Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Waiting in line for Neil Gaiman's book-signing: re-imagined as a life story

Joining the end of the queue at 6.15pm is like childbirth - a long line stretches ahead of you, the end of which you cannot see at this early age.

The first few hours are like childhood: time seems to crawl, as the line moves 5 metres in the first hour. You have a friend who keeps you company in the queue for the first hour, like the childhood friends you had in kindergarten, and who you know will not be there when you reach the end of the line.

At 8pm, you enter the tumultuous teens. The end is something you still can't imagine, time still moves slowly, and you are filled with conflicting, angry emotions. "Did he just cut queue in front of me?", "Why is this man standing so close?" and "It isn't fair!". There is, of course, the inevitable sense of betrayal when you hear that Neil Gaiman is taking a break for dinner (they annouce via megaphone) and leaving you lot standing in line waiting while he eats (they imply by omission). "How could he do this to me? Is dinner more important than me?", you scream (internally), a question that you will understand about 50 metres down the line when adulthood and dinnertime arrive.

Sometime after that, your wife arrives. She brings dinner. She makes everything alright. You reach the long, straight stretch of the line running past the side of the bookstore, and enter the middle age of the line. The line moves faster, and more frequently, and there's a low ledge you can sit down on in between moving. Things have settled into a routine. Things are more comfortable. You make peace with yourself, Mr Gaiman, and the people in the line with you. Your wife goes shopping at Zara.

For the first time, you catch a glimpse of the end of the line, as you pass by the bookstore window. From where you are, it looks bright, well-lit, and full of purposeful happy people. You spot someone you used to teach in school, and think "How'd he get ahead of me?". You creep closer to old age, and glass-doors to the air-conditioned interior of the store beckon.

A security guard shouts, for no apparent reason, at the queue. You figure this happens at least once in everyone's life.

You pass throught the glass doors, into the bookstore and the old age of the queue. Things are comfortable, well-ordered, and calmer. The sense of wonder you had as a child, 3 hours ago at the far end of the line, returns. Your wife comes back from shopping to keep you company for the last stretch.

You reach the final stage of life in the line, walking a convoluted path marked out by barriers and railings. More people appear, telling you what to do and where to go and "move along". The end is in sight, and when you finally get there (sooner than you expected), you come face to face with Neil Gaiman.

He looks tired (expected), shorter than you expected, and wears a black t-shirt (it figures). You say something nice to him about the queue finally coming to an end, and he doesn't respond. He signs your book with a nice drawing of a falling star, smiles pleasantly but wearily at you, and you leave the queue at last.

4 hours and 30 minutes after you joined it, there is only the long walk downstairs to the finality of the car park, and a drive home with the wife.
Neil Gaiman is the only author to have spelled my name right on a dedication. Ever. That alone, besides the fact that he signed 1000 books yesterday, took the trouble to personalise each one with a little drawing, and stayed till the end, would've catapulted him to the front of my favourite author's list, if he weren't already there.


shadow said...

*sobs* at least you got em squiggles. all i got were pix.

a friend said...

Neil Gaiman. The rockstar of F&SF. Pass that meme along please.