Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Meeting Harry Potter's Maker

On Friday, Oct. 19, Paul and I went to Carnegie Hall to watch J.K. Rowling read from the final installment of Harry Potter. I’d entered the two of us in a sweepstakes for the event months ago, and Paul was one of the lucky winners (there were only 1,000 in the whole country) of a pair of tickets.

In addition to seeing Rowling and going to Carnegie Hall for the first time (without practicing, I might add), we were each going to receive a signed copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I was most excited about adding that to my collection, but the reading turned out to be pretty fun, too. The hall was packed with children and their parents, some of whom had flown in from states that are not a part of the continental U.S. I have to admit that I got the chills when Rowling finally came onto the stage and sat on the throne that had been set out for her. Subtle. She got a standing ovation and told everyone to sit down before we made her cry. I’d gotten the impression from Angela, Paul’s sister, that she’d be a pompous ice queen, but she wasn’t really. You could tell she was proud of herself, but she also seemed genuinely touched by the near hysteria she incites. And she was really funny when she spoke to us, in that dry, droll British sort of way.

She read to us the scene in The Deathly Hallows where Ron comes back to find Hermione and Harry in the woods. Rowling used different voices for the three characters, and she was really good. She should be narrating her own audio books.

After Rowling finished reading, a Q&A session began. One by one, prescreened question-askers went up near the stage and nervously read their questions to Rowling, who leaned forward intently from her throne to hear them. I don’t know if she knew what the questions would be in advance, although she seemed to consider each one carefully before answering. That was the case when a little girl asked her whether Dumbledore had found love as a young man. We all know now that Rowling answered with the revelation that she’d always imagined Dumbledore to be gay (with an unrequited crush on Grindelwald no less), but when she announced this to us--kind of in a chuckling, halting, “should I admit this or not” sort of way--we were shocked. There was a collective gasp, and then everyone started clapping and cheering.

Rowling’s last act of the night was no small feat: She had to sign 2,000 copies of her book, one for each person in the audience. As luck would have it, the line started forming on the other side of the auditorium, and Paul and I would be one of the last ones to get our books. While we waited for our row to be called, I took a nap and Paul broke out his PSP. Forty-five minutes later, it was finally our turn. As we stood on the line, I tried to think of something profound to say to Rowling--something witty and memorable that would express my admiration for what she has accomplished. I’d finally decided on something like “I can’t wait for your next book [wink],” but never got a chance to say this because the young girl directly ahead of me in line stole my thunder by bursting into tears upon approaching Rowling’s table. Rowling actually stood up and gave the girl a hug across the table, which was really sweet, but I knew I couldn’t beat that. So when my turn came, I just said, “Hi” and smiled, and she said, “Hi” and smiled back warmly. I liked that she made an effort to look me in the eye when she spoke to me, even as she was frantically scribbling away. Before I could add anything else, one of the Scholastic handlers hurried me down the line to pick up my book. (Rowling was signing the books and stacking them on the side of the table.) Then another Scholastic handler told me (nicely) to get out. So that was my big meeting with J.K. Rowling. (Or Jo, as I feel I can now call her.)

After the event, Paul and I went to visit Angela at her apartment and drop off Paul’s copy of the book with her, since she’s the biggest Harry Potter fan we know and deserves a signed copy--unlike Paul, who has read zero Harry Potter books (but has watched all the movies). We told Angela that Dumbledore was gay, and she didn’t believe us at first. (She had to believe us the next morning, when every news medium in the country confirmed this.) I still can’t believe all the controversy that’s sprung up as a result of Rowling’s admission. It seems a lot of people are wondering why she’s outing Dumbledore now, and jumping to the conclusion that she’s a gay rights advocate. She was only answering a little girl’s question, people! I doubt she had an agenda. And even if she did, who cares?

As for my signed copy, it now sits rather inconspicuously on my bookshelf. I just checked eBay and discovered that other signed books from the event are going for more than $2,000. The thought of turning in mine for that amount is so tempting, but I won’t do it. It’s like owning a J.R.R. Tolkien-autographed edition of The Hobbit--how could I sell that?

And anyway, it might be worth more later. (Just kidding, Jo!)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Into the Wild

Went camping last weekend--sort of. While I am always up for a bit of adventure, I am considerably less excited about having to rough it. Usually I point to Paul, who is a major princess, as my reason for avoiding such activities, but since he was away on a business trip this week, I was out of excuses.

after work on Friday, I dusted off my sleeping bag, lugged my bike into the car, and drove up to the campgrounds in Rosendale, N.Y., with Kenneth. We were driving up together because neither of us was staying the whole weekend. (I was watching the So You Think You Can Dance cast on tour at the Meadowlands on Saturday night. By the way, SYTYCD is an awesome show and not to be confused with Dancing with the Stars, which is drivel.)

I was determined to do camping lite, so I preemptively accounted for all the uncomfortable things I could think of. Take a shower at home so I wouldn’t have to at the campsite: check. Dress in layers so I could avoid changing: check. Invite Kenneth to ride with me so I wouldn’t have to drive: check. (You were also good company, Kenneth!) Moreover, I’d planned on sleeping in the car to avoid having to lie on the cold, hard ground. With a bit of planning, I figured I could elude all the negative aspects of camping and just focus on my favorite part: toasting marshmallows.

We arrived at the campsite, which was basically a creepy man’s backyard, at 10:30 p.m. Nora, Doug, and Doug’s brother Greg were already there, grilling hot dogs in the dark. In my next life, I want Nora and Doug to be my parents. They’d made all the arrangements, purchased all the food, and basically set the whole thing up for all of us. We just showed up and started eating.

For a couple of kids from Queens, it was really weird how great Doug and Greg were with the campfire. Paul and I still haven’t gotten the hang of using the fireplace in our home, despite having gone through a whole winter with it--building and tending a fire is really not as easy as it looks. But Doug and Greg were working the campfire like they were the sons of Prometheus. I was very impressed.

We waited around for Weijian and Kenny to arrive. They were supposed to get there at the same time as Kenneth and me, but ended up coming in two hours later. In the meantime, we traded stories about Weijian’s infamous tardiness.

Upon his arrival, Weijian declared that there was no way he was going to let me sleep in my car, grabbed my sleeping bag, and threw it into the largest tent. I was too tired to fight him, so I crawled into the tent and soon passed out wearing all my layers. With all that padding, sleeping on the ground isn’t too bad, actually.

I awoke sometime in the middle of the night with a message from my bladder: Get thee to a bathroom! What it didn’t know was that the bathroom was yards away and I wasn’t sure where the flashlights were. I decided to go back to sleep. A little while later, I awoke to the same dilemma. Nothing is worse than choosing between the discomfort of having to pee and the discomfort of poking blindly through a dew-drenched greensward. It was like playing a real-life game of “Would You Rather…?” I finally gave in to my bladder’s demands and headed outside.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been feeling scared about wandering around in a dark field, but since my bladder was issuing a red-alert warning, I couldn’t care less about all the ominous shadows and things going bump in the night. I stumbled into the bathroom, took care of business, stumbled back into my tent, and crawled into my sleeping bag. Heaven.

The next morning, a few more campers arrived: Brian, Sophia, and Patricia. All of us, minus Nora and Patricia, drove over to the Lake Minnewaska State Park Preserve to go mountain biking. The weather was perfect for this activity: mid-70s, sunny, clear. Things started off OK, with a fun little hill to coast down and a scenic overlook to pause at. The view was awesome.

Then it got tougher. We took the green trail, which largely consisted of riding uphill over long stretches of pebbles and rocks. My legs began to protest and my butt quickly joined in. We paused at various points meant to show off the view, but I appreciated them more as rest stops. We eventually reached the Lake Minnewaska.
Then it came time for Kenneth and me to head home. He and Weijian decided that the blue trail was the best and quickest way back, and so Kenneth and I set out on it. The blue trail is not the best way back. It was, quite possibly, the worst. It consisted of traveling farther up the mountain for at least 20 minutes (during which time I seriously thought about just laying down my bike and crying) then winding downhill for another 20 minutes. You’d think that going downhill would be easy, but there’s nothing easy about flying over various-sized rocks at full speed. I was doing tricks on my bike without meaning to--leaping over boulders and careening around cliff corners. My life flashed before my eyes at every bump--that is to say, at least a couple hundred times. Finally, finally we arrived at the parking lot. I was a sweaty, twitchy mess.

And I was happy that I had done it. Thanks, Nora, for planning; Weij, for inviting me (and strong-arming me into coming); Kenneth, for driving; and Kenny, for supplying the photos and making me my first ever peanut butter, honey, and Honey Bunches of Oats sandwich. It was odd but delicious.