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October 20, 2008

May I butt in? (Part II)

October 19. Day 111.

Maybe I felt bolder after yesterday's invitation, or maybe it's hard to find bargains or ask for a raise on a lazy Sunday. So I decided I'd ask for something with a social twist.

After stopping for a mid-afternoon caffeine jolt with some friends, I headed over to D.G. Wills, one of the coolest independent bookstores in America. On par with Shakespeare & Co, Powell's and Raven Books in terms of stock and mood, but with a great string of readings -- Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Derek Walcott -- and in a few minutes, Billy Collins.

People had filled the store, the driveway, the entire sidewalk for half a block, and were starting to stand in the street by the time I arrived. Dennis, the store's owner, sets up speakers, so it's no problem. I found a comfortable spot leaning against a clean white van, with an unobstructed view of Collins through the window.

In front of me, a woman dressed in black was talking to a younger couple. They had arrived separately and started chatting before the reading, the way people do at these things.

"...genius. Really, a genius. There's not a subject he doesn't know about. You know, he's acerbic and terribly funny. He's British, but he came to America in his youth. His most polemical views are on torture, atheism --"

"Christopher Hitchens?" I asked.

They all turned to look at me and she gave a quick nod. Then, turned back to one another.

"And he writes these extraordinary pieces in which he uses himself as a guinea pig. Got all the hair waxed from his back. And then he tried waterboarding. It was for that magazine he writes for..." she paused there, searching for the name it seemed.

"Vanity Fair?" I offered. "Those were great articles." I subscribe to VF and had read those very pieces. How lovely to find someone at a poetry reading who reads the same wacky articles you do!

And then she turned back to the couple.

These people, about my age, were listening with polite smiles and nodding once in a while. Just not that into her.

Why?? Why did she want to talk at them, instead of with me?

Anyway, I was quickly delivered from my feeble attempt at inserting myself into that conversation by the reading, which was phenomenal.

Gained: One more opportunity to be a social parasite, with nothing truly gained and nothing truly lost.
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