Stars align. This was one of the first insults I’d dared ask for, and it was the first insult I’d received outside of a reading/signing. It was as if Hemmingway Himself guided me to The Strand that day in search of a rare book. I normally don’t put much stock in religion, but there’s still enough old Catholic spiritualism (and self-loathing) kicking around in my subsconcious to wonder if I’d been guided to Mr. Mitchell by way of a Flying Spaghetti Monster.
So! After I worked up the courage to skirt the phalanx of Strand employees wheeling in what looked like stack after stack of Jacob de Zoet 1st editions, I approached the table, said hello, asked if it wouldn’t be too much trouble etc etc etc. My name’s Bill and if you could sign it to me… And also! If you’re comfortable with it, maybe you could throw in an insult in the inscription?
Mr. Mitchell’s assistant laughed. “Wait, you’re ‘Bill Plus Insult?”
The Strand folk chuckled, but they were on the outside looking at the inside joke, at the moment. Mr. Mitchell’s laughed along with me, asked if I’d known he was going to be at The Strand that day, how I’d managed to track him down, that sort of thing.
See, I’d no idea that Sñr Mitchell was going to be there, or I would’ve spent the day finding copies of his older books for insults. In fact, what had happened was that I’d purchased a book from a nearby, smaller independent book seller whose owner I happen to know well enough to request that he ask the authors who stop in to sign the books I buy “To Bill,” of course, but also “Plus Insult.”
So now in the small world of the event coordinators for NYC book sellers, I’m “Bill Plus Insult” or “The Insult Guy.”
But yeah, stars align and put David Mitchell in the rare section of a bookstore at the exact same moment I decide to go looking for a copy of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son (which I’ve still never found). To be fair, I like to wander away from my day job whenever possible, stop in at The Strand for lunch and peruse their 1/2 price books, so it was maybe just a matter of time before I stumbled over someone at a bookstore. But David Mitchell? An hour or two after signing inscribing my book (in absentia on my part)? Neat-o kooky cool.
What carved Mr. Mitchell in bas-relief into my pantheon of Authors for whom I’d Throw Myself In Front of a Bullet to Save was his asking me if I was sure I could afford buying two of his books. He said it with a laugh so as on the surface not to insult me, but I’m pretty sure he would’ve said not to worry about it if I had buyer’s remorse. I’m a shabby looking kid, man. He was probably wondering why I didn’t beg him for more porridge rather than an inscription. No, I couldn’t afford to spend another $25 on top of the $25 I was obliged to pay for his earlier insult, not on my pitiful salary, but how do you not buy two books when David Mitchell’s happy to sign them for you? Beats me.