By JEN CHEN
Katie, Nedra and Maria brought a picnic to the parking lot of Rainy Day Books.
On Monday night, David Sedaris was the guest of honor at what turned out to be a parking-lot party at Rainy Day Books. I’d never seen him in person, so I excitedly headed over to Fairway to hear him read excerpts from his new book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames.
I got there around 6 p.m., an hour before the reading. Sedaris had set up shop outside the store to sign copies of his book. A crowd of about 60-plus people (and an ice-cream truck) lined up around the side of the building. Just half an hour later, the line snaked around the entire parking lot. I’ll guess that there were about 400 people waiting for their special Sedaris moment.
The majority of people were NPR listeners (KCUR 89.3 sponsored the event). Many were well-dressed types in their 40s. There was a smattering of hipsters, and a good number of young professionals dressed as if they’d just come from work.
Sedaris made the effort to inscribe something personal in each book.
As I waited, I thought about what I was going to say to him. I’m not the type to gush over people. Given his penchant for buying weird body-related items at Parisian flea markets, though, I thought that showing him my eyeball might be a good conversational gambit. When I pull down the lower lid of my right eye, you can see an engorged cluster of veins. It’s kind of gross, but it impressed one of my eye doctors so much that he took a picture of it to show his students. My eyeball bit might be too contrived, though. I figured I’d go with the flow when I got up there.
I was still in line when the clock hit 7 p.m. — the reading time. Sedaris went inside and started by reading the first story in the book. His voice was broadcast out to the lot; it was just like listening to him on the radio, until the mic cut off briefly. A young trio near me comically opened their books and flipped to the cut-off point to find out how the passage ended. He ended the reading with excerpts from his diary.
Sedaris said he had never been separated from his audience by a pane of glass before. He likened the experience to being a puppy in a pet-shop window. Later, I asked Rainy Day owner Vivien Jennings why this event was held at the store instead of at some big auditorium. She said Sedaris wanted to be in bookstores on this tour.
After the reading, we got called into the store in groups of 50 to get our books signed. I had ticket number 338, so I ended up waiting around for a few hours. The spirit of the crowd in the lot stayed upbeat for the most part. Some people headed to Houlihan’s for a drink; others went to Hen House to buy pre-packaged sandwiches, drinks and candy bars. Finally, around 11ish, I got called into the store to wait in another long line. A frazzled-looking woman came in and talked to her friends, who stood behind me. She was cranky and wanted to go, she explained. “I don’t even want to talk to David Sedaris,” she said.
The wait took about an hour. Finally, it was my turn. By that time, I was tired. My legs and back ached from standing around. Sedaris was really nice, considering he'd been signing books for so long. He asked me what kind of job I have, what sort of stuff I write. I mentioned that I used to write a bar column. He asked whether I’d ever been to Tomfooleries — he said the name made him laugh because it was so silly. He told me - true story! — that Abraham Lincoln’s last words were, “Tomfooleries is for lovers.” Then, he got assassinated by a Tomfooleries employee. Hence, the inscription.
The whole experience took six hours.