He had come to Porter Square Books to talk about Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, The End Of Civilization and had attracted the crazies you might expect — white-haired war enthusiasts who raised their hands aggressively, all ooo, ooo ooo ooo, warbling incomprehensible yelps about 1914, or why we shouldn’t negotiate with madmen (madmen who have hurt others before! Fool me seven times? Fool, ff-fool me fourteen times?), or with new historical scenarios — if we invaded then, don’t you agree, surely you can’t deny, we would have immediately won the war?
Some kid in hipster glasses wanted to know what all of this said about global warming.
“… I don’t know,” Baker shrugged, good-natured. “I can’t even begin to talk about global warming right now.”
Afterwards, my friend Angie and I joined the book-signing line — which was, granted, a little slow-moving, with all the crazies and their follow-up questions. I had brought my copy of Counterpoint, and she asked me what it was about.
“Oh, it’s great. It’s about these two guys … so, one of them wants to kill George W. Bush, he’s the kind of crazy one, and it’s a play, and … um, so, the play is about him wanting to kill the president … and he talks about why that might be justified. And it’s just the two of them talking, about that.”
“Huh,” she said. “Hey, do you like Soduku?”
I had been practicing the sentences I would utter to Nicholson Baker, and they went like this:
“I have two potentially gauche questions for you,” I said. “One, is it okay to ask for a signing of a book that isn’t Human Smoke?”
“Of course!” he smiled. “I’ll sign anything!”
“And two, is it all right to ask you to sign more than one book? One is for someone else; she introduced me to your work.”
“Of course, of course!”
I glowed in the shadow of this physical and metaphorical giant, and inwardly congratulated myself for both casually using the word gauche, and neglecting to make a complete ass of myself in front of Nicholson freaking Baker.
“Oh,” he said, as he handed the books back to me. “And I heard what you said, about Counterpoint, and that’s really not how I think of that book. It’s more about the man convincing the other, why it is not appropriate to kill the president. Not the other way around.”