I love to read and I love actual books. Books with covers and pages and a place to offer the services of a physical bookmark. I still purchase books and read them voraciously... on most occasions. I will admit that I have given up midway into the first chapter of a few books whose convoluted plots just weren't doing it for me. But, there is usually another waiting as a back up. I buy books several at a time because I am such an avid reader. And — best of all — my wife sells the gently used volumes (I take great care with my reading material) on eBay when I am through. She gets a good portion of the original selling price back, too.
As a reader, I have been to a few book signings, an event that coincides with another of my hobbies: collecting autographs. In 2010, Mrs. P, our son E. and I attended a book signing/charity auction in New York City. It was part of a tour by April Winchell, the multi-talented voice actress, who was promoting a recently published anthology of items from her (now-defunct) website Regretsy.com. April was a blast — engaging fans in conversation, personalizing each book and offering bookmarks made from maxi-pads. A few years later, my wife and I found ourselves at the main branch of the Philadelphia Library to hear actor-comedian Michael Palin read passages from his memoir Diaries 1969-1979, a personal chronicle of his years with the comedy troupe Monty Python. Afterwards, the comic signed copies of the book for a queue line than snaked thorough the cavernous library building. We waited — first outside in the rain, then inside among high shelves of books in forgotten storage rooms — for nearly three hours. Mr. Palin was delightful, humble and truly appreciative of the crowd.
|This, apparently, is his BOOM-STICK!|
A few weeks ago, I got word (via the internet's foremost source of information, Twitter) that actor Bruce Campbell had written a continuation of his 2001 memoir If Chins Could Kill. I read that book and it was highly entertaining. Subtitled "Confessions of a B Movie Actor," Bruce gives a hilariously-self-aware account of his humble beginnings as a budding actor, eager to ply his trade with some down-and-dirty "on-the-job" experience. With his childhood pal, director Sam Raimi, the pair teamed up to stand the horror genre on its bloody ear, combining over the top gore with slapstick humor. Bruce, for the uninitiated, is the rugged goofball best known for his cult-movie roles in the Evil Dead series of horror films, as well as a plethora of cameos in major studio releases, and the television series Burn Notice and the short-lived Adventures of Brisco County Jr. To his fans, like most actors in the horror category, Bruce is held in the highest of esteem. He is movie royalty, occupying a place of honor alongside Robert Englund ("Freddy Krueger" in the Nightmare on Elm Street films) and whoever is behind the hockey mask in Friday the 13th.
Bruce's three-month promotional book tour brought him to Philadelphia on August 18th, to a Barnes and Noble just a few blocks from my office. I pre-ordered my copy of Hail to the Chin* and picked it up early in the week during my lunch hour. When I made my purchase, I was issued a Tyvek wristband that guaranteed a spot in line to get my book signed. So, on Wednesday, I left work at my regular time and leisurely strolled the bustling sidewalks of downtown Philadelphia's afternoon rush. I took my time, as the event was called for 7 PM, a full two hours from the time I leave work. I stopped for a quick bite to eat at a popular vegetarian restaurant and then I walked a block or so up 18th Street to the Barnes and Noble that faces Philadelphia's famous Rittenhouse Square. When I turned the corner onto Walnut Street, I spotted a smattering of folks gathering for the evening event. When I entered the store, I saw even more. How did I know they were there to meet Bruce Campbell? Well, as a veteran of many horror movie conventions, there were quite a few tell-tale signs. First, most were clad in shirts emblazoned with Bruce Campbell's likeness, specifically his "Ash" character from the Evil Dead film franchise. The ones that weren't sporting T-shits were dressed as though they were attending a Victorian funeral, especially the female members of the crowd who were draped in heavy velvet gowns with lacy bodices. The men boasted hair either hanging limp and unwashed from their pale scalps or slicked with product, except for thick and menacing sideburns flanking their collective visages. Numerous examples of elaborately inked flesh were visible at every turn, begging the question: what sort of bodily artwork was hidden by the layers of somber clothing? Plus — and I mean this in the most non-judgmental context — most appeared to be experiencing their first visit to a book store. Not that their behavior was disruptive. (On the contrary, it was not!) They just exhibited a sense of bewilderment at the sight of stacks of those things they have not seen since school was in session.
The actual book-signing process was extremely well-organized. The staff of Barnes and Noble were friendly and jovial — all while being deadly efficient. The wristbands that were distributed earlier were each pre-marked with a letter designating the order in which groups would be led to the store's third floor. The line was moving at a fairly quick clip, with new group letters being announced every fifteen to twenty minutes, it was obvious that, two floors above us, Mr. Campbell began affording his signature almost an hour ahead of schedule. I overheard several non-book-signing customers wandering through the store, muttering, "Is this place always this busy?"
|Who drew ya, baby?|
I waited patently, following the direction of the smiling staff members, as they guided the line up escalators, around support pillars towards the Bruce Campbell-occupied destination. Mr. Campbell, it was revealed, would graciously autograph one additional piece of memorabilia with each copy of his book that was purchased. People were carrying all sorts of items, from DVDs and magazines, to action figures and replicas of the so-called Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the notorious "Book of the Dead," as featured in the Evil Dead films, noted for its binding (human flesh in the film; something else, I hope, in the facsimiles). An attentive worker walked along the queue line, exchanging customers books for one that had been pre-signed by Bruce, thereby allowing him to technically sign just one item for each waiting person. I exchanged my book, putting my signed copy in my messenger bag and extracting a glossy print of a portrait I drew of Mr. Campbell as a gift, as well as a photo I printed at home for him to inscribe. In an effort speed things along even more, it was made clear that nothing would be personalized. Bruce would just scribble the few twisted lines that passed as his signature.
I was almost at the signing table, my turn coming just after two sweaty dudes in ill-fitting Evil Dead tank tops reminiscing about every single one of Bruce Campbell's 119 screen credits and a guy in a full Deadpool costume, complete with prop katanas (no, I don't understand the connection either). Finally, I was beckoned forward by a nice young lady who was monitoring the line. She handed Bruce my photo and I approached the signing table. Bruce was seated and, I suppose from that angle he isn't quite the imposing figure he renders on the silver screen. He wore a blue, subtly-flowered shirt. His usually coiffed hair was cut close, accentuating his graying temples. He fiddled with a rainbow selection of Sharpies as I handed him my drawing. "This is for you.," I announced. Bruce took my artwork, raised it to eye level and, with a slight sneer, handed it off to an assistant, with the instruction to "add this to the archives." He signed the photo, cautioning me to wait until the gold ink was dry before putting it away. I told him meeting him was a pleasure and I extended my hand. He grasped my hand with one of his large, perspiring paws and gave it a good, strong, vigorous shake — sending me on my way. It was very obvious that Bruce had done this before and he had the process down to assembly-line precision. My "brush with greatness" lasted under a minute.
For Bruce, it was just another day at the S-Mart.
*Bruce Campbell's book titles are puns that allude to the actor's prominent mandible.