Sunday at the bookstore

Well, I have to admit, the last few weeks have been interesting. What is even more interesting are the many ways in which I can delay writing a post in this blog. However, the most interesting is the fact that both of these two items overlap so very often.

Like, take this evening for instance. I wrote the first sentence of this post, then went to pack a bag of items to take with me to work tomorrow. I had a few things I had been meaning to take to the office, as nick-nacks to make the cubicle a bit more homey, yet had not done so the last few days. I wrote myself out a list of them to take and somehow that just took precedence over my writing.

::insert another pause as I see another item on my desk that needs to be transported::

Sorry about that, I’m back again, at least as long as it takes me to think about something else I need to pack up.

Anyway, back to the original point… changes in my life. I mentioned briefly in a prior blog that I had been downsized. I don’t normally talk about my everyday life here, as to be honest, it has been pretty boring lately. A few years ago, it seemed like every other day I had the most random thing in the world happen in my life, but as I age, it seems as if the absolutely crazy items of prior years just seem not to happen anymore. I don’t know if this is a phenomenon that happens to all people as they age, but I think it might be. I find that whole idea more than just vaguely depressing, not just because it would mean I was aging, but because things just are not as interesting as they used to be.

I have always thought myself a pretty interesting person, and many people around me loved to hear of the crazy antics that just seemed to float through my life like a Rose Bowl Parade float in the middle of rush hour traffic. These things just crept up on me, totally unaware, until suddenly my vehicle was playing leap-frog with a 120’ tall Kermit the Frog, weaving in and out of the mini-van moms and red-necks with trucks covered in chrome and lights.

Yesterday gave me hope that those days are not totally in my past.

Years ago, I began to read an author named Timothy Zahn, who has written the best Star Wars fiction of any author to ever tackle the subject, George Lucas included. His Thrawn character still sets the bar for evil, deadly villains everywhere. If the Emperor and Vader were combined, they’d still get their asses kicked by Thrawn. The character is simply brilliant, not only in how he was crafted, but in how he was used in a realm everyone knows. Zahn, being the author of the first scifi I had ever read, has forever colored how I view fiction, casting most authors into the mold of a lesser impersonator. Tim, I salute you.

So, when this author of lore paid a visit to my city yesterday, I had to attend. Being a fan of Star Wars is a pretty common thing, but being a fan of one particular author who isn’t that widely read outside of Star Wars, that’s something a bit different. What I did not know was that it wasn’t just Mr. Zahn who would be there for the signing.

Unfortunately, a bunch of geeks, and I use that term in lieu of a few other more colorful adjectives I could use, called the 501st Legion: Vader’s Fist infested the place, too. Now, normally I’m all for this kind of behavior, namely dressing up as your favorite fictional characters, but that’s only when the freaks stay away from me. When they are near me, especially when I am there for a completely different reason, it tends to raise my ire. Mine was raised to the roof that afternoon.

See, when I come to hear an author speak, I would actually like to hear him. Unfortunately for me, all I heard was the droning on of little kids yelling, “LOOK!!! ITS VADER!!!” I have stated for years that children should be gagged in public and this day did nothing to dissuade me from that stance. Sadly, it wasn’t just the kids, either, as their parents seemed unable to keep their pie-holes clamped. When someone has to stop the author from speaking, just to quiet the crowd, that is more than annoying and more than disrespectful.

I know that the people of the 501st mean well, and they are doing their best to help Zahn sell lots of books, something I am all for, but really, are they so hard up in their pathetic lives that the only way they can get an adrenaline buzz is to put on a costume and pretend to be someone so cool that kids would want their pictures taken with them? Harsh? Possibly. Did they make Trekkies look cool? Nope, but they didn’t make Trekkies look geeky, either.

My girlfriend, smart girl that she is, came up with the solution… let the 501'ers parade onto the building, then march them off around the building, as they did after Zahn’s unintelligible speech, so we can actually hear the author talk. The kids get to see the morons in costume, some of which I hear run in upwards of $1500 for some plastic and Lycra, and I get to hear a pleasant speech and Q&A, instead of the 4 year old brat who feels the need to ask, “Is Darth Vader’s light saber green?” Its a book signing and Q&A. If you can’t read the book, you shouldn’t be allowed to speak. Period.

So, instead of being frustrated, the girlfriend and I ditched the Q&A for a bit of refreshment in the relatively quiet coffee shop attached to the book store. We read a bit, I ran into some former coworkers I had not seen in a while, and we waited for my Section E signing to be called. Two and a half hours later, I had a signed book, two actually, and was out of there. It wasn’t a moment too soon.

Still, I would be shorting everyone who reads this, were I not to tell two more stories of my time waiting in line. The first is about the 501st, but the second is actually about the author! Yes, we spoke and he seemed to be a great guy, but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me turn my attention to the ‘actors’ first.

There were a LOT of storm troopers, some sand troopers, Chewie, an Imperial guard, some new trilogy characters (thankfully no Jar-Jar, or I would have been tempted to go postal), a Vader and an Emperor. All these people walked around the store for a few hours, letting people take pictures with them. Since these people probably didn’t get paid, and many of the costumes looked really hot to wear, I do have a bit of respect for them being willing to spend a Sunday afternoon in the attempt to bring joy and their love of a series to other people.

Some of the guys actually did something other than just stand around. There were two guys in particular that caught my eye. The store has computer terminals set up around the building for employee use. These two guys decided to actually attempt to move beyond their roles, and take some probably needed rest, by sitting down at one of the desk and read a paper. Their feet went up on the desk and everything. Not a sight you see every day, a storm trooper with his feet up on a large wooden desk, reading an independent newspaper. It was amusing, I will admit.

If the story ended there, I could say it was a bright spot in an otherwise annoying day, but as life has shown me, nothing can end that cleanly. Another 'character’, dressed as a Padme but without the body to come anywhere near pulling it off, walks over to the trooper and says, “You’re such a dork!” to the seated and comfortable man.

If I were to think back and try to remember a statement that absurd, I just don’t think I could do it. The only words that crashed through my mind were Randall, in Clerks II, stating “I’m not even gonna point out the irony in that.” I thing that I was near to passing out, trying not to just laugh in their faces at such a statement.

So there is the last story of the 501st, may they never infest my presence again.

Speaking to Zahn was something a bit more difficult to me. What to say to a guy who has pretty much heard it all? “You were the first scifi I ever read!” Check. “You are the best Star Wars author! Ever!” Check. “You are my favorite author!” Check. (Not really true, but he is one of my favorites.) All of those things seemed cliche and tired, so I just went with being thrilled to shake his hand and get a signed copy of his latest book.

Well, that’s what I tried to do anyway. Life yet again doesn’t always let things happen the way you intend, and this time was the payoff for what had been an otherwise frustrating afternoon.

I wasn’t there just for my signed copy, but also one for my friend, Nhu. Now, you probably realize that isn’t your standard English name, but it is a pretty cool name. I’m not the only one who thinks so, as Zahn expressed curiousness about the name, too. He looked at me askance as he signed the second book and inquired why I was asking for one to be signed that way. I explained it was for my friend and Zahn responded by asking the origin of the name. My reply was that Nhu is Vietnamese, to which Zahn said, “I like it. I’m always interested in the origins of different names.” We shook hands, I thanked the man, and moved along.

As we exited to the parking lot, my girlfriend and I had a good little laugh, being hacks ourselves, well, I’m a hack, she’s published, because we know *exactly* how hard it is to find excellent names for characters in a story. So, we fully believe that someday our friend Nhu, a scifi and fantasy buff himself, will be immortalized in time as some storm trooper who dies a grizzly death only moments after he’s introduced.