I’ve had three blind dates in my life - a friend/buddy blind date and two romantic hopefuls. Because of these dates, I now have a husband, a life long friend, and a dinner table story. This is the dinner table story.
I got into a fight with Maya Angelou.
Blind dates are gray. You know a little about the person you’re going out with, but not enough to paint a full color portrait. I was hopeful about my date, but the minute he arrived, I had my doubts - it was his car. He had a shiny red muscle car – not my thing. Anyway, we left, and as the night progressed I was glad to be in his company. This wasn’t going to be a romance, but he was interesting and creative, and his stories were funny.
We were sitting in a restaurant, across the street from our final destination – Barbara’s Bookstore, in Chicago. Maya Angelou was doing a reading and signing in the store later that evening, and my date was a devoted fan. He’d read all her books and found her truly inspirational. I was a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know much about her, except that her name evoked images of some kind of superior being floating above the masses - a spiritual leader of sorts.
My date was beyond excited. Clearly this was special night for him, and soon I was sharing a lower level of his enthusiasm. Maya Angelou? Sure, why not? Maybe her words would enlighten me, give me wisdom - plot me on a new life path. My date assured me that this could happen. Maya Angelou had that kind of power. We arrived early to get good seats, and were almost the first people sitting down. Every venue has its perfect seats - the ones where if you squint to block out those around you, you can half-pretend that the speaker at the podium is talking only to you. We got those seats.
After something of a long wait Maya Angelou appeared. I say appeared, because she had that kind of aura about her – somewhat mystical, and the audience responded in such. When she spoke, there was absolute silence, no candy wrappers, no rustling, not even a stray cough. I can’t remember what she said, but I do remember the way in which she said it. She was powerful and intimidating. I imagined myself standing next to her and then slowly fading away - disappearing into nothingness - her energy rendering me invisible.
When the reading was over, everyone quickly lined up for the book signing. We were fast and secured
a spot close to the front. Maya Angelou was popular, behind us the line continued out the door. My date didn’t talk much while we waited. I assumed he was organizing his thoughts, planning what to say for his brief thirty seconds with his idol. I was glad I wasn’t him – about to meet my hero. How could you express your admiration in the time it took to sign a book? What could you say to seem special and different from everyone else? That’s the problem with authors, you love them before you even meet them, but they don’t love you back. It was too much pressure. I was glad I was only along for the ride. When we got to the front, I’d smile and watch her sign the book, but I wouldn’t have to say a word.
And then it was our turn. I stood back letting my date have center table. He introduced himself, handed over his book, smiled, and then disaster. While she was signing the book he reached into his backpack and pulled out a large piece of paper. He placed it in front of her. It was a painting of a woman.
My Date: I painted it. It’s you. Will you sign it for me?
Maya Angelou: NO! That’s not me!
My Date: It is. I used a photo as a reference.
Maya Angelou: My hair’s not like that! That’s not me! I won’t sign it!
I felt bad for my date. So, maybe the painting didn’t look exactly like her, but still, didn’t the thought count? So without thinking I jumped in. Maybe I could help. Explain what a big deal this was.
Me: He’s a huge fan. If you signed it, it would make him really happy.
Maya Angelou: I WILL NOT SIGN THAT! THAT IS NOT ME!
My Date: I’m sorry you don’t like it, but it is you. I used a photograph.
Maya Angelou: THAT IS NOT ME!!!!
At this point Maya Angelou is yelling, and everyone is staring. I am shocked. I can’t believe what is happening. Seconds later two people come over, tap our arms and ask us to leave. We are escorted out of the bookstore. Standing on the sidewalk I wonder. Has this ever happened before? Do people get thrown out of bookstores? My date is a good sport. He puts on a brave face. On the way home he jokes that Maya Angelou will never forget him, he might be right, but what’s also true is that I’ll never forget her. Maya Angelou yelling at me, and surprise, I didn’t disappear.