It's time to call the Irony Police
when the author of "Fight Club," one of the most best books ever inspired largely by someone's shitty job, comes to town and none of your friends can go with you because they're all working at their shitty jobs. But I shouldn't be too judgemental. I would've had to work too, if I hadn't been anticipating last night all summer long and hadn't requested it off a couple weeks in advance.
I could've probably been convinced pushed over old ladies and kicked their dogs into traffic to see Chuck Palahniuk, so taking the night off from Fry's was nothing. Alright, maybe that's hyperbole. But I can kick a dog far.
- I call Changing Hands, the bookstore the reading/signing thing is being held at, because I read something in the paper about there being tickets. The guy says yes, they hand out numbered tickets for seating purposes, and I'd better get down there if I want a good one. 150 is the estimate he gives me for how many people are already there. Damn. I hop in the car and drive in a manner that causes my dinosaur truck to wheeze and exhale like a cartoon mouse when I turn the ignition off, that is to say, over 40 mph.
- I arrive at Changing Hands, and realize coming across the parking lot that I forgot my camera. Fuck fuck fuck. Words will have to suffice this time. Inside, there are about ten-fifteen extreme
people. I am not dark enough for this crowd. I find the last few copies of Lullaby and buy one, the indy-bookstore lady talks me into joining their Changing Hands savings club/baby-killing cabal, I don't know the details, I wasn't listening. All I know is I have a card that if I get stamped enough times I get ten percent off something. Baby-killing accessories, I guess. They'd cost less at a chain store, but oh well... I also get my line-card-ticket thing, number 103. 150? Learn to count, bookstore guy.
- Spot Johnathan, a kid from we hung out with all through Journalism camp two summers ago. We catch up on old times. He still lives in the buttfuck of Scottsdale and drives a shitty van and wishes he could come to our school if he hadn't, you know, graduated. There were a bunch of people wearing the "Lullaby" street-team stickers on their shirts, and a couple of guys in Chuck Palahniuk: A Writer's Cult
t-shirts. Johnathan and I talk until a skinny blonde woman in black with big Bono sunglasses starts protesting loudly about how they insisted on searching her bag. She doesn't talk like a skinny blonde woman. She talks like a guy. If you've ever seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch
, you'll know what I'm talking about. Like that. She asks us what our favorite Palahniuk quote is. We both plead ignorance. She's never read Survivor
, but won't shut up about how Invisible Monsters
is his best, most underrated book. (Invisible Monsters
involves a great deal of indiscriminate gender-switching. This woman's starting to make a lot more sense.) She rants in her mannish tone about "social engineering," "guerilla marketing," "culture jamming," stuff about The Matrix,
I don't know, we stop listening. We mosey away, frightened. I mouth the word MAN. Not that there's anything wrong with that, necessarily, if estrogen's what you fancy, fine. Nobody wants to hear your crackpot theories, though, I promise. Or take your postcards that you designed to commemorate 9/11. Or hear your stories about being abused by flight attendants. We would've done the frightened mosey had this been a guy, too. Just annoying. But I'm getting off topic.
- Bookstore-Employee-With-A-Microphone starts herding us in to a cramped cluster of chairs between the sci-fi and travel sections, ten at a time. The idea is, you tape your card to a seat and then drift around for another hour, buy a book, whatever, and that's the plan. Until I see that Chuck's already up front, signing books. I do the obligatory double take. Yup, that's the guy. Arms like treetrunks and smiley as hell, black shirt, camo pants. Sort of unassuming. I vaulted over chairs, or the fat-kid vault, anyway, which is really more of a drunken stumble, to get in line.
- I'm at the front of the line, after listening to the transsexual on my left (it was confirmed, in no uncertain terms, that she used to be a man, she used to look like Bob Dylan, her mother broke her tailbone giving birth to her brother and her family hid the fact that he was retarded, oh, and I quote: "Did you ever think that maybe 9/11 was just the Matrix breaking down?"
Gee, I don't know, did you ever think that maybe it was just a MOVIE?) the entire time. I am at the front. I can think of absolutely nothing interesting to say, so I shake his hand and say that I'm a writer and he's been nothing but inspiration, and he thanks me, and signs the title page. I sit back down and read away until the Q&A starts.
- The Bookstore-Employee-With-A-Mic breaks everyone in line's heart when she makes them sit back down so the reading will start. After shuffling the seating a little, and an indroductory speaker, Chuck gets on the mic and asks if it's okay if he just skips the reading and goes straight to the Q&A. No one objects. His voice reminds me of a cross between my friend Ben (not the Ben
that always leaves comments, but super-friendly gay ASU comedy god Ben) and Henry Rollins. Strange. Not what I expected, or what anyone expects from the stereotype of a writer. He's boisterous and funny, I want to say like a stand-up comedian but he seems more like a guy at a party who's just really good at telling stories.
Right away he notices that there's a woman up front signing for the benefit of a deaf woman in the audience. "I love having a signer!" he says. "Especially when I get to the dirty parts." He then makes her sign "mastrubation." "I'll have to take your word for it," he says. Later he'd make her sign something about the clitoris growing into a penis after hormone therapy. I knew he was my favorite author. I didn't know he'd be my hero, too.
His method, he says, of getting people to tell him stuff is offering them drugs, he then relates a story of offering a British airport employee a Vicodin (which he'd been prescribed, I think, for an injury), then the guy sitting next to him on the plane a Vicodin and three Ambien, which the fellow proceeded to take all at once, and started ordering scotches. He then had to stay awake the whole 9 1/2 hour flight just to make sure he didn't die.
He gives a tiara to everyone who asks a question, which they're then required to wear the rest of the night, so now there's a room full of skinny bookish types and big bald guys in Tool shirts, all wearing tiaras. The Matrix guerilla-marketing woman won't stop finishing Chuck's sentences for him, just shouting shit out, so he has to stop every five seconds and ask her to repeat herself, because he's too nice to tell her to be quiet. In the middle of someone else's question, she pipes up, and he says, in the friendliest tone possible, "Wait your turn!" He tells the story that started his interest in fights, which in turn spawned Fight Club
, in which he chased a fellow employee around the Freightliner factory where he worked after receiving a big faceful of black, sooty grease from the guy, knowing all the while he'd be fired and not really caring. He kicked the guy's ass, and from then on, just couldn't get rid of him. This idea of post-fight bonding fed into the the themes that would later become Fight Club
A girl asks in a matter-of-fact tone, "What's your opinion on the political climate in the country today?"
"What's that?" Chuck says, "Did you say 'What's Brad Pitt really like?'" But he answers frankly enough, saying that he doesn't really mind, he thinks things have to get really
bad before something new and better can be created. But he seems to sort of shy away from people's various political interpretations of his books (like one guy, who was just in a class where Fight Club
was used as an example of the real-world applications of Militant Eco-Feminism.) Writing is just his greatest form of therapy, he says, "If I could get paid to mastrubate, I wouldn't have to write." I write that one down. I'm fairly certain it's my new motto.
He's already got two books in the can: One, a sort of twisted travelogue of Portland, and the other one he didn't go into, both of which are coming out next year. The Survivor
movie is stalled thanks to 9/11, but he thinks it'll eventually see the light of day. Invisible Monsters
pre-production is going forward, he thinks Parker Posey should play the lead role.
He dispenses some writerly advice, too, which I appreciated: Short stories are good, he says, because you get your idea right there on the page. No bullshit. If you plan on saving your great ideas because you'll never have another one, you never will.
- It's all over way too quickly, but having already gotten my book signed, I see no reason to stick around. I drive in a dangerous manner again on the way home. It feels good to meet one of your idols, and realize he's just a guy. The world seems that much more conquerable, like all it takes is trying, and being ridiculously nice to everyone. Seems to be Chuck's method, anyway. I've never seen anyone quite so kind to his fans. He seemed to genuinely get a kick out of the whole evening, which is encouraging, because generally you think of writers as insular cranks.
On the title page (as you can see above), he wrote "D.C.- Break Some Bones!" and yea, maybe it's a platitude he writes on the title page of everyone's books, but when it comes from one of your all-time favorite authors, you pay attention. You feel like typing harder and cutting out the bullshit. You feel like breaking bones.
If you like Palahniuk, you need to bookmark A Writer's Cult. Great fuckin' website by some seriously dedicated people: a lot of info, purdy pitchers, and occasional news from the man himself.