I won’t lie you guys. Nothing cooler has ever happened to me in my life than what happened in the span of 8 hours yesterday afternoon. Aside from giving birth to my kids, I mean, which is a whole other adventure and not necessarily as fun and painless as this was.
The writer David Sedaris was in Juneau on his book tour. He was here a few years ago too, but due to a family medical emergency, I had to give away my tickets. This time I had a ticket to the show and was looking forward to a girls' night out, listening to his readings at the Juneau Douglas High School Auditorium after watching my daughter perform in a jazz concert elsewhere downtown.
The afternoon of the show, a friend of mine who works for the radio station that was sponsoring the event called me. She was David's—can I call him David? Mr. Sedaris? DS? I don't even know—anyway, she was his local tour guide, as she’d been several years earlier, and she asked if I wanted to join them for lunch in an hour. "I just think you guys would hit it off," she said.
"Hmm. Let me think about that. Do I want a private audience with one of my all-time literary idols? Whose work I read religiously and whom I have modeled my writing after for years and could only hope to be half as good as? Um, yes please."
Play it cool, BE CHILL. I thought to myself. Conduct yourself like Steve in the Tao of Steve. Be excellent. Be desireless. Be gone. In other words: don't be thirsty. I can do this, I thought. I was fan-girling hard and I hadn't even left my chair; at this point I was just grateful I'd dressed up for work that day. I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime--to meet someone whose work I’d admired for so long. How was I going to act normal?
I had to be myself. “Self,” I told myself, “be you.”
We went to lunch at a local restaurant with a nice view of the water and, as I tend to do when I'm nervous, I just kept talking.
I'm a nervous talker. I don't sit well with silence when I'm nervous. I just talk and talk and talk. I talked about Alaska and Twitter (which he is not on). I talked about politics and my lawsuit. I talked about relationships and parenting. I talked about books and fitbits and garbage bears and the zombie apocalypse.
My friend--and his friend who was traveling with him--did their level best to get a word or two in edgewise. But I just kept talking. He did a bunch of talking too, but in my head, I was thinking, as I always do, "you're talking too much. Stop talking." But he was smiling in his warm, affable way--even taking out a notepad to scribble things down—THINGS THAT I WAS SAYING, APPARENTLY?!—every now and then. So I was encouraged (or at least not discouraged) to continue running my mouth; before I knew it, two hours had passed.
My friend and I both had to leave to pick up our kids at school. Their group walked in one direction and I went in the other. "Wait wait wait--Libby!" I heard him say, and he turned around and walked back toward me. I turned around and started walking back toward him. "Would you like to open my show tonight?"
I don't need to tell you that I almost dropped dead of shock and excitement right then and there, which of course he must have known, because who wouldn't feel that way in my position. Nonetheless, I tried to react modestly BUT/AND ALSO like a literary luminary asking me to open the last stop on his book tour with my random blog posts that he hadn’t seen and only learned existed an hour ago happens to me every other Wednesday.
“Um ... really? Ok?" I said. "Yeah, just read a few things, maybe 10 minutes or so?" My brain was racing as I tried to digest this mind-blowing invitation and then I pivoted quickly to OMG SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT WHAT AM I GOING TO READ?!
I raced back to my laptop and started scouring my blog for posts that I thought would work as an opener for an event like this. "You think you can hang with David Sedaris," I muttered to myself. "You better find some material that proves it—and FAST."
It was 3:00 p.m. and the show was at 7:00. I had to be there at 6:00. I dug around in some promising labels on my blog and came up with these three posts: Old Sturbridge Village Failed to Make the Desired Impact on Me, You'll Never Guess What I Learned on My First Whale Watching Trip, and The Accidental I Love You: I sent them to a few friends who green-lighted them for topic, tone, and length.
PHEW. Ok. I am ready for this!
I went to my daughter's band concert and then over to the auditorium for the show. Alone in the student drama room, I found a wrapped Lifestyles condom on the floor and mused with relief that at least These Kids Today (TM) are practicing safe sex. I looked myself over in the mirror and again congratulated my 8:00 a.m. self for dressing up and wearing makeup.
David Sedaris asked me how to pronounce my last name, and this is what he said to introduce me — (Wait … HE is going to introduce ME? First?!) He said:
“I had lunch with someone today and I was just so enchanted by her. I can’t remember the last time I met somebody and laughed that hard. And I know that she writes, so I said ‘Please open for me. Please come and read a little something?’ And so, I don’t know, on two hours notice or something she said, ‘um, Okay.’ So here she is, Libby Bakalar.”
He said ENCHANTED. I made him laugh harder than he could remember laughing! I DIIED. I really and truly and fully DIIIIEEEEED.
But I got up there and read my three blog posts. I tried to read slowly but stick to my time. People seemed receptive; I got some laughs. I sat backstage and listened to the show and marveled at his genius. He talked about David Foster Wallace, one of his idols and an undisputed genius also. I thought about how everyone has their idols and how modesty and authentic self-deprecation are underrated.
After the show he asked me to repeat a few things I’d said so I handed him the printouts of my reading. CBS 60 Minutes was recording the show, so no other recording was allowed. Thus, my 9 minutes and 58 seconds of fame remain undocumented for posterity.
I thanked him for an amazing opportunity and he commented that I seemed comfortable with public speaking, and that the audience seemed to know me already. “Yeah …” I said. “It’s Juneau, and I’m a loudmouth lawyer. So that explains that!”
I asked him if it was tiring for him to be “on” for so long and sign so many books. He said no, and also he’s been on the other side of the table plenty of times. I said “it’s hard, you know, because these are really special, once-in-a-lifetime interactions for people, and for you it’s kind of just another day in the office. Kind of like when you go into the hospital to have a baby, and it’s the doctor’s fifth delivery of the week, but for you it’s only ever going to happen once or at most, a few times.”
Ugh. I was talking too much again, I could feel it.
But here stood a person who is just so open and genuine. Who obviously knew, that despite all my efforts to act nonchalant, I was over the moon about this. During his reading, he plugged and read from a novel by a young woman author named Patricia Lockwood; her book, “Nobody is Talking About This,” was already on my Goodreads list to order and read. He spoke so lovingly about his relationships and animals. He was, as ever, hilarious and self-effacing. Best of all, he was quietly, naturally, and un-ostentatiously using his fame and platform to uplift others.
Sometimes our idols disappoint us. I’ve known many occasions where someone meets a musician, a writer, an actor they admire—and they just feel snubbed and rejected and terrible. This was the complete opposite of that. I’d always told myself that I’d get along with David Sedaris if I just got to meet him—and DAYENU as we say at Passover— that would have been enough!
The fact that I got to perform with him was truly next level. This is one lunch I’ll be dining out on for the rest of my life.