Date Night with Sherman Alexie

Aside from the fact that he doesn't know me, we had the beginnings of a great friendship.

It was a rainy date night in Seattle, one of those rare times when parents manage to sneak away to watch a movie on the really big screen. The theater was full, but the seat next to me was empty, saved by a woman to my right.

We chatted and joked—whether about kids or defending the lone seat from predators, I don’t remember. I felt jovial, and it was great to laugh with someone friendly in stiff-lipped Seattle. But all that was lost by what happened next.

I stood up to let her date pass me, laughing as he brushed against me to squish into his seat. And it was Sherman Alexie: poet, writer, filmmaker, generally groovy cultural icon. OK, maybe you have to be a writer to be as gaga as I was about this, but in fact I’ve written unsent letters to this guy, been touched by his poems coming through my car radio while I drove to soccer practice. I’m not a poet, and for a few years I even had a beef about his angry period, where he seemed to make fun of Indian "wanna-bes" at every turn. (I’ve known a few, and there are worse ways to behave.) But there are things I’ve always wanted to talk to him about—and sometimes have in the quiet of my writing studio. Aside from the fact that he doesn’t know me, we had the beginnings of a great friendship.

But as he sat down I had that moment, the moment where everything you’ve ever wanted to say to someone comes crushing in at you from a hundred different angles: how you loved his poem about Indian boys, why it made you remember a certain boy you crushed on 25 years ago, what you felt when you saw _Smoke Signals,_ and about a dozen other things about music and films, poetry, culture.

It was a huge swirl, all happening in that instant, while somewhere in the middle I stood trying to pick one pithy, perfect thing to say, what meant the most, the thing that would prove the catalyst for conversation, that would lead us to sipping coffee or sharing a beer while he reads my latest pages and gives me encouragement. (Hey, it could happen. All I had to do was not be lame.)

But I had only those three seconds. He just wanted to see a movie. If all I could manage to gush out was, “Gosh, I really love your work!” then he could say, “Gee. Thanks.” And, worst part, he gets to spend the whole night squished next to a drooling fan, wishing he could hide, with me wondering each minute what I can say to look cool and, of course, worthy.

Not the best way to to spend date night.

So I stepped out of the hurricane and just flashed him a quick (although hopefully hip and literary) smile. “Enjoy the movie!"

Best I could do at the time.


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