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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Stalkable #1: The World's Greatest Person

I first saw Sherman Alexie in person when he spoke at my college graduation. I was aware of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, but didn't have any particular idea of the man until I saw him stand before thousands of fresh-faced grads (and our proud parents) and rip into the Catholic church for half an hour. I don't know what it had to do with the class of 1995, full of world-changing ideas and paralyzing fears (our official graduation motto was "Do you want fries with that?") but it made me laugh until I was crying.

Here was a man that showed us how to succeed: Have huge brass balls. Say what you feel. Be real. Be funny. Don't be afraid to try to make something beautiful. And don't be afraid to point out the relative nudity of your local emperor.

I fell in love.

Since I hate language and books and readin' and stuff... I never did consume much of his fiction. But I saw his two films: Smoke Signals and the (significantly better) follow up: The Business of Fancy-Dancing; and I read some of his poetry and short stories. I paid attention to his occasional column in The Stranger and his editorializing around the time when Clay Bennett and NBA commissioner David Stern dropped a colossal deuce on the city of Seattle.

Everything I read or see of the man impresses me, so the mancrush has been steadily nourished over the last 15 years. And he finally got a haircut which didn't hurt things one bit.

Sherman Alexie... then and now

A month ago Olaiya and I went down to the new Elliot Bay Book Store in Capitol Hill to see Sherman moderate a reading by two international writers. Ayn Rand wannabe Tommy Wieringa and slack-jawed soap operaist Christos Tsiolkas technically shared the stage with my man. But in a stunning move Sherman kicked off the event by reading one of his own poems. There wasn't a single word spoken by either writers that compared. Alexie, accidentally but incontrovertibly, pwned. Sadly, both writers trotted out their little novels and gamely answered questions about their process. But you could see it in their eyes... in everyone's eyes. It was as if Abraham Lincoln had come out to introduce a 2003 debate between George Bush and John Kerry. In a way, it was remarkable these two very small men were even able to carry out the charade. It would have been kinder had they elected to just quit and go home.

Olaiya could feel it too... Sherman's radiance. He's a blazing ball of fusion-luminescent gases in the otherwise inky void of writerliness.

The next day we saw him distorted through a glass window. A plastic cup of white wine (or maybe it was Martinelli's) in his hand, he was hosting a reception next door to Elliot Bay. We were walking down to purchase a copy of his latest book as a present for Olaiya's best friend in Wichita. The idea crossed my mind that we should purchase it, and then crash the reception, asking Mr. Alexie to autograph his novel to "Binky Bunkers in Witchita." Unfortunately, Elliot Bay was selling pre-autographed copies of the book... so my moment had to wait.

Two weeks later, I accepted an invitation to a party at my friend Erik's apartment. He lives in South Lake Union aka Allentown. His posh new building features a built-in basketball court, which strikes me as the second greatest luxury possible... coming in just behind living with a gourmet chef. Since Erik wanted to impress his guests, he took us on a tour of the building. We saw the rooftop deck, the TV room, the pool table, and finally the hoops court. As we were entering, a group of men (just having finished their game) were leaving. One of them held the door for us. I looked up to thank the guy and found myself face to face with Sherman Alexie.

A glow of fresh sweat. A broad smile. A gracious air.

I froze. I looked at him with a marked and comical double take. I cocked my head and smiled. He smiled back, as if saying, "Yeah, I look familiar but you can't quite place it... no worries buddy." But I did "place it". I knew exactly who he was but I just couldn't find the words to convey 15 years worth of admiration! I couldn't say the right thing, so my brain locked and I said nothing at all.

I was gliding. I drained 8/10 three pointers to win a friendly bet with Erik. I was telling everyone that would listen that Sherman freakin' Alexie just held the door for us. And then my brain started working overtime. Sweet sweet machinations.

Basketball is a rhythmic sport. It has a flow and an ebb. You have to respect the game. You can't force things. The best players (and I've heard that Sherman is an active and passionate baller) commit to the game. They play on a routine. For example, I try to play every Thursday night in Wallingford. If I miss a week, I'm off. My wrist doesn't snap right, my legs don't bounce right... I throw up bricks and telegraph my passes.

Maybe Sherman plays here often. Maybe he's here every Saturday night. Let's see... it was about 9pm when we showed up... so he probably got here to play at 7:30. I wonder what would happen if Erik and I showed up at 7:30 and looked like we were hoping to shoot hoops. Might they invite us to join their game? Could it come to pass that I play in a basketball game with Sherman Alexie? And then, might we become friends that go out for a beer afterwards? And maybe he's looking for a Thursday night game too and I can invite him to join my Wallingford crew. Excluding the freaky cosmic accident wherein I get to play pick-up ball with Barack Obama, this might be the best thing I can imagine.

I haven't put Operation Sherman Stalking into action yet. I'm still debating it. On the one hand, I don't want to be a creepy jerk that follows people around and makes them uncomfortable. Nobody wants more Chuck and Buck in the world. On the other hand, I'd hate to remember the time when I met Sherman Alexie face-to-face and just smiled stupidly at him.



At 6/30/2010 05:58:00 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


First of all, this is a deliciously written post! I felt like I had been tucked in your pocket as you strolled through your history of Alexie worship:)

Secondly, I have heard him speak only once and was literally captivated--stunned almost! I don't have the sophistication to really put words to my feelings about him, so thank you for doing so...

Lastly, remember when we used to look for him at IHOP in the U-District? It was like pre-stalking!

At 6/30/2010 11:03:00 PM, Blogger lowcoolant said...

I'm kind of shoked that you still write "Barak." Are you wearing blak sweat pants right now? :)

At 7/01/2010 01:01:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Yikes! Thanks for the typo tip off Lowcoolant. And I don't wear blak sweatpants... but I used to drink Coca Cola Blak sometimes.

And Shauna... I totally forgot to include the IHOP pre-stalking episode from 6-7 years ago! That was after reading in the New Yorker (or some such magazine) that Sherman liked to hang out at the U-District IHOP late at night to do his writing. I went by a few times but never saw hide nor mullet of him.

At 7/02/2010 08:51:00 AM, Blogger Yojimbo_5 said...

This is a nice piece. Funny and pointed and personal (with some Easter Eggs for the peeps!). I dunno. I always remember the jaundiced look from celebs I'd get if I gushed too much over them, the worst being J.P.Patches (well, how would YOU like it if a grown man told you he'd been watching you since you were 2?)-the poor clown must be all too aware of his mortality. The best were people who felt comfortable and welcomed in their presence...no big deal, we're just doin' a job.

But a line from "Goldfinger" keeps inching into my head about what they could be thinking: "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it's enemy action." So, lead with the brass balls but...slowly.

At 8/01/2010 08:20:00 PM, Blogger Pam said...

Sherman might get tired of people shying away from him too. A normal friendly game of ball might be exactly what he is looking for.

Is Erik up for the tryouts?


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