This is what it feels like to be a stalker: nerves fire from every part of your body; your muscles quiver randomly like dandelions; your tired, blinkless eyes are like marathoners in the final mile, surging forward. There's a dry, brassy taste in my mouth, like deodorant or metal polish. I make a mental note to remind my boyfriend Brian to buy a different brand of metal polish--there must be one that has a more pleasing scent--strawberry, perhaps.
I'm at the Book Cellar, a genteel little bookstore in Lincoln Square, hiding behind the greeting card rack like a lion stalking a gazelle or a vulture circling a carcass, or a gay Bear pouncing on a donut. My prey is the famous recluse, author John McNally who was scheduled to do a reading and book signing. I scan the racks, hoping to find John an appropriate card for the occasion, one that says 'congratulations!' or 'good luck' or 'til death do us part.'
"Hey Paul," a man's voice behind me said.
I turned around and it's John himself. He's tall, taller than I've imagined him to be from the picture in the back flap of his books. I imagined that he would be at most 6 inches tall, with his lower body uncropped. But here he was, normal-sized and talking to me.
It was a couple of seconds before I was able to respond with a weak "Hi!" I was amazed that he even recognized me. The only explanation was that he must've read my blog and seen my pictures. But even that is surprising since I only post pictures of myself that are unrealistically attractive. They bear no resemblance to me in real life. In real life, I cannot hope to show only my 'good side' like Barbra Streisand. In real life, no cosmetic can cover up blemishes like photoshop can.
We spoke awkwardly for a few minutes. Our conversation was like a fish flopping about on dry land, gasping for a topic. I thanked him for sending me a copy of his book and he thanked me for posting my interview of him in my blog.
"Brian, my boyfriend, was saying that we should take a trip out to Duke's Italian Beef which you mentioned in your novel, out in Bridgeview," I said. "Is it like a Portillo's?" Portillo's is like the McDonald's of Italian Beef sandwiches in the Chicago area.
"Nah," John said, "Duke's is more like a hole-in-the-wall."
"I love hole-in-the-walls," I said excitedly, "in more ways than one!"
He raised an eyebrow and said, "Ba-dum-bum."
Ouch. But I didn't feel too bad because he grinned.
The bookstore was filling up, everybody was looking for a seat. John excused himself politely. I found a seat for myself. My friend Annie, who came with me to the bookstore, sat next to me.
I felt out of sorts. When I am in an audience, I am the guy who hoots and hollers, the one who initiates the clapping, the standing ovation. I looked around, scanning the small audience. People are seated, murmuring quietly. I wondered whether I should take my lighter out and raise it above my head, swaying.
While John read from his new book America's Report Card, I studied the people around me.
I wasn't listening; I had already read the book. I finished it quickly, in two late nights. My guess is that everybody in the audience had too. I was more interested in who I had wrestle with to get in front of the line for the signing later. An older woman, about sixty and with grey hair, sat a few seats away. She had a walker beside her. When I looked at her, she looked back, narrowing her eyes as she did. She had a stack of books on her lap. I was sure I could take her down. Or at least trip her.
Later, John graciously signed all our books. As he rose to leave, a bald man who was sitting in the audience stood up. He was immensely tall. It was Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting and Porno. They chatted for bit. I tried to casually eavesdrop but I couldn't understand Irvine with his thick Scottish burr.
In my mind, they were going to a nearby pub and were going to invite me and Annie along to discuss literature and booze and sex. It was perfect, I knew all about booze and sex. I stood right by the door for my invitation.
Unfortunately, a night of literate debauchery was not to be, an invitation was not forthcoming. Annie and I leave the bookstore only a little disappointed. We had our signed books and we shook John McNally's hand. I was even able to lightly touch Irvine Welsh with the back of my hand as I walked pass him.
That's enough for this stalker for one night.