Today, Augusten Burroughs turns 44. Here is a picture of him from the NYT (note the cap).
Don’t worry, his birthday is not in my calendar; this New York Times article reminded me. It also reminded me of the time when I met Augusten Burroughs, during the summer of 2003 when I was living in Boston.
It was July 1, and he was doing a reading at the Brookline Booksmith. I awoke early, dressed assiduously, and made sure my two friends were likewise planning to leave work at precisely 5 o’clock so that we could be, at the latest, an hour and fifteen minutes early to the event. As the day wore on, however, I began to rethink the black slacks and pressed button-down shirt I had selected that morning. In fact, the more pictures I found of him online the more convinced I became that I was perfectly overdressed for the occasion. Thus, at 5 o’clock on the nose I raced back home, where I changed into what I thought was a much more appropriate leave-your-life-partner-Dennis-for-me outfit: dirty jeans, thrift-store grandpa shirt, and Sketchers. Unfortunately, Summer Sweater couldn’t join us after all, but Aimée was right on time (which is to say seventy-five minutes early)! To my credit, I did not insist that we seat ourselves immediately; we browsed the shelves and I had time to purchase a quick copy of Running With Scissors so that Augusten could inscribe it to me with love, affection, and lifelong admiration. Then we got to our seats.
Which were directly in front of the podium.
The reading was wonderful. He was on his book tour for Dry at the time, from which he read excerpts. He spoke about his writing process, dipping into colorful bits of his own history — some of which were included in Scissors and Dry, others not. He entertained questions from the audience and seemed, in general, like a super nice, witty, intelligent, and gorgeous human being. He is quite tall and slender; he’s the type of guy whose voice makes him ten times sexier than he might have otherwise appeared. I dared not open my mouth to ask a question, which turns out to have been a wise move considering what happened later.
Once the reading was over, Augusten got himself situated behind a table where he waited to sign books. The line wasn’t very long; Aimée was in front of me. She had her copy of Dry which, once she got to the front of the line, she asked Mr. Burroughs to inscribe to her now-husband Dru, who himself was in recovery and for whom she had bought the book. They spoke eloquently to one another, like a beautiful couple in a movie. They talked about sobriety chips and giggled knowingly, like members of a club. I thought they might hold hands and begin to twirl around. And throughout it all Aimée was calm, cool, and collected — standing there talking to Augusten Burroughs just like she was talking to me.
I, meanwhile, was standing in line looking like Rosie O’Donnell’s understudy in Riding the Bus With My Sister, drifting ever closer to heart failure as I waited my turn. I could feel my blood pressure in my ears and I’m sure my eyes were watering as I stood there, smiling like a mannequin. No sooner had Aimée’s turn begun than it was over, and she was walking away to wait for me by the foot of the stairs leading to the street. And there he was, smiling up at me. As I thrust my copy of Running with Scissors toward him his grin widened, and as he looked down to begin writing he said, “Thanks for coming.”
How many possible ways might I have responded to this? How many staid, intelligent options are there? Is there any way to possibly measure the chances I had to play it cool, to redeem myself, to make a good impression on this precious man-god? I don’t know. But instead of replying with anything that bordered on intelligent, sexy, or even sane, I said — like some grandma who’d just stepped off his front porch after stopping by for lemonade — “Well, thanks for having me!”
I genuinely thought it might not have been that bad, until I heard Aimée — previously calm, cool, and collected — burst out laughing from where she stood waiting for me a few feet away. Grin fading, he looked up at me and asked, like he was talking to Terri Schiavo, “What’s your name?” “Bill,” I grunted. He signed my book and handed it to me across the table. Bright red, I turned to go.
As I walked toward Aimée, however, I was suddenly aware of being majorly pissed off that I had blown my one chance to impress Augusten Burroughs. So I spun around and, seeking some sort of mis-guided redemption, stepped back up to the edge of the table (and in the process had to nudge the woman who was presently having her book signed out of the way a bit) and blurted, Tourettes-like, “I – I like your cap!”
Hearing the faint sirens on the ambluance that I suspected had been called to take me to McLean, I decided to retreat. Aimée was ahead of me, gripping the bannister, pulling herself up the stairs beneath the weight of hysterical laughter. I would laugh about it later, but not now. Not until that night, after we’d thrown back several pints and retold the story to the point where we were both crying — and through our tears we could see, sitting on the table next to our empty beer glasses, Aimée’s copy of Dry that Augusten Burroughs had signed for her.