I arrived 1.5 hours early, just in case such earliness was needed. An unprecedented public appearance like this required planning and, as it turns out, arctic expedition gear. The lovely Hammer museum is, of course, a museum. Given this fact and the additional fact that the reading was to take place inside a lecture hall, I did not prepare to sit outside in uncharacteristic (for LA) gale force winds and icy cold air in a concrete courtyard outside the lecture hall for the early bird 1.5 hours. When preparing to attend any event at a museum, I frequently think of the opposite conditions. If I wear a coat to the event, I will inevitably become too warm at some point during the event and wish to remove a layer of clothing which I will then have to carry around with me for the rest of the evening. With this in mind, I left my house feeling overdressed (for an indoor museum event) in a tank, light blazer and a flimsy scarf (the scarf having nothing to do with a need for warmth and having only to do with a need for colour.) I will say now that this ensemble did not provide the needed protection from the elements.
No matter. The important thing, in the early 1.5 hours, was to realize upon my arrival (after talking myself out of the idea of abandoning the event altogether due to the shocking ability of concrete to retain cold like no other material I could imagine in that moment) that such an early curtain call was necessary. There was already a sizeable line. I had not misjudged his appeal. I also, it became clear very quickly, had not misjudged the various types of people that were assembled to hear DFW read. I have promised myself not to get snarky here. I have coached myself on a way to state this plainly, without trying to be snide and rude and seeming to be above it all. But, seriously. It can't be helped. The people assembled outside (and those that arrived and arrived and arrived later and later and late) fell into a few categories:
- The Lovelies -- There were various lovelies running about in tiny trouser shorts and 4 inch heels -- in freezing weather. Dolled up as if they were going to see a rock show and might slither backstage when the show is over to be selected by the drummer for a hotel rendezvous. Surely these women didn't know how to read at all, let alone read him. What were they doing here? While the rest of us read books, wrote in journals, sketched on pads, they teetered back and forth between the espresso cart and the line (and again and again and again) laughing loudly, reapplying lipstick and chatting on cellphones that all had irritatingly hip ringtones. I am guessing that the "underground", "experimental" and "edgy"-ness of DFW's work is what drew them in. If they couldn't actually read him and understand him, I guess the next best thing was to be seen at his event. Welcome to Los Angeles. Land of the vapid. They acted important, and true to LA event rules (be they cultural events or otherwise), they were ushered in under the guise of being "Hammer Members" who receive "preferential seating" in the first-come, first-served LA universe.
- The Hollywood Types -- Various producer-types with fake tans and painfully expensive designer jeans that have been taken to and picked up from the drycleaners by their personal assistants. I don't think they have read his books either. I believe they are here to be seen and to possibly obtain film rights to these unread (but much talked about) works.
- The Bookluggers -- These are the types, bless them, that bring every dogeared, water-stained, musty book the writer has ever written in the hopes of having him sign them all. I hate this. Isn't it enough that he has come down off the mount to preach a little? Can't we just appreciate him: his work, his words, and let him be? The Bookluggers are the most serious contingent. They feel they deserve this opportunity the most. After all, they have read everything he has ever written. This is their moment, where their hard work pays off. These are the people who are talking the loudest, about when they read his first book before anyone else, about his background, his history, his philosophies and their philosophies on his philosophies. They are also the ones who edge people out of line when things start getting dicey. They have lugged all their books here, they have envisioned this moment a thousand times over the many dark years of no DFW readings and signings, and they mean business.
- The Actual DFW Fans -- Luckily, this contingent was the largest. These are the people who have read his work. They have understood it. Maybe not all of it, but they have stretched themselves to be worthy of it and they are better off for the challenge. They know this and they appreciate his sprawling mind and all the ideas he puts out into the universe for consideration. It is no surprise that this contigent is the most well-behaved, the most patient, the most genuinely-pleased-to-be here portion of the crowd. They meekly get coffee to fend off the chilly weather, they read other books (not authored by DFW) while sitting and waiting and they are just...mellow. This contingent is also the most diverse. Mohawks, dreadlocks, red hair, green hair, many earrings, no earrings, corporate types, art-student types, you name it. Most are alone or have come only with a friend or two. These are also the people who are likely to listen politely during the reading, who will not ask stupid questions, and who will not bother him with signing any books, even the new one on sale at the event, after the reading is done. I submit to you that I belong in this bunch.
The line grew and snaked around the entire outdoor, cement (did i mention how cold cement can be when you sit on it for 1.5 hours in the cold?) courtyard. Contingents were sizing up other contingents. Eyes were rolling, pages of books being read kept flipping in the wind, requiring readers to take their hands out of their coat pockets and fiddle with the pages over and over. The collective breath of all contingents could be seen in the brisk air. Various Hammer employees kept emerging from their warm lecture halls and cushy event offices to check on the lowly, chilly fans. It was determined at some point that the fans were becoming too cold and that they should be ushered into the hall, even though it was still early.
When the announcement was made, everyone stood, placing books in bags, throwing coffee cups in bins and wiping debris off their chilly butts. This was it. The moment of truth. Who would get in, who would not and who would make a fuss? As I stood up and took my place in line, my stomach, cliche of cliches, did a little flip. Maybe, just maybe, I would get in.