making sh!t for your girlfriend since 2007

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soon come

Craft Mart ~ Nov 8 (6pm - 11pm) & Nov 9 (11am - 7pm) ~ Hamilton Artists Inc. ~ 155 James Street North, Hamilton
Halifax Crafters Society Winter Market ~ Nov 30 & Dec 1 ~ Olympic Community Centre ~2304 Hunter Street, Halifax
City of Craft ~ Dec 14 & 15 ~ The Theatre Centre ~ 1087 & 1095 Queen Street West, Toronto

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dreams come true at dizzying heights.

Now, I'm not big on those Things-to-do-Before-I-Die lists, but if I was, then after this weekend I would quite happily be able to cross off item #4: Meet my (Pulitzer prize-winning) literary idol who rocks my world and who I sort of have a huge crush on. How many of us have dreamt of meeting our favourite authors? How often do we imagine the stimulating, life-changing conversations we would have with them, if just given the opportunity? Well, let me tell you. Last week I was invited (well, actually, my boss was, but knowing what a huge Diaz fan I am he kindly passed the invite over to me) to an intimate gathering hosted by Penguin Group Canada in honour of a handful of their authors (Aleksandar Hemon, a Spanish guy, some guy from Holland, and Mr. Diaz) who were in town for the IFOA. Other invitees included a select group of booksellers (none of whom showed up, except for me and a co-worker that I dragged along) and some media folks. The lunch was at Toula, that swank restaurant on the 38th floor of the Westin Harbour Castle. The incredible but slightly nauseating view (I don't do heights), coupled with the fact that I really hate talking to people I don't know made me extremely uncomfortable and I immediately regretted RSVPing. A glance at the banquet table made my heart sink even deeper when I noticed that I would be sitting between the President of the aforementioned publishing company (who, incidentally, just happens to be my former employer). The altitude, the number of forks beside my plate, and the thought of having to sit among several industry heavy-weights was dizzying and intimidating, but there was no turning back. In a matter of minutes though, everything changed. As we all sat down (there were maybe twenty of us altogether) who should take his seat directly across from me? Yes, yes, y'all. I couldn't believe my luck (there's a certain young publicist who will forever have a place in my heart for creating such a wonderful seating arrangement - thank you, Melanie!). I sat quietly, nervously contemplating the forks, as Mr. Diaz made small talk with my dining table-neighbours. Once the flurry of introductions were over, he leaned forward to shake my hand. I told him my name and that I worked for Book City, to which he replied, [insert Jersey accent here] "Aw shit, you work at a bookstore? Man, I been dyin' to hit a bookstore. Most motherfuckers, when they get off a plane, they have to pee, me, I gotta hit a bookstore. Is it close by? Can we get there in a cab?" He was so enthusiastic, and he swore like a sailor. This was love. Turns out he's been looking for a book (Matt Ridley's The Red Queen, which I've read) and was having a hard time finding it. I assured him, half jokingly, that I'd find it for him. And thus began our two-hour-long conversation. Topics of discussion included but were not limited to: Evolutionary psychology and sexual selection (this is what The Red Queen is about); the immigrant experience and the desirability and aspirations of "whiteness" we had both been raised with; the resulting loneliness and isolation when finally that "whiteness" - in the form of a university degree, or a professional job in a literary or academic field - is attained (in both our cases, we were the first generation in our families to complete any formal education, thus avoiding a life of physical labour and factory work, with the further consequence of putting us at an intellectual/professional distance from our ethnic communities); the difference in value of our sexual currency (low among our own - Indians and Dominicans, high among others - to whom we are considered "exotic"); our crazy mothers who don't understand why we read so much; the tragic loss of our native languages and the beauty of regaining it as we got older; where to find good Jamaican food in Toronto; where to go record shopping in Toronto; deciding we would meet each other in Bombay in February 2010; deciding we should hang out together for the rest of the day. I took that last bit with a grain of salt, but it was nice to hear all the same. And, the contrast between myself and the other people at the table (they being industry big-shots, me being pretty low on the food chain) totally worked in my favour, since Junot seemed to have very little interest in speaking to them (I caught him roll his eyes and shift uncomfortably when a certain Editor of a certain Book Section in a certain Toronto newspaper tried to initiate conversation), thus earning me loads of Junot time. You know, deep down, I knew we would get along. I mean, how could we not? But there's always that fear that your hero will turn out to be a pretentious punk-bitch. Luckily, that was not the case this weekend. My boy was so down-to-earth he was practically underground. After the lunch crowd began to disperse, I took Junot aside to get him to sign my copy of Drown and TBWLOOW, which he was only too happy to do. As I looked for a pen, he grabbed my arm and said, giddily, "Thanks for selling my books!" and then, squeezing my arm like an over-sized tube of Colgate, proceeded to compliment my "yoga muscles." Silly Junot Diaz. Oh, I should mention that by this point I had also received two firm handshakes and two kisses on the cheek. Not that I was, like, keeping track or anything. We (Junot and I, the dandy young journalist, and Melanie) left Toula and walked to the hotel lobby, where I bid them all goodbye, thanked them for a lovely time, and told them I'd see them later that night at Junot's reading. I could hardly believe that just minutes before, and thirty-eight floors up, what I had only ever dreamed of actually happened. The rest of the afternoon was a blur. The Ostrich very kindly drove me all over the city to find a copy of The Red Queen, which I was able to hand to Junot myself at the intermission during his reading that same night (he read wonderfully, of course). As soon as he saw me he gave me a huge hug, a kiss on the cheek (#3!) and said he couldn't believe I had remembered and found his book. Then, in true Diaz fashion, continued to say [insert Jersey accent here] "Yo, you hear about this after-party later? You gotta come! I'm jettin' as soon as this thing's over!"

4 comments:

purr107 said...

This makes me smile-- but I'm sure the grin you're wearing will be there for years *winkwink*

patricia said...

AAAAA!!! So fuckin' AWESOME!! I don't even know this guy, and I'M floating on air.

So happy for you. You are the bomb, baby. Just ask Junot.

Tammy said...

Kalpna, what an incredible story! Do you think you'll keep in touch with him at all? I'm so impressed that you were able to be so articulate. If I met my Junot, I fear I would just sputter variations of "I love you!" in a most embarrassing manner.

Ghostface Knittah said...

Thanks, Tammy! I don't think we'll stay in touch (though he did invite me to NYC), but I think he'll remember me (I hope). And I was close to blurting out a few embarrassing sentiments, but I limited myself to, "I'm a big fan."