Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Fictional Conversation with Douglas Coupland

"How do I start this," I began, more nervous than I thought myself capable, "without the customary clichés that are commonplace when meeting a celebrity?"

Mr. Coupland averted his eyes, smiling briefly, and continued signing the copy of Girlfriend In a Coma that I had pushed towards him.

"Everything I think to say comes out in my mind’s eye as horribly contrived and/or completely inconsequential." Mr. Coupland finished his signature and closed the front flap of the book.

"For one," he said, smiling with what seemed to be very little comfort, "I wouldn’t really consider myself a celebrity." He stood and looked over my shoulder at the dwindling lineup of autograph-hounds. "For two, as far as clichés go, I’ve heard that one before as well." Mr. Coupland sat back down and smiled again, but with a humour that was lacking in his previous smiles. He shook my hand, thanking me for something or other, and basically "next"-ed me out of the way. I tried not to let disappointment get the better of me as I wandered to the back of the line. I had come late to the book-signing with the hope that Mr. Coupland would have some time to actually converse with me, and here I was picking up and putting down books, trying to look busy, waiting for the opportunity and a second shot at communication.

Half an hour went by, and Mr. Coupland had caught me idling at the back of the bookstore...so, feeling a little bit like a serial-killer, I got back in line. As the line progressed, nobody else came in for autographs, leaving me the final fan. Mr. Coupland was catching little glimpses of me making my way toward him, with nobody behind me, and after each signature his eyes seemed to widen. I was going over in my head the ways in which I could be seen as the NOT-so-overzealous type, and how I could persuade him into a little chat.

I was creating and discarding clever reasons for why I was back in line by the time I got close enough to Mr. Coupland to feel his fear; he had flagged down an employee, and the back-and-forth whispering really stuck in the craw of the two people waiting to get books signed in front of me, their moment interrupted by the unusual nods towards exits and nods in agreement. I had my mantra down pat and was just about to unleash it upon Mr. Coupland when, after finishing the last signature, he sprang backwards from his chair and bolted through the back door, leaving open books and empty coffee-cups in his wake. Temporarily paralyzed before realization hit, I quickly put everything together and focused on where he would be heading. I made a jab-step-fake towards the door Mr. Coupland had escaped from, forcing the employees back on their heels, and was confident that momentum would carry me the opposite way, out the front door, with a good head-start if the employees were to chase me at all. Sure enough, once I was outside I was unfettered, free to resume my Coupland-catching.

I figured Mr. Coupland would be in need of a stiff drink to calm his jangled nerves, so I sprinted down a back-alley, shoving my newly-treasured book into my jacket-pocket, desperate for my short-cut and sleuthing to bear fruit while NOT damaging my book. As I crept along the gravel between two disheveled houses across from a local watering-hole, I caught sight of Mr. Coupland entering said watering-hole, and decided that I needed to creep no more. Surely the promise of lamp-post-lit security would allow Mr. Coupland to see me as the fan I was, and not some maniac to avoid...but like he had some sort of sixth-sense for perpetuating misunderstandings, he saw me step from the shadows of the alley and froze, holding open the door to the pub and the possibility of conflict resolution. I smiled broadly, attempting to comfort him with my toothiness, but it became apparent that he was weighing his options; I took a cautious step in his direction, and he remained frozen...but before I could take my second step he had taken off down the street, arms pumping wildly, almost skidding out into oncoming traffic as he turned toward the lake. Sighing, I chased after him, resolving not to smile again in a similar situation.

I was well behind him but I could follow the flat, wet sound of his shoes slapping the sidewalk up ahead, and by the time Mr. Coupland reached the lake, I had narrowed the gap between us to ten feet. I figured that, since he was slowing down visibly at this point, I would make another attempt at communication:

"Mr. Coupland! There’s nothing to be afraid of!" I shouted.

"I still love you!"

Somehow revitalized, Mr. Coupland all but dove into one of the grassy-areas that separated the lake from the street; unseen from the street, this grassy-patch was surrounded by green, flat, treeless land, and it must have looked to a novelist unaccustomed to running like an escape...but I knew differently. I waited street-side for a bit, in case Mr. Coupland had designs on doubling-back on me, eventually stalking into the grassy-area while ambush-proofing myself as much as possible. I calmed myself further with the unlikely scenario of Mr. Coupland attacking me; he was a hippie born too late, a lover instead of a fighter, a wordsmith but no warrior. I would probably find him cowering somewhere, curled up and fetal, and would need to be as gentle as possible so as to not frighten him any further. I only wanted to chat, and once that great immobilizer of conversation was absent, once the fear was gone, we could have that chat.

A big, warm smile lit up the front of my head at exactly the same time as something clubbed me in the back of it. I hit the soft dirt with a thud and violently kicked my legs out behind me to either stun my attacker or to push him away, resulting in a second thud into the woodchip-pile behind me. I leapt to my feet and found Mr. Coupland brandishing woodchip-covered pants, a face-full of rage, and a thick tree-branch held aloft in what looked to be the back-swing of a mighty wallop.

Before I could explain anything, my left knee exploded and I fell crippled to the ground. Mr. Coupland tried to get up and out of the woodchip-pile but kept slipping.

"Stop following me, you freak!" he yelled, holding his weapon as aggressively as he was able while still attempting to gain a foothold. "I couldn’t follow you if I wanted to, Mr. Coupland," I said, trying to speak clearly while lying on my chest. "You’ve obliterated my kneecap."

"And if you even try to get up," Mr. Coupland screamed, "your head’ll be next!"

He was really angry.

"I was just a little disappointed with our meeting earlier," I said, abruptly getting the nauseating feeling that my leg was bent funny at the knee as I turned onto my back. "I had envisioned us getting along great because I love your work and it means so much to me."

Mr. Coupland was looking at my mangled leg as I talked; he gently put the branch down as he tried to keep from turning green. "Life’s full of disappointments," he said, his horrified expression as obvious as his voice was calm. For the first time, Mr. Coupland didn’t see me as a threat; he asked me my name as he crouched down beside me. I answered, "Ryan," and he nodded while opening up his cellphone.

"What did you want to talk to me about so desperately, anyway?" he said, and I waited for him to finish his phone-call with 911 before I finally had my conversation with Douglas Coupland.

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