I ran into someone who asked if I was who they said I was. As always, in that situation, I asked if they were a process server of any kind. After checking to make sure his ID matched the name on his business card, I said yes.
I know you may find it foolish, a tad paranoid, for me to react so oddly to such a simple question, yeah, okay, you got me. I really just do it to fuck around. Three seconds into the bit my girlfriend, probably wishing it was a warrant so they’d whisk me away to the Grey Bar Hotel and Anal Rape Emporium, tells me to shut up and tells the person I am who they’re asking about.
But there are a few reasons I’m hesitant to blurt out the response right off the bat. People who come up to me like that in places I’ve never been, who don’t ID themselves as to where they may know me from like,
“I’m Wendy from Life With Buck.”
“I’m Hector, we worked together.”
“I’m Evan, have you found jesus as your personal savior?”
Give me reason to be cautious. There are basically four things people remember me from. So, if you fall into one of these categories I’ll explain why I may or may not remember you but still, to avoid an unpleasant scene, you should give me something to go on:
Tennis: No, I won’t remember you if I taught you or played with as an amateur. Your name might ring a bell if we toured at the same time but unless we were close or you’re super famous so everyone knows your name, after thirty years, chances are slim.
Visual/Audio Media: Yeah, um, hit or miss. I might be shaken into memory of what we did or how we did it, but, unless we’ve been in touch, I’m probably not going to remember.
General Life: If you’re not in my email list or speed dial, no fucking way.
Readers: This is the reason I’m more inquisitive than my fellow man.
Don’t get me wrong, in the first three, I’ve been prodded into recognition, but, with readers (and please, don’t get me wrong, I write to be read. I like many of the people I’ve met through my work, as hard as that is to believe) the only way they’ll recognize me is if they’ve searched out my visage.
I don’t put a picture on books or this site. Not that I’m not devastatingly handsome (aside from girlfriend: he’s right, he’s not) but it has nothing to do with my work. There are a few pictures out there but, and here’s my point, you’d actually have to type my name in to get it. As much as I can understand doing it out of curiosity the fact that, many hours, days, months, even years after the fact you still carry in your head my image.
And I’ve met people who’ve done just that.
In real life I’m fairly personable, bordering on friendly-like. Some have said friendlyish but I’m the one typing this and I like like. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s a solicited (how else would I get it?) opinion about how it is to meet me.
“He was funny and friendly,” said Dan McCaffrey. “I didn’t really expect that after reading him for so many years. He let me buy round after round and never once did he offer to buy. . .”
As you can see, nice as he is, Dan tends to go on some. So, to keep my story flowing, I must edit him.
When I’m asked that question (in case you’ve forgotten what it is due to Dan’s long-windedness it’s ‘Are you Chris Zell?’) it only makes me blanch when 1) I’m in a place I’ve never been to before. 2) They use first and last name. And the one that bothers me most 3) they seem happy.
What that means is they know it’s me because they’ve seen me. That scares me because, if I’ve never been in the place before, no one should know my name (the anti-Cheers) nor what I look like. So, in my limited experience, I’ve learned (because I’ve asked) they know it’s me because they saw me on the internet.
Many times it ends up a pretty simple and easy exchange. Yes, hi, thanks, I’d love a drink. Pleasant. Why am I even writing this if it’s that nice? Because I said ‘many times’ it’s like that. Not ‘all the time’ is it like that.
There was a guy who came up to me and asked if I was going to be in the restaurant for a while. I told him probably not long enough for him to go home, fetch his copy of the book and get back here. So I wrote down a business address and told him to send the book and I’d get it right back to him.
Again, I know what you’re thinking, seems pleasant enough you egotistical dirtbag. And, again, you’d be on to something. It wasn’t even when a big ass package arrived at my office. It wasn’t even when I opened it and t-shirts, posters, books and print outs of a couple of pictures fell out. The moment I knew it turned weird was when I saw the very specific, block lettered notations on each item as to where, what, and what color ink (he sent markers) I should use to sign them.
But, whore that I am, I followed every direction and got the package back to him that very same day. To this day, every eight to ten months I get a package from him. He prints out this blog so I know I’ll be having some specific instructions from him on this story! Hi, Pete!
Don’t worry, I’m not telling tales out of school. He knows what I think. You think I could hold in that I think this is a strange? Damn, you gotta start paying attention!
Then there are the ‘big fan’ types. I don’t even know what that means. I think of the people who read me as snarky people who like to know there are people out there keeping the snap flag flying. I’ve been very fortunate to have contact with many readers and, holy sheep shit, Batman, these people make me laugh more than I ever could them.
That said, I ran into a ‘big fan’ the other night. After I stop my girlfriends snickering at the fact that anyone would read me much less admit to it, I start talking to the guy. He asks the standard questions (where ideas come from, is it hard, does you girlfriend always question the sanity of people who like your work?) and it was pleasant but I could tell he expected more.
That’s something I’ve noticed quite often. The expectation of seltzer down my pants (I’ve never done that but I did use cheez-whiz. It’s a long story). I’m not a comedian (I love the art, have done it, write for them but don’t need or actually want a roomful of strangers loving me. I’d have to guess the stench would be overpowering), I’m not a clown, I sit in a room and type. Sure, I probably have a hour or two of material I can just wring out of my head, but I’m usually not in an area where I can just rip off a tight twenty. Or as photographers have found, I don’t have a jesters hat or rubber chicken in my house so when they come in they usually end up shooting a normal, unfunny picture. I probably should come up with a few moves but, truthfully, I’m too fucking lazy.
I could tell this guy wanted something from me. And I didn’t need the pressure. So I figured I’d do what I do best. I’d rip him a new asshole. I didn’t want to, nice enough guy, but if he’s read my books (as he said he did) and reads here (Hi, Evan! Did you notice I used your name as a character?) I’m pretty sure there was some expectation of ugly.
“So, Evan, big fan eh?” I say.
“Yes, I’ve read both books. I sometimes pick them up just for fun. I’ve even got some for friends”
“Nice, nice to hear, Evan. Do you keep them in the bathroom? I’ve been in some houses and seen that.”
“No! no, I keep them on my book shelf in my room.”
“Good, good. When I check the ones in he bathroom I always find pages missing. Damnedest thing.”
I’m sizing old Evan up. I still don’t know what I’m going to do him. I don’t think I want to make him cry (bad for sales). Then I think of it. The one thing only a ‘big fan’ would know.
“Evan, now only a big fan would know this, so think hard. What’s the one thing in each book on page 63?”
Now poor Evan just about shit. He felt as if he should know, the way I set it up, but, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make the connection. After a few minutes of stumbling I told old Evan to take some time and think about it.
We shook and Evan went back to his friends. I didn’t pay much more attention to Evan until about an hour later. He comes up behind me, holding both my damn books opened to page 63 with an expression halfway between exasperation and murder.
“I’ve been looking and can’t figure it out. What is it?”
Holy fucking shit. Evan is standing there holding out these books wanting me to tell him what’s the same on each page. It’s about now I feel bad for the things I do. You see, I just tell jokes. Sure, people get fucked with but they all deserve it. But Evan here, no, just a nice guy who maybe I should have just told a few jokes to because what I have to say isn’t going to be as satisfying.
“Now, Evan, I didn’t expect you do go all the way home to compare the books. I thought you’d sit there for a few minutes, have a beer, then come over and ask me what the hell I was talking about.”
“Well,” Evan said. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Words, Evan. They both have words. I was just fucking with you because that’s what I do.”
Evan looked at me for a minute. I felt bad but, damn, if I apologized for every joke I told I’d have no time to type them down. It was then Evan closed both books and broke out in the biggest grin. He shakes the books in my face laughing,
“I should have known! I didn’t get it until right now that you’re just an asshole!”
“Yes! You get it!”
I buy Evan a beer while signing his books. Then it dawns on me, maybe I’m not perceived as just an asshole through my writing. Maybe people mistake it for joshing. Maybe they have to actually meet me to understand it fully.
Evan’s just an idiot!