I returned home from South Korea in July 2014. In August I went on a family vacation to Costa Rica. In November I used the money I saved from working overseas to take a solo trip to three places I’d never been: Boston, New York City, and Washington DC.
I originally planned my trip to the northeast to be in October, before it got too cold. I pushed it up to November, however, when I read that my favorite author Stephen King would be in New York City signing copies of his newest novel Revival. As much as I wanted to avoid the low temperatures, I wanted to meet him more. I later read that he would also be speaking at an auditorium in Washington DC the next night. So I planned to spend my final day in NYC when he would be signing books, and my first night in DC when he would be speaking.
I became a fan of Stephen King in high school after reading The Green Mile. It’s been three years since I graduated college, and I’m still hooked. I own almost every book he’s written. My book collection, which includes many classic works of literature as well, is my pride and joy. To have the latest edition of this beautiful collection signed in front of my very eyes by a man I’ve admired for nearly a decade would have been priceless. And I didn’t meet him. Here’s what happened.
The doors of the Barns-N-Noble in Union Square would open at 9 AM on November 11, 2014. With the purchase of Revival came a wrist-band that would get you into the signing, which would begin at noon. My first mistake was going to sleep the night before. A month prior to my trip, I called the Barns-N-Noble, and I asked if people would be camping out overnight in order to be the first in line. She didn’t know. I also asked how many copies of the book would be in stock. She didn’t know. “Use your best judgement,” she said. I did not.
I set my alarm for 7 AM. I made it to the line that was wrapped around the block about 30 minutes later. The man in front of me said it was announced that only 350 people would be getting a book. That seemed like a lot to me. He said he thought there was less than 300, which sounded right because from where I was standing, I couldn’t see to the front of the line. As far as I could see, there were less than 300 people. I couldn’t see the people in sleeping bags and tents.
After waiting for an hour, some staff members came out and showed where the line ended, which was about 50 people ahead of me. I’m just glad the line didn’t end one person ahead of me. Especially since the middle-aged Asian American man behind me “accidentally” cut in front of me.
He was having a conversation with the man in front of me, and casually slipped in front of me to continue talking. I’ve heard stories on the news about people getting stabbed and shot for cutting in line to be the first to get the latest video game consul.
I overheard him saying to the other man that in today’s job market you have to be ruthless and sometimes do bad things to get ahead in life. To which I quickly replied, “Like cutting in front of people in line?” Oblivious to our present situation, he said that anybody who cuts in line deserves to be punched in the face. This made me, and the man in front of and behind me laugh really hard. The man in front of me said, “Well you cut in front of him.” Of course, he denied it. Luckily I had two witnesses to attest to the fact that he arrived after me. He then apologized and returned to his spot, where he continued to loudly defend terrible things allegedly committed by his favorite celebrities.
I was heartbroken and angry at myself for not getting here earlier, but I was also relieved to not be stuck by that guy any longer.
After checking into my hostel in DC, I asked one of the staff members to call a taxi to take me to the Linser Auditorium at George Washington University. After waiting about 15 minutes, I found my own taxi. Sitting in the rush hour traffic for what felt like an eternity, I realized what took the original taxi so long. I was sure that after booking a spot in the audience for $40, I would arrive just after the doors closed. Luckily that was not the case. I paid the $14 cab fare and stepped out to a very long line. I noticed that everybody was holding a ticket, except for me. My panic returned. But the line moved quickly, and within minutes I was inside, standing at the ticket counter. With the sound of panic still in my voice, I explained that I must have forgotten my ticket at home, but I wrote down the confirmation number. So pretty please let me in, or I’ll DIE!
“Sometimes dead is better.” – Stephen King
“Name?” the lady requested.
“Sean Keogh,” I said, and spelled my last name.
She flipped through a stack of pages on a clipboard and highlighted my name. Sweet relief!
I was handed a ticket and instructed to hold on to it to get my copy of Revival after the show. (A random number of them were pre-signed, and I’ll just let you know now that this was a lottery I did not win.)
Despite being late, I managed to find a good seat. Then an old married couple took the two seats to my left. I noticed they had a strong accent and asked where they’re from. They currently reside in Virginia, where they moved to from Russia 12 years ago. I was very excited to have the chance to use some of the Russian phrases I had memorized. So I introduced myself in Russian to them. Nelson Mandela said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I could tell it warmed their hearts to hear their native tongue. My experience of being bilingual was invigorating, however brief.
Like me, the husband was an English major. We talked about classic Russian authors like Franz Kafka. That name reminded him of joke. He said there’s an expression in Russia that goes, “Let’s make real life like a fairy-tale.” The joke is play on words. The Russian word for fairy-tale sounds like Kafka, who famously wrote the short story “Metamorphoses,” which is about a man who wakes up to discover that he has transformed into a giant bug. So the joke is that expression in Russian, but with Kafka replacing the word for fairy-tale. HA-HA-HA-HA! Right? I guess you had to be there.
Anyway… fast forward to rules about no flash photography, which was ignored the moment Stephen King walked out to the podium. After about 30 seconds of people’s cameras flashing, I decided I might as well take my shot.
Stephen King opened with a joke. After delivering the set-up–“Two jumper cables walk into a bar”–he said that because he’s the master of suspense, he would save the punchline for the end.
I listened to him talk for over an hour and was entertained the entire time. For someone who specializes in scary stories, he has a great sense of humor. He told stories about his family. He talked about past, present, and future writing projects.
When it was announced that he would be taking questions from the audience, I didn’t stand a chance. Two long lines formed beginning at the front of the stage and ending where I couldn’t see within seconds. Some questions were good. Some were so stupid, it was like watching somebody find a genie and waste their first wish on something stupid they could easily obtain themselves.
Then came the moment we’d all been waiting for–besides the books, of course. The punchline: The bartender said, “I’ll serve you guys, but you better not start anything!”