The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Norman Mailer

I tried to convince myself that he had just come from a bloody-knuckle Christopher Hitchens ass-kicking, but considering that he was 76 at the time, the chances seemed slim.

My friend Alex was working for the as-yet not officially announced presidential contender John McCain. He hooked me up with an invite to a cocktail party at Bloomberg News to celebrate the release of McCain’s memoir, _Faith of My Fathers._ It was a star-studded affair with luminaries sipping champagne and eating shrimp wrapped in bacon as the author signed books and greeted well-wishers.

As I looked around at my peers in the room while basking in my future glory, I spotted him: The Man. The Myth. The Mailer.

He was sporting an enormous Band-Aid across his forehead. I tried to convince myself that he had just come from a bloody-knuckle Christopher Hitchens ass-kicking, but considering that he was 76 at the time, the chances seemed slim. Mailer was just an old guy in a rumpled suit with a large Band-Aid covering up some kind of splotch underneath his thinning white hair.

So, he looked a bit silly. What did I care? This was my opportunity to kick-start my quest to become the 21st-century Norman Mailer by taking mental notes about the 20th-century version. I walked over and somewhat sheepishly introduced myself.

“Hello, um, Mr. Mailer," I began. "I’m a writer, and I just wanted to say that I am a big fan of your—”

“What’s your name?”

“Patrick Sauer.”

“How do you spell that?”

“S-a-u-e-r.”

Mailer mulled that over for a few long seconds while I tried to think of something intelligent and witty to say, the kind of remark that would get me invited to dinner parties in Provincetown. Before I came up with anything, Mailer interjected.

“You’re a writer, huh? Have you written anything I might be familiar with?”

In my mind, the writer’s life I was envisioning for myself went down in a fiery crash like John McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk. Not only did I not have a single worthwhile credit to offer the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning writer standing in front of me, but I also couldn’t look this living legend in the eye because the peculiar, unexpected Band-Aid had me hypnotized.

So I half-mumbled a response: “Are you familiar with the Complete Idiot’s Guide series?”

“No.”

“Um, well, they’re mass-market reference books, but, um, you know…I’m just getting started, and well…anyhow, I just wanted to say it’s an honor to meet you.”

Mailer gave me the smile of a pugnacious grandfather. "Well, Patrick Sauer, I’ll look out for that name. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be writing for you one of these days.”

He shook my hand. And then he wandered off to the party.

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