This past Saturday in Washington, DC, was the Library of Congress National Book Festival. It was a jolly good time where lots of authors got to talk about their books, the subjects of their books, and answer questions about the subjects of their books. I took my daughter so there was no going to see Al Roker for me. Nope, we headed straight for the kiddie halls. I got the opportunity to hear kids ask questions like, “how do you draw a nose” followed up by, “um…um….how do you….DRAW A NOSE?!”
Sophisticated as the audience was, I found myself a bit envious of the author who did a painstakingly brilliant job of answering all of the kids questions after doing a live reading of her book about bringing an alligator to show-and-tell, which, let’s be real, you absolutely should not. If you’re a Detroit playa and you want to bring some ‘gators to show-and-tell, that’s fine. Just no LIVE alligators. The little girl who brought the alligator (in the story, this is fiction folks) to school, Magnolia, she totally had to go to the principal’s office. Just know, you are not going to bring an alligator to school and not have to go to the principal’s office.
Do y’all remember the 90s? That era when folks were wearing overalls but with one strap hanging? I got sent to the principal’s office for that. I was forced to wear my overalls as Kentucky intended them. I was not happy that day. In fact, I was not a happy camper. I’ve always found that to be a funny phrase. Like haha funny. Happy campers.
Back to the alligator and the principal’s office. You got it? Cool. Let’s move on.
So after I sat through a few of these talks with super sophisticated inquisitors, my daughter was ready to be out. Apparently, the less than academic questions were killing her too and she was ready to do what we came there for: buy her stuff. So we went to purchase a few books, one being the wayward alligator tale (that’s a pun). On our way out of the purchasing section we had to pass by the lines and lines of people waiting to get their newly purchased books signed by the authors. My daughter? She ain’t care. But while walking past the line for one of the books we purchased, I noticed the line was small so I suggested she get it signed. She hit me with the hee, but I drove and was paying for lunch so she was kind of stuck, ya know.
Anyway, we got into our line which had about seven people in it. Since we had time to kill and Samuel Jackson was nowhere present, I started surveying the floor when something caught my eye. There was a line next to ours with an author waiting to sign books, except there was nobody looking to get their book signed. At all. I was in that line for maybe 30 minutes and nary a soul stepped a toe into her waters. Meanwhile, Buzz Aldrin’s line was so long it might have stretched to the moon.
That’s another pun. Because Buzz.
That has to be a sobering moment. This author, clearly somebody of note who has written a book and then been invited to both speak AND sign books at this book festival, also had to do that thing where you sit there and pretend to not be bothered by the general lack of interest. Basically, she’s known to the people that are in the no, but a virtual unknown to everybody else.
She kept making jokes (probably about the fact that nobody was in her line) with the staff. But it’s a weird space to occupy: always the bridesmaid, never the bride. You’re at the party and are somebody, but not the person anybody cares to see. Except you’re put on display for people to see that nobody came to see you. She might as well be Otis. I felt bad for her. I had no idea what her book was but if I knew, I’d have gone to purchase it (in another dimension where the line to purchase books didn’t take 20 minutes and span a few hundred people) and had her sign it. But that would also be patronizing. I mean, she knows nobody was coming to see her. I imagine she was just waiting for the time to expire on her autograph session. Which is also sucky because you know pretty soon into a signing if anybody is coming to see you (Otis). Which means you know pretty early on that nobody is coming. But on the offchance that that one person IS looking forward to see you, you have to stay.
Being almost famous has to suck.
This reminded of my freshman year at Morehouse College back in the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and ninety-seven. In this year, one Tracey Lee of “The Theme (It’s Party Time)” fame was poppin’. To think of him as famous today is almost laughable, but in 1997, having a song on radio and a video was a thing. Well, back then, often famous rappers and singers would venture to college campuses and record labels would set up signings and showcases, etc. This particular day, Tracey Lee was accompanied by a then unknown, Chico DeBarge. Literally, NOBODY knew who he was that day. In fact, even the DeBarge name, which was of course made famous by the group DeBarge, and moreso by the success of El, had most of us shaking our heads. Chico? Who the hell is Chico DeBarge. Apparently he’d been in jail and got out and started singing.
So as this long line of students, myself included – bite me – , stood there waiting to get some random label-provided picture signed by Tracey Lee, nary a soul got into Chico’s line except for this one girl who felt so bad for him that she got something signed. I even remember what he had on that day. He was rocking a University of Michigan Chris Webber home jersey and some bright yellow pants. I remember that so vividly because I stood in line so long waiting for Tracey Lee and staring at this lonely light-skinned brother that his outfit was emblazoned onto my mind, like that gum commercial from Inside Out. I felt bad for him that day. Who knew that he’d end up dropping one of the best albums of the year later and for a few years, be a name worthy of note.
Point is, it has to suck sitting up there and nobody knows who you are, or worse, knows who you are but doesn’t care as you watch other people and wonder what they’re doing so different as legions of people willingly stand in wait JUST to get a piece of paper signed by them.
For that author, getting that call to be a featured speaker was probably a great win. You get to come speak about your work and the Washington Post and Library of Congress provide the space for people to show up. I didn’t sit in on her talk, but I also wonder if anybody went to that either. I’m sure she’s doing just fine. Hell, she’s a published author, something we’ve done here but have wanted to do on a legit, get invited to speak about it stage. But I can’t imagine sitting there staring at blank empty space as everybody else can see that nobody cares.
I guess that’s what its like to be Otis.
On a personal side, it reminds of an occasion that I’m guessing happens to lots of (almost) famous bloggers. See, people who spend time blogging and reading blogs tend to think that the rest of the world does too. It’s very humbling when you find out that they in fact, don’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been introduced to people with, “this is Panama from verysmartbrothas.com!!!!!!” with this tone of “look at this famous guy here!” and the receiving party is like, “who? Never heard of you. But I’ll check out your little site” as if I just interrupted them from banging their head against a wall.
And I’m famous in 3 countries plus Guam.
Again, the folks that know you, know you very well, but the rest of the world is “ugh…nice watch.” Now, I don’t think I’d ever be that author, because anywhere I go is usually at my own creation so I’m stacking the deck plus the Black webisphere is pretty small. Also, the number of participants is usually small enough where you kind of have to talk to me if I’m there because you’re only there because some other person occupying similar space to me is there. So folks may not becoming to see me specifically, but my name is not Otis, so watch what you say.
I guess the point here is this: if you see me at a book signing, you better come get a book signed.