My friend Dylan (Mr. Debauchery) wrote this on facebook about meeting Neil Gaiman. With his permission I’m swiping it and posting it here, so you guys can have another perspective of the evening.
Meeting Neil Gaiman
Yesterday at 11:05am
I wrote all of this last night, but couldn’t get my home computer to upload it, so sorry to those of you who have been waiting for it. (If you are tagged, please tag anyone who was there that I missed. I am not FB friends with all of them.)
This was supposed to just be about meeting Neil Gaiman, but it has turned into so much more. A love letter to my wife, to Roller Derby and to Geekdom. Please bear with me as I ramble.
It was well over two years ago that my wife, Amanda, and I went to a Naptown Rollergirls bout together. We screamed and drank and rowdied with the crowd until we lost our voices. We hung with the ladies at the after-party and screamed and drank some more. T’was a delight.
Upon waking the next morning we nursed our respective hang-overs, each in our respective manners. (Me= Orange Gatorade and Gordetto’s snacks, Her= water and coffee.) We then recapped the events of the previous night and she said, with no trace of irony, “I think I am going to try out for the team.” Just weeks later she was suited up and doing work-outs with other hopefuls. She would come home tired and achy, but excited. It is important to point out here that she was older than many of the other “fresh meat” (A derby term for newbies.) by some years. I do not do this to paint a picture of a 40ish woman going through a mid-life crisis. (We both believe that mid-life crises are for people who have not bothered to live fully.) I mention this because, at 41, my wife told convention to piss off and strapped on skates for the first time in 20 plus years and busted her ass with people 20 years her minor.
So, buckets of sweat later and her skin a canvas painted in bruises, she makes the team. She went to every practice and, literally, worked her ass off. Yeats and I supported her by having baths of Epsom salt waiting for her after each practice and the occasional backneckleg massage to ease her tired, sore muscles. The toughest thing was dealing with the time that the sport takes. Each lady is not just responsible for being fit and making the practices. They also take stake in the league, working on committees, performing community work and helping wherever help is needed. Bear in mind, this league was built and is now maintained in the DIYPunk Rock Ethic. As large as it has grown, it is still very much driven by the people who volunteer time to make it happen. So, there were some weeks that we saw very little of each other, though she always made time for Yeats and I between all of the things going on in her life. (She had also just received a promotion at her job which required even more of her dwindling time.) Yes there were frustrations, but overall, the adjustment was good and I was, still am, a proud husband.
The plus for me in all of this is that I have made many great new friends and have had the opportunity to reconnect with some old ones. (My days in the sideshow and doing the Secret Cabaret encompassed a lot of the same people who are now involved in Roller Derby. Great minds.) I have been able to get involved volunteering time to help with setting up for bouts and I have become intimately familiar with the sport and grown to love it so much more.
“Okay, okay. But what does all this have to do with meeting Neil Gaiman,” I hear you cry. Geez, you’re so impatient. Well, I told you all of that so that I could tell you this:
How it happened:
As mentioned, I got to make a lot of new friends. Two of those friends make up what has to be the cutest couple I have met, Joan of Dark and Dill Hero. They both run Strange Brew Coffee House in Greenwood, (http://www.thestrangebrew.net/) and are genuinely good people. I once spent an evening with Dill and his friends having serious discussions about who could beat Buffy in a fight. (Of course, to me she was undefeatable, but Dill, Brownie and the rest felt that the DC Universe might contain a few contenders who could hold their own. The feud continues.) It was remarkable to me in that, again, here I was, an aging punk rocker with a tie-down job, and they invited me into the fold that night with no judgment other than my taste in fictional female heroines.
Okay, back to the story. Months ago the Indianapolis Public Library announced that the speaker at the McFadden Memorial Lecture was to be Neil Gaiman. Tickets were first come, first serve. Immediately I made plans to take that day off from work, pull Yeats from school early and he and I were going to have fatherson bonding waiting in line with a bunch of other geeks to see Gaiman speak. Within minutes discussion was boiling on Facebook. Joan let me know that she wasn’t going to be able to get there early and asked if we could hold a space. It was a no brainer. If I am a fan of Neil Gaiman (I have been reading his stuff since his first Sandman came out on the Vertigo label. I rank him in my top five favorite writers, and, as those who know me know, while numbers 6-10 in my Top Ten are constantly changing, my top five, Vonnegut, Faulkner, Gaiman, Douglas Adams and Wille the Shake have not waivered in years.) then Joan is a disciple. If Yeats’ and my excitement could have been converted into energy we could have powered a small dairy farm for a week. Joan could have kept Vegas going for a year.
Yeats was beyond excited when I told him of my plan for the day. He immediately started a list of questions that he wanted to ask him about books he had written, the companies he had worked for and what kind of animals he owned. (We are a family who derive a lot out of the non-human company a person keeps.) So it was even more of a boost when just a few days later I got an e-mail from Joan stating that we didn’t need to worry about waiting in line anymore. We were going to be joining she and Dill at the VIP Reception for Neil at the Mariott. Now, I knew that Joan had been corresponding with Neil to some degree, but I had no idea that it went so far as to garner a meeting. (For more on that see here: http://joanofdarkknits.blogspot.com/2010/04/meeting-neil-gaiman.html) Yeats was now about as excited as a child can be without literally exploding.
The week of the event was filled with Taxes and a huge, half-of-your-grade and you-are-out-of-this-school-if-you-don’t-do-well-on-this school project for Yeats. We had been working on this project since the fall, but, as it was due on that Friday, we were really killing ourselves to polish it and wrap it up. That Thursday I get another message from Joan. Apparently, Neil would like for us to join him for dinner after his lecture. Neil. Dinner. Us. Eating. Talking. Well, that’s when my brain broke. Luckily, it had broken before and I knew how to fix it. One Smithwick’s later I was good to go. Telling Yeats was better than anything that had happened up to that point. He was ragged from late nights working on his project and with it being due the following day he knew he had one more rough night ahead. However, when I told him about the dinner plans he screamed and jumped up and down and generally made as much noise as possible. It was one of those moments that makes you feel like the greatest parent in the world. (And even better as I really hadn’t done anything to deserve it, but, as parents know, you take the accolades whenever you can.)
That Friday was tough. Amanda had an eye appointment that morning. I took Yeats to school and he and I both made a pact to not think about it until that afternoon. (Yeah, right.) 3:30 seemed to never come. When it did, I raced from the office and picked Yeats up from school. He and I giggled and jostled all the way home. Amanda was already there, dressed and ready to go. A few minutes later we were back in my truck and heading to the north side.
We got to the Mariott and saw the group of folks we were meeting with, Joan and Dill, of course, then there was Jocelyn Hoes, Deadie Page, Lizzie Killmeister, Tom Klubens, Blue Messiah, Joan’s dad, Greg, Jane Ire (and if I missed anyone, I am sorry, but I was in a bit of a daze.) and over on the other side of the lobby was Neil Gaiman being ambushed by some fanboys from a horror fan group. (At least that’s what we think they were from.) Eventually, we made our way to the reception room.
Now, Socrates believed that the key tenant to all knowledge and growth is “Know Thyself.” Well, I know myself and myself is a loud, obnoxious, speaks-without-thinking kind of guy who comes on very strong, especially when he finds himself nervous. I am also overly-knowledgeable, annoyingly so, of all things pop-culture and can very easily fall into know-it-all mode. (Hey, I am working on all of these things, but it takes time to change. Just ask Peter Brady.) I was determined to be none of those things this night. I wanted this to be all about Yeats and I was going to do everything that I could to make sure that he walked away with a night he wouldn’t forget. So, when Neil came over and introduced himself to us I mustered all of the self-control that I could and shook his hand then stepped behind Yeats.
It was then time to go to the lecture. It was awesome. We got to sit in a reserved section, very near the front of the auditorium. Our neighbor, a librarian, was sitting near us with her daughter who attends school with Yeats, and they were as excited as us. The atmosphere was alive. It reminded me a bit of the crowd at a Roller Derby bout in that it was so eclectic. There were distinguished older patrons of the library, there were young children, there were fanboys and fangirls, there were aging hippies and young punks. Neil gave an inspirational lecture on the power and importance of stories. He reminded us that libraries are as much a refuge from the outside world as they are repositories for books. He read three of his pieces and handled the Q & A with class and grace.
Then back to the hotel to meet him again and take him to dinner.
The restaurant we chose, Shanghai Lil’s, was the result of a flurry of e-mails exchanged between Joan and I that, upon seeing it that evening, Amanda said looked like it was written by two seventh grade girls. Neil showed up back at the hotel where we were all waiting in the lobby. “I do not have a car here, so how am I getting to this place,” Neil asked. As music played and a tumbleweed rolled across the lobby we all looked at each other through slitted eyes and tickled the ivory handles of our six-guns. Somewhere in the distance a coyote howled. Actually, as luck would have it, we were the ones that had room for him in my truck. Amanda and I spoke a lot the next day about the looks on Yeats’ face that evening, but none were so memorable as the one he wore when he found out that Neil would be riding with us.
Neil sat in the passenger seat then turned to face Yeats and answer his questions with a thoroughness that is still staggering to me. Not only did he show Yeats respect, he took the time to make sure that he fully answered his questions. When we arrived at the restaurant, I parked and turned off my car, but he made no motion to get out. Instead he continued to talk with Yeats until he was satisfied that he had fully answered him.
I worked at the Children’s Museum in the theater for a number of years. In that time I had the opportunity to meet a lot of people I admired. More than once, I was disappointed. In at least one case, an actress who had appeared in a number of my favorite films and whose work I admired greatly, turned out to be a complete bitch. Diva to the core and not very pleasant to be around. (If you want details I will tell you, but not in writing.) So, it was with great delight that Neil Gaiman turned out to be as down-to-Earth a person as one could hope.
Back to the Action:
We went into the restaurant and they had a table waiting for us. We were joined by Deadie’s BF, Mr. Page, Valerie Hurtinelli, and Jane’s wife, Kerri K. (Another old friend with whom I was reunited thanks to Derby.) and a couple of Blue’s friends. Neil was a gracious guest who talked of bee keeping and what projects he was currently working on (He’s writing and episode of “Dr. Who!!!!!!!!!”). He also told of how he met his fiancée, Amanda Palmer, which made all of the ladies swoon and all of the men feel inadequate. We sat for about two-and-a-half hours talking and having a better time than could have been hoped for. I got to know a few other people with whom I had only a passing acquaintance previously. Yeats was so tired that he fought to stay awake and listen to everything being said. He also learned a new word via Joan…. but that’s a story for another time.
After dinner Neil took a few more minutes to have his photo taken with Joan and her father. Then hopped back in my truck and we ferried him back to his hotel. Yeats again asked questions and Neil answered fully. When we got to the hotel I thanked him and gushed only a little. He asked if we would “like for [him] to scribble on something for us.” Yeats just happened to have his hard-back copy of “The Graveyard Book” with him. Neil took it and spent a couple of minutes drawing a picture on the inside cover of a gravestone that said, “Yeats, R.I.P.”, then signed and dated it. I shook his hand once more, he gave Amanda a hug then went into his hotel. We drove home in awe of how truly classy and gracious someone of his stature is. He conveyed both the hipness his legend portends and the classic demeanor of the English Gentleman. Yeats will not forget this night should he live to be 100 and Amanda and I will forever be grateful to not only him, but to Joan as well.
Wrap it up, Dylan:
I owe a great deal to my wife. She constantly makes me strive to be a better person, a better father and a better husband. She does this not with force, but simply by being her. She is such a good person and wife that she makes me want to improve just to keep up with her. There was talk that night of the high divorce rate in Roller Derby. I feel sorry for those husbands who begrudge their wives’ self-empowerment to the point of divorce. To think of all of the wonderful things they are missing all because of some misguided jealousy and good old-fashioned misogyny.
While meeting an idol was great, and I will not soon forget it, it is more of a side effect of something greater. That is that the love of my life and I have been together after all of these years, and the friends old and new that have been in our lives. We all feed each other, intellectually, emotionally and in some cases literally, and I am thankful beyond words for all of you.