There are events in one’s life that truly define a person, that offer a real measure of what they have accomplished, and if properly embraced through retrospection, will challenge that person to strive for more. This past Sunday in Bowie, Maryland, I experienced just such a moment.
I knew in May when I signed the contract with the Bowie Baysox to sell copies of my book Deadball, that July 22nd, the date I was to appear, would be “Summer Reading Night” at the stadium. Subsequently, I learned that, in addition to a book swap, Scholastic Books would be giving away copies of one of their titles to children attending the game. However, it wasn’t until a week before the date that I was informed Scholastics, in addition to supplying books, would be sending to the game one of the true giants of the industry – Captain Underpants!
Upon reflection, I am certain it was fate that brought me to the Bowie Baysox on that Sunday in July, where I found myself in the midst of a true, literary icon – he a figure beloved by millions of early readers, me a writer still trying to shake off the not-ready-for-prime-time-label of “local author.”
“How would he act when I met him? What should I say to him?” These and other questions went racing through my mind as I set up my table in the concourse along the first base side of Prince Georges County Stadium. Just before the start of the game, I was invited onto the field to throw out a ceremonial first pitch (I bounced it, dammit). “Where was CU?” I wondered. Surely he would be asked onto the field and offered the same honor. But no, I was wrong.
After returning to my table, the game was soon underway. It was then that I saw him, lumbering down the concourse in my direction, each clopping step he took growing louder as he approached. He stopped directly in front of my table, chased down by some tiny admirers. He was much bigger in real life, certainly larger than he appeared on the covers of his books. Indeed, he seems to have grown quite a bit in the 15 years since his debut in 1997.
A gaggle of children lined up to pose for a picture with him. He readily complied. I watched him with a measure of awe and a measure of trepidation. Once the line of admirers dispersed, I had my chance. I walked around to the front of my table and called out his name. He turned toward me and I reached out my hand. As I embraced his grip, his pudgy fingers seemingly collapsed into a smaller hand, as if I were squeezing a balloon with a candy bar inside. “That’s odd,” I thought.
He spoke not a word and I found myself doing all the talking. “You’ve sold quite a lot of books,” I said. He simply nodded. “Would you mind if I took a picture with you?” He moved his stumped arm in front of him as if to say “be my guest.” “Would you mind holding a copy of my book?” He gave me a thumb-up, and I placed a copy of Deadball into his balloon-like hand. My daughter took the shot and, as the camera flash faded, so did my moment amongst literary greatness. After posing for a couple more pictures with his little admirers, he lumbered away, his handler in tow.
I can only hope to one day reach the literary heights CU has achieved, millions of adoring readers who recognize him instantaneously. It may be unrealistic for me to believe I too could attain such a pinnacle of success. But, with apologies to Stephen King, and to paraphrase Andy Dufresne, “get busy striving, or get busy dying.”
And thank you, Captain Underpants.