We had an excellent time at the Lemony Snicket reading the other night, as did hundreds of children. I was amazed how many actual kids were there, as opposed to slouching young adults such as ourselves. Mr. Snicket, unfortunately, did not show up in person, much to the bafflement of his Gothic Archies bandmates Stephin Merritt and Daniel Handler. They looked for him backstage and Mr. Handler placed an emergency phone call on a toy phone. Hanging up, he glowered at the audience and said, "I will spare you the ridiculous story I have just been told on this very convincing phone. I don't know why anyone would lie to children." Nonetheless the show went on, including the deft snatching of several books out of children's hands ("You see, it's easy to steal from children," Handler explained in his deadpan monotone), many warnings against Count Olaf and the books in general, and performances of "Shipwrecked," "Scream and Run Away," and "Smile! No One Cares How You Feel." Handler's dramatic reading from "The End" was accompanied by percussion from two audience volunteers, both girls around 8 years old. The auditorium was near a racetrack, and Handler stopped the girls before bringing them up onstage. "Do you know what normally happens in this room?" he asked them. "Horses are auctioned off. Creatures are led down this very aisle and sold from the stage." He paused thoughtfully, then added, "I wonder if that will happen tonight?" They loved it.
I bought a Gothic Archies CD, the liner notes of which Stephin Merritt was good enough to sign for me. The sweet-faced bookstore employees staffing the event didn't seem to know what to make of him. One gentleman with a megaphone was bouncing around the table telling everyone that Stephin was very grumpy - he seemed desperate to get a laugh or any kind of reaction, but Stephin just looked at him. Here is my awesome autograph:
We did not get a signature from Mr. Handler because our number was way too high - we stood a good chance of waiting until midnight and then being kicked out without a signature, particularly since we were not adorable moppets. But Art Boy took his picture with his cellphone. It's not very good, but here it is.
We were able to watch as he interacted with readers big and small. With the smaller ones, he would sign their book and then beg them not to take it back, offering a Post-it note instead. "This one is green," he implored a little girl. "Green like a leprechaun, in the grass, being eaten by a snake!" She took her book instead, and he screamed "WRONG CHOICE! I have FAILED AGAIN!" Another child's parents were forcing him to submit to too many photos. They took his picture as he approached the table and while he was having his book signed, then as he tried to leave they shoved him back in place for one last photo with Handler. Handler smiled sympathetically at him. "Are they always like this? Make your bed! Get me another bourbon! What a life, huh?"
Florence King once wrote, "Children are admirably gimlet-eyed before adults put them through the American make-over program," and the evening made me think she was right.