Meeting a “Role Model” – JOHN WATERS
(Left to right): Laura Cooney, John Waters and L.L. Soares
Last Thursday (June 17, 2010), director John Waters came to town to talk about his new book, ROLE MODELS, consisting of several essays about people he looks up to, from Johnny Mathis (“the polar opposite of me”), to Little Richard (whose mustache Waters freely admits he “stole”) to lots more unconventional choices, from lesbian strippers to outsider pornographers.
The Boston Public Library show was his last stop on the book tour (and the only city he visited that has outlawed “poppers”). Instead of simply talking to the audience, he was interviewed by novelist Scott Heim (author of the book MYSTERIOUS SKIN that was made into a film by Greg Araki). Scott covered most of the topics in the book, and Waters was very funny as he talked about his subjects. Then there was a Q&A session afterwards.
I think I was the first person there. The event started at 6pm and I was there before 4:00. I’d left work early intent on getting to the head of the line. This was good and bad. Good, because I had a front-row seat for the discussion, but bad because when it was done, it was announced that Waters would be signing books in the lobby. Suddenly, I was at the end of the line!
Over an hour later, I finally got to meet the man, but he was already a little bleary-eyed from meeting so many fans. I could also tell he was in a hurry to get it over with and head out. So I felt like to take up too much of his time would be intrusive. But there were a couple of things I wanted to tell him.
Back in 1988, when Laura and I got married, we wanted to do something interesting with our wedding invitations. So we had a pink flamingo on the cover and the tagline “Isn’t Love Divine.” This was a direct homage to Waters and his the star of so many of his early films, Divine. I’d wanted to send him a copy of the invitation, but figured I’d get to meet him at an event someday, and that it would be a great way to break the ice and talk to him about other stuff. So finally, after 22 years, I was standing before the man himself, showing him the invitation, and I realized how utterly unexciting it was. He’d probably seen stuff like this a hundred times before. He’d probably seen thousands of more interesting things before. Our little wedding invitiation probably didn’t register a blip on his radar. He asked if we wanted him to sign it. I said “You can keep that one, and we’ve got another one for you to sign.” He slipped the copy I gave him under the table (I bet there was a wastebasket under there. LOL). We got him to sign our copies of his books ROLE MODELS and a first edition of CRACKPOT, and even got a picture with the maestro. But so much for my big moment. I figured he’d be tickled pink by my little revelation, and it just wasn’t the case.
Of course, there were a bunch of other things I could talk about. The time, about a year before his movie HAIRSPRAY came out, when I’d written to him and he’d responded with a terrific postcard with Squeaky Fromme on one side (to even bring this up would probably have elicited a yawn – how many people must he have sent postcards to over the years?). I was going to mention that Laura and I were horror writers and see if that picqued his interest. I could have mentioned I ran a movie-review site (Cinema Knife Fight), or that we air his “No Smoking in this Theater” promo weekly on the insane internet TV series LAIR OF THE YAK. But the invitation thing took up our time allotment, I didn’t want to be a rude or pushy fan, and it was time for us to move on.
I put my email address on the back of the invitation I’d given him, but why in the world would he write to me? He had no idea who the hell I was. And I’m sure the wedding invitation wasn’t cool enough to make him think, “Man, I gotta stay in touch with this guy!”
After thinking of Waters as one of my own “role models” for decades, and finally getting the chance to meet him in the flesh, the event was anti-climactic, to say the least. Not that I blame him at all. The book tour and the unrelenting parade of fans begging him to sign stuff must be quite tedious. And I’m sure I would have felt the same way (let’s just get this over with!). He was gracious and witty and very civil. The personification of good manners. But you spend years thinking “If I just met this guy and he knew who I was, we’d be great friends.” Yeah, sure. Life just doesn’t often turn out like that.
Chances are John Waters will never be aware of who I am. And I’ve just got to live with that.