Andy and I meet Neil Gaiman

In which we learn just how dry British humor can be when coming from a master

Writer’s note; this story took place more than ten years ago, so many of the details have faded. However, you will get the gist of the story and the punchline is accurate to the last detail.

My roommate Andy, I, and our gaming pal, Rich had acquired tickets to see the premiere of the television adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel; Neverwhere. We traveled to Boston, where Gaiman himself would introduce the show and we would watch several episodes.

Mr. Gaiman told the sold-out venue that after the intermission he would be hoisting a few at a nearby pub and signing autographs. Andy and I agreed that this was more interesting than watching a show we would no doubt be able to see at some point in the future, but drinking with Neil Gaiman probably wouldn’t happen again. So, we left Rich (who wanted to watch the second half) and went to the pub.

After we cozied up to the bar, we talked to his agent (or US representative) and he showed us his newest novel (whose title escapes me) and he was excited that it came in a variety of limited-edition covers. Andy scoffed full of derision and exclaimed, “That’s just a marketing ploy to make extra sales. Stupid fanboys will collect every cover!” He thought he was particularly insightful. Or clever. Or smart. He certainly thought he was smart.

I agreed and filled with self-righteous indignation; we turned back to the bar and found Neil Gaiman standing there with a very smug British smile on his face. Andy removed a book from his coat and after some small-talk (Did we like the show, how did he like America? etc.) presented it to Gaiman to have signed. Neil courteously signed Andy’s book and bid us farewell as he turned to the other fans demanding his attention.

“What did he write?” I asked, craning my neck to see the autograph.

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Andy’s lips were squeezed together tightly and he had a look like he was going to sneeze. He opened the title page of the book and there it was- Neil Gaiman’s personal message to Andy.

Mind the gags.

“I guess he heard you,” I said.

A History of Violence

I never knew my father. Alone, my mother raised me, but I lacked a male role model; a man who would teach me about girls, fishing and fighting. I had four older brothers who did have a father, but most of them had a penchant for violence that often got them into trouble. This violent history even got my oldest brother killed, so maybe it was best that I didn’t know my father. I believe violence has its place in the world, but there is a time and a place for fighting and there is a skill in knowing when and where.

My earliest role-models were the super heroes of four-color comic books. The modern age of comic books is filled with strong men and women who do not avoid the dangerous world of vigilante violence, but most avoid killing at all costs. Pop culture is filled with admirable, powerful heroes who punch first and ask questions later. However, super heroes do not actually risk much. Despite the risk to their social lives, the heroes usually win, and even when they die, they come back after a short hiatus.

“C’mon, kick his ass!” I was in a foster home at age seven and one of the first things my foster brothers and sisters wanted me to do was to beat up a local kid who was about my age. For some reason, they thought he deserved to be beaten up, but he was younger than them, so, by schoolyard rules was untouchable. I didn’t want to fight him, so I walked away. Perhaps I had failed an initiation test, but I didn’t care. That kid had done nothing to me, and I wasn’t going to fight someone else’s battle.

“I’m going to beat the shit out of you!” Nate Mason, a much bigger kid whispered to me in fifth grade math class. He was so much bigger than me that I didn’t doubt he had been held back once or twice.

I didn’t know what I did to warrant his aggression. I was quiet, but did well in math class and participated often. Only now do I realize how that might make a slender kid with glasses and a girl’s name the target of bullying, a term often used today, but hardly ever at the time.

All day he threatened me as we moved from class to class. “Jan, I’m gonna kick your ass after school!” I was terrified. I could have gone to the teacher, but that may have made things worse. In my frightened twelve-year old brain, the thought just didn’t occur to me.

The final school bell rang and I rushed out the front doors of the school. The door’s hadn’t closed behind me when I heard a familiar voice from behind me say, “Jan!”

Batman never called his mommy.

I spun and he was there- leaning against the brick wall next to the double-doors was Nate Mason, a full foot taller than me. Before he could say anything, I attacked him. With the strength of the Incredible Hulk and the rage of Wolverine I grabbed him by his heavy winter jacket and shoved him against the wall. Lke the Flash, I began to pummel him with a million punches. Only the shouts of the bus ladies brought me to my senses and I threw his broken body to the ground.

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Perhaps that story is dramatized, but the details are true. What I learned from that incident and from the one before it was when to walk away from a fight and when to stand up for myself. The knowledge that it is sometimes important to fight my own battles is valuable. Over the years, I have been involved in figurative fights and literal ones. I have fought solo and alongside allies. And for every battle I won, I lost two. And every time I lost a fight, I learned much more than from the ones I won.