I wrote this during the summer of 2008. A heat wave was in full effect and I was gainfully employed.
The new David Sedaris book is out. It's called When You Are Engulfed In Flames, and on Saturday he was signing here in Philadelphia at a small locally owned book store on Sansom street. Amanda was disappointed to learn that the book signing would take place at twelve o'clock, while she was still at work. She wouldn't get out until four-thirty but was holding out hope that it might last long enough for her to make it if she could get out of work an hour early. I knew that her chances of making it were slim at best. "Maybe I'll walk over there with her after work and we'll have dinner when we see that he's gone" I thought. Thinking a little more about the Excessive Heat Warning for the day, I suggested that she get the store's phone number to check before she went.
I had off work that day, and once Amanda was out the door, I thought about how she hadn't even suggest that I could go get the book signed for her instead of sitting at home unwashed, playing video games and eating junk. I also thought about how I did need to leave the house if I wanted to get anything done that day. I needed art supplies and they only place to get the model paint that I liked was only open to me on Saturdays due to my work schedule.
I would do it. I would get Amanda that autograph. It would be personally inscribed with a message so funny that it would delight Amanda and amuse David Sedaris. Nothing came to mind, but I could think it up on the bus.
Getting the bus that runs down 7th street, I felt a slight pang. "What was I forgetting?" I wondered. It would turn out to be the flea market that they were having in the Acme parking lot three blocks over. This sort of thing is usually a total bust around here, so I'm not too worried about the wonders that I passed up.
Before I left the apartment, I had to confirm for myself the address of this book store. "17th and Sansom?" I thought. "Is it a pornography store? It must be tiny!" Wrong on the first, right on the second. The line looked very similar to what I waited in to see the STAR WARS SPECIAL EDITION on the first evening show so I could get my Theater Edition Jedi Luke (currently selling on eBay for about ten bucks), only about ten times longer. A helpful man at the end of the line told me that I would have to buy the book before I got in line. Good to know. I made my way around and through the line, down the sidewalk, and up to the table where David would be sitting. Outside. "Poor guy" I thought. "Excessive Heat Warning". I bought my book and made my way back to the end of the now longer line. On my way I bought a lemonade from a man with a tray. It turned out to be an Alex's Lemonade. I don't know why I'm so suspicious about Alex's Lemonade. Maybe it just reminds me of all of the projects that my peppy, wired-looking keepers would get way too excited about when I was a child and then be crestfallen when I didn't see what the fuss was about. That or I'm just waiting to hear that all of the money has gone to somebodies Pacific rim sex tour.
At the new end of the line, a girl asked my if she had to buy the book first. She had just asked someone else and not gotten the answer that she wanted. A man who looks like he works in a book store is handing out papers addressing how the signing is going to be handled. The only line on the paper that registers for me is that pre-signed books are available. The rest of the writing on the page is swirly and indistinct, mostly forming the words "It's too hot out here!". I ask Book Store Man if I can trade my book in for a pre-signed. I can. I still have my receipt. Making my way back I wonder if this is too much of a cop out. If I was a Hero I'd wait in that line all day if I needed to. I thought about the Howard Stern autograph line. By the end of that, I was too exhausted and beaten to even manage a proper exchange of greetings, let alone request an inscription. There was also the reading that I'd miss. "Might be nice" I thought, if it was inside at Borders under air conditioning and mellow lighting with ample reading material around. Outside on a day like this, with the sun beating down on us, it would have been more like roll call at Stalag 17. Only the avuncular Nazi Commandant would be replaced with an droll gay writer put slightly off off his game by the blast furnace heat roasting his tiny frame.
I traded in my book. The signature amounted to a circle and two wavy lines which looked a bit like "OWL ". I asked if that was as good as it got. It did. I was still more substantial than the wavy line that Howard Stern scrawled for me. I took my booby prize and made my way for the comic book store a few blocks away. I had toyed with the idea of keeping this good deed a secret all day until Amanda got home, crushed with disappointment that she could not get her autograph, only for me to whip it out (the book) and display the signature for her inspection. Then I thought about how she may have hatched some plan to get out early or run over on a long break. It was probably worth forgoing seeing the glee in person to not risk some sort of mess. Instead, I called Amanda at work and gave her the good news right then. It was actually an odd mix of telling her what a great job I did for her, and how she shouldn't get too excited about the signature that I got from OWL. She was still very pleased. If only because I had bought the book for her. It hadn't occurred to me until just that moment, but then It hit me. This was a present. The voice of my father grumbled deep in my gut about all the cash that I'd be laying out that day in addition to this, but I silenced him. Amanda deserves a present from time to time. She gets them for me. Besides, I can always make her buy dinner for me later. Or a toy.