Taking Stock, Part 2

(Continued from last week)

I made my way down the line to the Meloys, and immediately I was starstruck. When it comes time for them to sign the book, I start babbling about how much of a fan I was, about how I hadn’t actually read their book, but I was sure it was very good, and I really like Colin’s music, and I guess I like Carson’s work, too, or at least the illustrations she did for the Decemberists, and any way did I mention that I’m your biggest fan?

They sign the book and, impressively, Colin is unmoved by my awkwardness. Unflappably, he tells me that he likes my shirt (it’s a dark green affair sporting the Green Lantern logo). “I actually had a shirt like that when I was younger,” he continues.

Carson looks at him and says, “I didn’t know that.”

Colin meets her gaze and says, with a hint of a smile, “there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

And the moment is gone, I move down the line, and signing continues. But for just a brief instant, I saw a private moment between a man I admired from across the gulf of fame and his wife: I moment I, in some small way, helped create.

And that was special.

*

If meeting Colin Meloy was powerful for who I was at the time, meeting Bruce Hale was even greater for who I was in the past.

When I was in about fourth grade, I was introduced to Hale’s Chet Gecko series, and I was hooked. Chet is a wise-cracking, bug-eating gecko at an elementary school for anthropomorphic animals – as well as a hard boiled detective. Along with Animorphs, Gerald Morris’ Arthurian retellings, and Tamora Pierce’s fantasy novels, Chet Gecko served as one of the cornerstones of my grade school reading. In fact, I will still occasionally read any new ones that come out, for nostalgia’s sake. These days, they only take an hour or so to read.

So imagine my reaction when I saw that Bruce Hale was going to be at Wordstock 2013. I had to make sure I saw him.

He was there to plug his new picture book, “Clark the Shark,” which was about a shark who went to school or some such silliness – clearly, kids these days didn’t have the same impeccable taste as I did when I was their age. Clark may have been a shark, but he had nothing on Chet Gecko.

I sat in the back, with the parents, behind a gaggle of small children. I am the only person there my age, and I am a little embarrassed. Still, I watch Hale give his presentation, and let myself appreciate the magic of his showmanship.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s excellent with kids. What I didn’t know, though, was that he was an illustrator, and while he talked about books, and art, and the magic of reading, he rattled off sketch after silly sketch of Clark the Shark on a big pad of tearaway butcher paper.

After the presentation, the kids line up to get their copies of “Clark the Shark” signed by its author/illustrator. I line up behind them.

When I get to Hale, he isn’t sure what to say for a moment. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to see a 19-year-old at his presentation on a picture book. Everyone else here is in elementary school. However, I don’t give it time to be awkward. With more confidence than I had expected, I told him that I was actually here for Chet Gecko.

I told him how much his books had meant to me when I was a child. I shook his hand, and asked him to sign my Wordstock program, since I didn’t have a book of his with me.

And, honestly, I think he was touched. I had remembered. He sent out a scant dozen private-eye parody novels out into the teeming ocean of children’s literature, and I snagged and rejoiced in them and now stood in front of him, a decade later, remembering.

And that is why I love Wordstock.

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2 thoughts on “Taking Stock, Part 2

  1. I love the way you told these two stories! You did a great job of incorporating small details that make the stories come alive. The part about Chet Gecko make me think of all my favorite books as a child, and the way I would find a book I liked, and then proceed to read every book in the series. Even though my favorite children’s books come up on a very infrequent basis in my life, when they do come up, they still evoke a powerful emotional response.

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  2. Well, I must say I am glad I decided to read your blog just now, John. This was a nice read you have a good voice for narrative. Do you ever write fiction, by chance? It seems like you could be good at it. Anyway, it seems you touch on an interesting part of art, the human element. I often forget that somewhere out there is a real person who wrote this book I am reading or who song I am listening to. It must be weird to have someone you have never seen before come tell you that something you’ve made has impacted their life. I have at least one awkward star-struck story, which I am unwilling to share, but regardless, I can relate to what you describe with meeting Colin Meloy.

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