Monday, June 9, 2008

Unexpected Places

Last Tuesday night, I went to what I thought was a run-of-the-mill book reading from Chuck Palahniuk. He is a long time favorite of mine, even before Fight Club was a movie, and I unexpectedly wandered into a bookstore while waiting for a friend to fight traffic to join me for dinner last month and saw a flier for his reading. I remember thinking "Glad K. was running late or I wouldn't have come in here".

The reading was sponsored by a small independent bookstore in this area and was being held at a theater in the snooty Chevy Chase circle area of DC. While waiting for the showing of Sex and the City to let out (talk about worlds colliding -- the fringe of society meeting the fringe of a Prada bag) and the theater to open to the couple of hundred people waiting in line for Chuck, it started to rain. Cats and dogs kind of rain. I was lucky enough to have the single biggest umbrella in the developed world, and offered to share it with the couple standing behind us. They took the offer and huddled in, then we preceeded to inch our way up the line like the last scene in the Mary Tyler Moore show where everyone shuffles around in a group hug. Turns out these people had driven more almost 2 hours to be there and were very, very cool. I remember thinking "I can't believe they actually took the offer -- I would never have done that".

A CP book reading is no ordinary book reading, as I was warned by the umbrella couple. He throws things into the audience that have some connection to the book. He tells the most outrageous stories he can. He curses like a sailor. The current book that he's touring to promote is about a porn star who decides to end her career (and her life) with a bang --actually 600 bangs at one time, a record that will stand forever. The story is told from the unexpected place of the line of men who are there waiting for their turn. To get the crowd "warmed up", CP threw dozens of blow up dolls into the audience and had a race for who could get theirs inflated the fastest. One of them fell to the guy on my right, who was pretty quick and in no time had wedged a non-anatomically correct male doll into the seat between us, though the seat pushed his little legs up around his ears. So five minutes into the thing I'm sitting between my new umbrella friends and a blow up doll. I remember thinking, "Not how I thought my day would end".

CP didn't read from the new one, but instead read a short story based on one of his friend's experience of dropping acid as part of a fraternity hazing and finding himself a contestant on the Price is Right. He told another story, at an audience member's request, about a guy who found himself asking his doctor if he could have given his dog AIDS (for mostly innocent reasons) -- a true story a reader had told him in a fan letter. He referenced his story that has an urban legend around it that when read aloud at least one person at every reading has fainted, and often more than one, but is about CP himself as a young boy finding himself in the unexpected place of a hospital for a colon resection. He was asked what makes us as readers root for his characters, who are so flawed and usually repulsive -- his response was that we all can relate to playing the game to trick people into making them love us, knowing that if they really knew who we were they never would. I remember thinking, "Why am I getting teary sitting next to a blow up doll?".

About a month ago I went to our church's session meeting to discuss a grant proposal I had been a part of -- a request for funding to give our pastor the rest and study time she needs to see if our current alternative worship service truly serves our community better in another home, like a coffee shop. The devotional question mimicked the theme of the grant -- What makes your heart sing? There were several responses of friends, time with family, beautiful images, even hymns. My answer was having the opportunity to be somewhere unexpected for the time of day, like going to the grocery store on a Tuesday morning, or the beach at night, or having a $100 lunch.

I think these are the amazing moments in a life -- when you find yourself somewhere, literally or metaphorically, where you never imagined you'd be. Sometimes they are happy accidents, sometimes they happen if you take a risk, sometimes they happen if you just stop worrying about what's going on around you and enjoy where you are right then. Sometimes they are awful -- amazing but awful. All of them though, good or bad, catch you out of your game and give glimmers to the world of who you really are. My thanks to anyone who has been with me in these moments and loves me anyway.

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