Friday, November 13, 2009

A $212.81 book

This is far from the best column I've ever written, but looking over it again, I like the overall sentiment. And I still love the last line.

Published Aug. 20, 2004, in the Keizertimes

The moments when a stranger changes your entire day are too rare.

Recently, I had the opportunity to meet an author, Lono Waiwaiole, whose work I admire a great deal and, when he could have simply answered my question, signed my book and sent me on my way, he took an extra minute of his time and made me feel as though all the trials I survived to make it to his signing were worth every minute.

Lono's in-store appearance at Powell's occurred on a Wednesday. Wednesdays are production days here at the paper and rarely make my top six days of the week, but this day was particularly brutal. Nothing went horribly awry, but general stress and a workload that increased when it should have decreased proved so frustrating that I almost decided I didn't want to make the 40-minute drive.

When I finally got home, I was mentally exhausted and couldn't stop talking about how rough a day it had been. Once I had most of it out of my system, I went to pick up my daughter and things got better. She played with a couple of blocks for a few minutes and then, out of the blue, she leaned back into me and started suckling my cheek. She is not old enough to kiss yet, but that was good enough to melt away the ice that had been forming in my veins all day.

Leaving our daughter with my in-laws, my wife, Jennifer, and I got on the road. One of my tires was a little low, so en route to Portland we stopped in Brooks to fill it - easy peasy and we were on our way.

We got about 15 miles down the road and were passing a truck when I saw something fall from the truck - A bang echoed in the undercarriage from the left rear tire. I'm not going to get into my bad luck with flat tires. Let's just say that at my peak and with a well-oiled jack I can change one in less than 10 minutes. I have dreams of owning a single set of tires that are all the same age.

And, because the hits just won't stop, the area was getting its first rain in weeks. I changed the tire and, of course, the spare was low and we had to limp up I-5 from the rest stop to Wilsonville, luckily, just over a mile. Lono's appearance was set to begin in 10 minutes.

When we finally rolled up to Powell's and got inside Lono had already begun speaking and Jenn and I stood in the back for a few minutes before taking a seat. Once seated, in the back row, but directly in front of Lono, I was rapt. When the question and answer session was over, I grabbed a copy of his latest book and waited for Lono to finish talking to some of the attendees he knew.

"Hi, I'm Lono," he said, extending his hand.

"Eric," I replied, shaking it.

"Eric ...?" he responded quizzically, waiting for my last name.

"Howald." I said, taken off guard because no writer I've ever met has ever asked for details.

"I'm really glad you came out tonight, Eric. I could feel your energy in the back and it was great," he said.

If my jaw could have reached the floor it would have.

I am the quiet type, I usually make a point of trying to remain unnoticed, but for some reason he picked up on my enthusiasm just being in the audience - or maybe I just looked desperate. I was speechless.

We made small talk for another minute; he inscribed my book and I walked off beaming. The tribulations of the previous 12 hours drifted away.

I go to writer appearances assuming I am one of many and just like many of the ones they'll meet throughout their book tours, but for a minute Lono turned the tables on me and I felt like he was a fan of mine. It was incredible.

We often take for granted the esteem others hold us in. I suspect Lono knows exactly the respect he could command, but instead of keeping it to himself he uses it to make others feel special.

That's a skill I'm going to work on.

The inscribed book cost us $212.81 with gas, new tire, rotation, balance and alignment - and it was worth every penny.

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