limited myself to this favorite paperback of mine.  I gave my wife his latest release, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and we agreed she would have it signed specifically to me-first and last name.  (Yes, I’m that neurotic.)

As we got nearer, we saw that Chabon was taking his time with people, actually talking with them, and most surprising of all, he extended his hand to every single one of his fans before they even got directly in front of him!  The women in front of us had their books signed, and then one of them took out a camera and sheepishly started to ask if she could take his picture with her friend.  Before she could even finish, he was out of his seat and putting his arm around her friend, saying, “Sure, no problem!” 

I had been contemplating the words I would say to the man who inspires me on a regular basis.  I was prepared to discuss his themes, his many interests, and his impact upon both the literary world and pop-culture in general (after all, he’s appeared on The Simpsons).  I even had brought a spare copy of my own novel, fantasizing that I would give it to him, he would read it as he sat alone in his hotel room, then seek me out as a peer and we would keep in touch through correspondence for the rest of our days.

Instead, within the span of a minute and a half, I introduced my wife to him twice (no idea why), spat out something about Kavalier and Clay being my favorite book, and generally acted like an eight-year-old girl standing before Justin Timberlake.  My wife had a wonderful time laughing at the star-struck, babbling fool I had morphed into.

Be that as it may, I shook my hero’s hand, and he signed two books to me-to Scott Foley.  No matter what happens, no matter what becomes of me, for those few seconds he knew I existed and those books are proof of it.  Those books will always cement the fact that I met Michael Chabon, and he signed his work for me.  Our names will forever be linked.

Like I said, it was all totally worth it.

Man, I really do sound like a stalker.  I’m starting to creep myself out!  Oh, well, if you’re a literature fan, maybe you can relate.

On a final note (if you’re still reading this, you’re a saint), I’ve decided to reread The Yiddish Policeman’s Union.  I usually don’t take the time to do such a thing, for there are far too many books I want to read and not nearly enough time to do so, but I rushed through the book so quickly I didn’t really savor it.  I compare it to wolfing down a meal without tasting any of the food.  I wanted to have the book finished before it was signed, but now I realize I didn’t focus on it enough in my haste.  Having met the man and listened to his personal thoughts on this book in particular, I think I’ll read it anew with a greater appreciation.

I tell you, when you find out your literary hero is a genuinely nice person, it just makes you feel all the better about following his career and trying to get anyone who will listen to read him as well.

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