Twenty Seconds

Katherine, Chris, and I went into the City on Sunday morning to see Neil Gaiman. Every year there is a big baker’s-dozen-blocks-down-5th-Avenue event called New York Is Book Country. Neil was signing books for an hour, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm. Those of you who know me personally would be proud to know I woke up in time to make an 8:40 train into the City, with tremendous help from Katherine.

Once we were in the City, we walked about twenty blocks uptown. The weather was beautiful, and being Sunday, there was very little traffic, pedestrian or otherwise. If I wasn’t so grumpy from waking up early and having no sugar or caffeine, I really would have been enjoying myself. As it was, I was begrudgingly grateful that nothing had gone wrong. It was quite a treat to see 5th Avenue closed off from 42st (where the New York Public Library building sits, clever, no?) all the way up to 55th Street. Neil was going to be signing at 49th, where DC Comics had set up a booth in the Graphic Novel section of the fair. We got there by 10:30, and found just a few people ahead of us, milling about by the platform where Neil would sign.

Now I had to get a book.

Or, in other words, I’m an ass. I’ve been a semi-rabid Gaiman fan for years. I have quite the collection of Sandman-branded merchandise, and I have a half-a-dozen special collectors’ edition books, not Sandman-related, written by Neil. I have the Warning: Contains Language CD. I have a 1000-run edition of Murder Mysteries, hand-bound, published by Biting Dog Press. Sure, I have the Hugo-winning Sandman comic, “Midsummer’s Night Dream,” the only comic ever, and forever, to win. At least 50 things I could have signed by Neil? Yes, a conservative estimate.

So here, I’ve gone into the city without anything, and will have to buy a book. But this was no big deal, really, because I wanted to get a copy of Sandman Endless Nights, the first Sandman-related thing Neil has written in years. I (correctly) assumed that I’d be able to get a copy there, even though I wasn’t sure it had officially come out, yet.
At the DC booth, they had four copies on display, two hardcover, two soft. Of course, I was going to get the hardcover, but, no, DC wasn’t actually selling them. I’d have to go to the Borders down the road, I was told. I set off, leaving Katherine and Chris to wait on line. I walk down to the end of the fair, 55th Street, without seeing a Borders book store. Sweaty and concerned, I saw an information booth and asked the nice woman there where the nearest B. Dalton was.

I don’t know why I do this. B. Dalton hasn’t existed in New York in ten years, I think, and yet ask me to name a book store, and I’ll say B. Dalton without pause.
At any rate, the nice woman at the kiosk was old enough to know that B. Dalton was a book store and directed me to the Borders on 49th Street, where I had just come from. I blinked, thanked her, and then headed back down the road. When I got to 49th Street, doubting-Thomas that I am, I scoffed at the idea that I’d miss the book store. There was no Borders building here, I said to myself. See? It’s not here at all… oh, look, it’s a booth right next to the DC Comics booth. Oh. Right.

I got on line to buy the book, and called over about five feet away from me where Katherine and Chris were still waiting. “Hey, look,” I said, “the book is being sold right here.” I gave a sheepish smile.

Then with book firmly in hand, and paper bracelet, used to guarantee those waiting on line a signature from Neil, firmly on wrist, I waited for another twenty minutes or so for Neil, who arrived and started signing early. What a guy. We were given yellow Post-Its™ to write our name on, so Neil wouldn’t have to guess spellings and such, so when I got up to him, he asked, “Jonathan, is it?”

“Mmm hmm,” I said.

And I wanted to say a thousand things to him! Do you want to go get sushi after this, Neil? Murder Mysteries is my favorite short story, but did you know I never got that one detail about the newspaper story until I read the illustrated version? “Ramadan” was my favorite Sandman story, and I think it perfectly highlighted your amazing ability to join real myths with those you’ve made up yourself and pull them together in one hell of an entertaining story. That’s called pastiche, right? I’m envious that you can write so well, so often, and still have the will and energy to update your online journal. You really connect with your audience. Oh, and Daniel, and Delirium, and Mervyn Pumpkinhead, and Door, and Low-Key, and Wednesday, and Shadow, and Snow, Glass, and Apples….

But what I said, after he drew a really cool, really funky Sandman in silver ink on the inside of Sandman Endless Nights, was, “Thank you, very, very much.”

“Oh, you’re quite welcome,” he said, and I moved aside.

Twenty seconds. Twenty seconds with a man of genius, a man who has entertained and educated me, and countless others, for over ten years. And then I moved aside.

Chris gave him a copy of Good Omens to sign, and he wrote, “Burn this book!” We’re not sure why.

We trekked down to Little Italy afterwards, for the last day of the Feast of San Gennero, and I had a stuffed artichoke, Katherine had a cannoli, and Chris had chicken shish-kabob. Yeah, Chris is a real lover of the Italian food. The crowd was thick, and the sun on our backs got us too hot and too tired too quickly, so we left the City shortly afterwards. But I got my book and my twenty seconds.
Hope to see you next year, Neil.

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