Crowd Control

Living alone, I sometimes feel odd going out by myself at night.

But tonight, I got a last-minute e-mail telling me that help was needed for a speech being given by Sherman Alexie. I didn’t know much about Sherman Alexie. I knew he was Native American and a writer and that was about it, but I figured I could help out.

When I arrived, I met the head of the university’s writing program. He was wearing a red baseball cap backwards and worrying aloud if anyone would show up.

“The last writer who came only attracted 30 people,” he lamented, “we had 130 seats.”

Tonight, we had a lot more than 130 seats. I was told the auditorium seated 800. There could be a lot of empty seats, he fretted. I went outside to wait for people to show up. I discovered there were already a few enthusiastic souls standing in line, waiting for the doors to open. So I put on my coat and went out to do crowd control.

The people kept coming.

The event was being co-sponsored by a local independent book store and, while admission was free, the idea was to open the house to the folks who had purchased a book in advance at 6:30 and let every one else in at 6:45. That way, they figured, they might sell a few books ahead of time. It sounded like a great idea on paper.

By 6:00 there was a very long line of people who had purchased a copy of the book in advance— and the line for those who had not was even longer.

“Can we buy the book now?” they inquired.

Sure enough, they could. So instead of two lines we had three: book purchasers, those who had not purchased a book, and those in the process of changing their status. And more people kept coming.

I was jogging along the long lines, which wound far past the auditorium, letting people know in a loud voice what was happening, warning people, towards the end, that they might not all get in. Everyone was laughing and joking with me. Still more people came.

We squeezed people into every seat. We seated people on the floor. We put a lot of people on the stage. One very determined group of Native Americans watched the entire show through the side doors. And we turned away a lot of very disappointed people, including 25 Indian school children who had driven with their teacher more than an hour from their rural village to see the show.

As the bookstore employees were about to close the theater doors they said to me, “quick get a seat!” and I did. I sat next to a Navajo woman who video-recorded the entire show on her phone.

Sherman Alexie made jokes about Navajos, saying they were the handsomest people on earth— and knew it. He made jokes about Pueblos, saying they were so cute that he wanted to pick them up and hug them— until a Pueblo man who easily weighed 300 pounds stood up from the audience and dared him to try. And Sherman made lots of jokes about the rest of us, the “translucent ones,” the “nervous white people.” And everyone laughed.

Afraid I was going to be alone, I ended up in the center of a giant, joyous community.

As I walked out of the theater, a dozen people I didn’t know said goodnight to me. They all wished the big-mouthed white woman a good night.

It was.

Till next time,

—Carrie

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