Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Meeting Neil Reminiscence

On an April day in 2013 I received an email that Neil Gaiman would be coming to Chicago that summer to do an event for his forthcoming book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I didn't even bother to wait, instantly buying my ticket and spreading the word among my friends that they should do likewise so we could have a wonderful adventure together. I was beyond excited because I was finally going to meet Neil. What made it even more momentous was that Neil announced that this would be his last signing tour. He'd still be doing events, just not signings that went on into the wee hours of the morning and left his hand crippled.

Fast forward several months to Tuesday, July 9th. Four of my friends were going with me and we left damn early, arriving in Chicago a little before noon. I had already secured parking in advance, so now all we had to do was wait until the doors opened at 6PM. I think when my friends noticed that there was no line and we had about seven hours to wait they thought I was a little crazy for leaving so early, but by the end of the night they would see the genius of my plan. We ate a delicious lunch a few doors down from the Music Box Theatre, and then ambled into line. Or I should say, we started a line. A line that would soon stretch for blocks and blocks, weaving and snacking over the hot pavement as the rain we were promised didn't materialize and the umbrellas we had brought were soon being deployed to block the harsh rays of the sun as we tried to cling to whatever shelter the marquee of the theatre offered us.

We even started taking turns going to the CVS a few streets down, not to get anything, but to revel in the air conditioning. That sweet sweet air. Eventually the time the doors were to open got nearer. There were actual employees of Unabridged Bookstore on sight... one of which I might have in my heat induced mania yelled at saying they were a line cutter. And yes, I did apologize once I was let in saying it was a long wait and the heat of the day had taken it's toll. Despite being the first ones in line we weren't in the first row... because that was reserved for friends. So we had to content ourselves with the second row.

That's right. There was some floorspace and one row of seats of "special" guests between us and Neil, once he appeared that is. At this point the relief of the cool theatre and having seats started to assuage the doubts of our early arrival on the scene and the hours in the blistering sun. The next hour was spent writing questions down on pieces of paper for Neil to answer in his Q and A, as well as buying even more of his books because I can not pass up books at a book signing and neither can my friends. As for my question for Neil? I know at the time I felt it was very important and I had to know the answer, but it wasn't picked and seeing as I don't even remember what the question was, it couldn't have been that interesting.

When Neil finally took the stage I had a sense of unreality. The long day, the heat, and somehow, here at the end of it, was Neil standing before me reading in that melodious voice of his from The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Whenever I read the section where we are first introduced to the Hempstocks I hear his voice like a siren call and remember the chills I had when he first read them aloud to me. Chills on such a hot day, I didn't think it was possible! Neil also read from Fortunately, the Milk, and it instantly became my most anticipated book of the fall.

But let's get to what it was all about in the end, the signing. Those few seconds in which I could interact one on one with Neil. I had brought with me an old Marvel trading card that used to be my brother's and featured Neil, as well as my copies of The Graveyard Book and Neverwhere. They had said only one item could be brought from home but I brought everything just in case, and it paid off, because they said we could have two items signed besides our copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and thanks to my friend and fellow toaster Aaron, I got everything signed. Neil was very polite when I pulled out the trading card giving me a little story about how they had airbrushed on his tan in a tale he's probably told many times before but which entranced me.

Yet it was my story that I wanted to tell him, about Neverwhere and a cat. About how the first time I read one of his books my kitty Spotty never left my lap, which was unheard of. Reading Neverwhere is a memory I will always cherish and it's thanks to Neil that I have it. He declared the appropriate thanks to Spot for his fortitude, knowing the fickleness of cats, and signed my copy of Neverwhere. That right there was all I had ever hoped. The chance to tell Neil how his book gave me a memory of my two favorite loves, my cat and reading, which, except for him, were always like water and oil.

My group was done with the signing line at around 9:30PM and right then is when my friends realized my cunning plan. That signing line was to go on until 3AM whereas we went back to that lovely restaurant, had amazing desserts, seriously, a coconut sorbet to die for, got back to the car by 10:30PM and were home in our beds before Neil had even had a chance to put his pen down. It was a day to remember for the rest of my life, much like a day two days later where I went on a walk and got so many mosquito bites that I went into shock. But that's a story for another day. Or a story for never. Yeah, let's never revisit that story.


Thanks to Neil for redeeming that unmerciful weather and to you for organizing this outing!
I too have a story about "meeting" Neil, but alas, I'm legally bound from even mentioning it...

Yes you are :P

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