Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Life, The Universe, and Just About Everything

I used to have the privilege of saying that Douglas Adams was my "favorite living writer" - most of the writers I favor died at least fifty years ago, if not longer. Sadly, in 2001, Douglas joined my favorites on the other side, and with his passing, there is still a large gap in the writing world to this day. On this, what would have been his 58th birthday, I wanted to share my memories of this amazing writer, who will always be one of my favorites.

Douglas Adams and me (1990)

Douglas Adams

The Book Company, Sherway Gardens, Mississauga, Ontario (Canada), 1990

The first time I met Douglas Adams was in a bookstore in Sherway Gardens, a mall just outside Mississauga in Etobicoke. It was probably the prettiest mall around - small and unassuming with lots of nooks and crannies in which to hide bookstores and gift shops. In one of these corners hid The Book Company - a lavish, decadent shrine to literature, swathed in dark, classy forest green. From the outside, it looked small, but much like Dr. Who's TARDIS, once you got inside, it was very deep and comforting, like being back in the womb. I frequented it for its good prices and its ability to stock the best in British literature and comedy Canada had to offer.

As I was skimming through the paper on a lazy Saturday morning, I came across an ad for a book signing at the store. Almost weekly, authors graced its presence to sign their books and meet their adoring fans. Just the week previously, Nick Bantok (of Griffin and Sabine fame) was there. Yet the signing this upcoming weekend was of special interest to me. Douglas Adams was coming! The man who had made me laugh and smile through his series of books, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was coming to our little bookstore!

I had to go. I was ready to beg my dad to take me to the mall on a school night and meet the legend whom I had adored for so long. To my delight, he instantly agreed. I knew I had to come prepared, but I only had second hand copies of the books (I was in highschool still!) with price tags that said “reduced” on the covers. I knew this wouldn’t look good that I had not bought a “new” book for Douglas to sign. His latest at the time was Last Chance to See, which I unfortunately had not yet read. I decided to carefully peel the price tag off my beloved copy of Life, The Universe and Everything (my personal fave in the HHG series) and hope for the best.

We got to the mall early, and there was a small line already formed. I was amazed more people hadn't shown up – this was DOUGLAS ADAMS for goodness sake! I soon realized I had gotten there at a perfect time. A line soon began snaking around the store and out into the mall itself. My mother, in all her resourcefulness, had borrowed a Polaroid camera from our local library in hopes of getting a few shots of me and Douglas together. My dad held it safely in his hands; I knew I would probably drop it.

We waited and we waited, then suddenly, a huge shadow fell over the crowd. An enormous man in an even more enormous duffle coat shimmered quietly into the store. A smaller man helped the giant remove his coat and the man sat down at the small table, his long legs jutting out from underneath it. It was Douglas Adams.

When was my turn, I was so nervous and excited, I actually blurted out something really stupid that I can’t even remember. In the middle of signing my book, my father quickly asked Douglas to look in the direction of the camera and instructed both of us to “smile.” I felt a little embarrassed, but others in line were envious of my foresight to bring a camera. I still have that picture, tucked inside my autographed copy of the book, my conspicuous blue framed glasses hiding the elation in my eyes. The book (and the photo) are housed safely at my parents' house with my other copies of Mr. Adams’ masterworks.

And Last Chance to See? I did get around to reading it, and loved it. As I always say, I’ve never read a Douglas Adams book I didn’t like.

Harbourfront Centre, Toronto, Ontario (Canada), 1992

My second meeting with Douglas Adams happened in early 1992. My dad and I got tickets to see him read at the Harbourfront Reader’s Series in downtown Toronto.

I had written two pieces for my typing class, of all things, that were loosely based on his famous Hitchhiker’s Guide series. My teacher loved them so much, to this day, they are still used as examples with which students learn how to type. One was a menu, from Milliway’s, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, and one was a mock front page of a newspaper, called “The Hitchhiker.” I brought copies of these pieces with me, with the small hope that I would get a chance to show them to my inspiration.

The reading was in a large convention hall in Harbourfront Centre in downtown Toronto. Dad and I got there early enough to be first in line and found ourselves seats right near the front. There were three writers reading – one from Australia, one from somewhere else, and Douglas. The three men filed in and sat down near the front.

I nudged my dad. “There he is!”
“That tall guy sitting at the front, on the right?"
I nodded vigorously.

We had about fifteen minutes to kill before the whole thing started, and I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce myself to one of my writing idols. I thought for sure I’d have to fight my way through the crowd, but although there were multitudes of eager fans there, they had no idea what Douglas Adams, their savior, their hero, creator of Marvin the Paranoid Android looked like! Perhaps it’s the curse of choosing writing as a profession – you’re never really "known" like an actor or a singer. I had met Douglas at a book signing not six months previously and also had the wherwithall to look at the back cover of one of his books, so I knew his face perfectly.

Two boys across the way approached us after they heard my excited outburst.
“That’s him?” they asked incredulously.
I nodded vigorously again, grinning proudly.

It was then that I took the opportunity to have my little moment in the sun. I will always thank my dad for making that night a little more special. He gave me the last pinch of courage I needed to go up and talk to one of my favorite writers. Dad reminded me gently that Douglas Adams was just another person and not some god, although in my mind then, it was only half-true.

Quietly, I approached Mr. Adams, hands shaking and said, "This is just a little something based on your work," and handed him those two pieces of writing done for my typing class. My last glimpse of Douglas as I beat a quick path back to my seat was a bemused look passing over his sharp features. (Hey, I was 17, I was shy, overweight and not a great conversationalist, especially when I had no idea what to say to the Douglas Adams!)

While we were waiting for the first Australian writer to come on, Douglas didn’t stick my pieces under his seat, he didn’t toss them aside or ignore them, he read them!!! I was aghast, I was in awe, I was honored! Douglas Adams was reading my writing!

As they were based on the Hitchhiker’s series, the short pieces were (at least I thought) rather humorous. And so did Douglas! Douglas Adams, one of my favorite writers, sat there, reading my pieces and laughing! He loved them! You could see the enjoyment on his face. I was so pleased, I was bursting! I had left my name and number on the back of both, but sadly, I never got a call. But honestly, having your work read and enjoyed by one of your absolute favorite writers is quite enough for me.

Even though there was a signing afterwards, (our two young men friends from previously had thought ahead and brought their towels for Douglas to sign), I didn’t bother to stay and get a signature, I had my prize for that night and for a lifetime.

You are missed, Douglas.

1 comment:

  1. Isn't that funny. Last night found my autographed copy of "Last Chance to See" which had been in a box for a while.
    I decided to do a Google search before I do my own blog about it and I found this.
    I met him the one time at Sherway Gardens. I wish I had a camera with me as you did.
    Last Chance to See ended up being my favourite book of his but all of them were magnificent.
    I miss Douglas a lot. I was always waiting for something new from him and when he died it hit hard that there wouldn't be any more new books any more.
    We're a lot alike, you and I. :)

    Take care,
    Tim Scammell