adventure #14 – chuck palahniuk

he's there in the back
getting closer
close enough to punch
meeting of the minds
one of my favourite (living) authors is Chuck Palahniuk.  i remember the combination of thrill and horror from reading survivor (nothing to do with the same-named television program) and feeling like i ’ve just lived an entire bizarre parallel life when i finished invisible monsters.  i think that even now, fight club is one of my favourite movies (and books, although, i saw the movie before i read the book).   i tried in vain to describe why i like him so much the other day – i think that it’s because he takes really relevant, universal, and often really lovely or altruistic themes and drags them through the muck and the grime of the absolutely worst urban chaos and decay and depravity to make them seem foreign, horrific and otherworldly, when really they are not.

the reading was at trendy yonge and eglinton (which locals affectionately refer to as “young and eligible”) at the chapters/indigo.  Due to my incredibly under-developed sense of tunnel-direction, i headed the wrong direction on the subway from work and ended up in “eglinton west” rather than plain old “eglinton”, a surprisingly hilly 3.3km or a 6 minute cab ride (or in my case, a 45 minute walk) away.  i arrived late and embarrassingly sweaty and took my rightful place near the back of the line of 750 other palahnimaniuks.

it struck me more or less immediately that this entire affair was probably the largest display of self-mockery and mass-irony in which i had ever participated (having never actually attended a southern evangelical revival gospel hour).  it completely contradicted the spirit of pretty much every one of his books that i had read.  Palahniuk writes about counter-culture, anti-consumerism, the perils of objectification and loss of identity – and here he was, in a chain bookstore, standing in front of a poster for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, not meters away from a starbucks… fueling the idolatrous fervor of a small army of 19-year-old acolytes (was i the only 30+ burn-out-case who had earned the right to be there???  WTF!?!?)  with his (admittedly redeeming) wittiness and well-rehearsed stories.  i would have left more or less immediately upon arriving, except that he really does have very poignant ideas and images to share, if you can look through the layers of shock and disturbance that he lays over those ideas.  juxtaposition to the extreme.

his presentation went from about 7 (or 7:15 or so when i finally got my copy of rank and got settled in line) until about 8:30.  it was agonizing to have to wait from the worst possible vantage point and to merely listen to him give his presentation, ask trivia questions like he was his own little mini-culture, and entertain tediously obvious and demystifying questions from the audience.  he shared some really engaging anecdotes about starting at a new place of work and how we socialize with others, anecdotes about cold calling sales that crossed with prejudice, racism, fear of off-shore labour wars, young romance, and some anecdotes about what other people have told him at other promotions.  i ’d love to fill those outlines in here, but these aren’t my stories.

so after three hours of standing in line to see and be close to this icon of popular culture, thinking about what to say and what i wanted to learn from mr. icon, this is what the conversation went like:

CP: so this is for… Clark?
not-Clark: yeah.  so… do you ever actually get any interesting questions?
CP (signing very carefully and determinedly):
not-Clark: I mean, you must see so many people as they stream by and they are all straining to get your attention with unique and clever questions, and you must hear every conceivable type of question… doesn’t it all just kind of wash over you or do you still get surprised once in a while?
CP (finished signing some time ago):  (in a kind of tired, disinterested tone) well, i try and pay attention to everyone… thanks.
not-Clark:  thanks, Chuck!  good luck!

OMFG – that may have been the worst conversation that i had ever had with anyone, let alone a world-class cult-author.  i totally suck.

i had him sign the book “Clark” because no one in any of his books ever goes by their proper or given names (usually not by choice).  which reminds me, i met this fabulous anthropology-grad in line.  she didn’t have a copy of rant (the only book that Chuck was supposed to be signing that evening) – she had a copy of haunted.  so i did my good deed for the day – i offered to team up with her to try to get her book signed.  when we got to the front, the corporate guy with the short blond hair and glasses in the bright green shirt tried to tell us that he would not sign her book, but i had set things up pretty well along the lineup so that at that very critical moment, after raising just the proper amount of centre-stage stress, another indigo-girl came along and convinced captain-green-shirt that we should be allowed to have our way.  so my favourite new anthropoligist got her book signed to “Sgt. Masochist”.

she pointed out this opening part of haunted to me…

“Names based on our sins instead of our jobs:
“Saint Gut-Free.”
And the “Duke of Vandals.”
Based on our faults and crimes. The opposite of superhero names.”

how am i not gonna like this girl?

– g

adventure cost:
$20.95 – autographed copy of rant by chuck palahniuk