November 03, 2014
Let’s just get it out there. Because I got it all out there. I puked on Sherman Alexie. Yes, that Sherman Alexie. Celebrated author of short stories, novels, poetry, and tweets. Wearer of very nice leather shoes, possibly handmade in Italy or Spain, or some such country where stooped artisans of the lost art of shoemaking spend months hand-stitching beautiful footwear for famous authors.
Alexie’s shoes are notable not only for their beauty and the craftsmanship that attended their creation. They are famous—no, infamous—because I defiled them. I doubt he has worn them again.
It was spring of 2010, the first night of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP). The conference, notorious for the drunkenness and general bad behavior of its attendees, took place in Denver that year. The Mile High City. The city with such a significant altitude differential from Oakland, from where I had traveled, that, I was told later, every drink has the effect of two. It should be noted that much of this story is, or should be, prefaced by the qualification “I was told later.”
I was sick in Oakland. I was sick on the plane. I was sick when I got to Denver. I was sick when I got to the bar where the reading in which I was slated to read would take place. Sick, as in sore throat and laryngitis (which turned into blisters in my throat two days later). I had not eaten or had much to drink. I used the last of my voice to talk to friends I only saw once a year, at the conference. And when it was time for me to read, I insisted that I could, and proceeded to croak my story, with a friend standing by to take over, if necessary.
My reading was cringe-worthy. But apparently valiant and/or humorous to watch. After, people bought me drinks! Free drinks are my favorite kind of drinks! Bourbon is my favorite free drink! I believe I drank around five generous shots of bourbon. On an empty stomach. At one mile above sea level. My friend, Barry, tried to feed me some hummus and pita, which, he informed me later, I spit out on the bar. I recall the very nice bartender saying, “She can’t sleep on the bar.” To my credit, I was not stretched out on the bar. Rather, I could no longer lift my head. It’s not my fault. The drinks were free.
Barry had positioned me at the end of the bar, presumably so he could push me out of there quickly if it looked like I was about to get sick. Sherman Alexie walked into the bar. Someone said “Hey, it’s Sherman Alexie.” I lifted my head and introduced myself in a manner neither he nor I found appropriate for the occasion.
That’s my recollection. The recollections of others vary: I tossed my cookies on the floor just before he walked in, and he stepped in it. Someone was making a formal introduction, and I … you get the picture. In all versions, the man’s shoes were undeserving victims.
Alexie left shortly thereafter. My roommate’s friend, fortunately prone to airsickness, brought me a magic pill that made me sleep and not feel like throwing up anymore. When my roommate returned, she handed me a cloth napkin, in which I found the best sandwich (half sandwich, to be exact) I have eaten before or since. I don’t know what kind it was, but it was amazing.
I hope Sherman Alexie enjoyed the sandwich, too, as it was his. He ate the other half earlier, while out with my friend and a lot of other people.
In a story I find hard to believe, he wanted to move on before finishing his delicious sandwich. Despite my sore, then blistered, throat, I asked my roommate a million times: Where was Sherman Alexie’s sandwich made? She didn’t remember. Four plus years later, I still want to know. It was a really good sandwich.
After writing this essay, a friend put me in touch with Sherman Alexie. He found the essay “hilarious” and “very funny,” which means that you should, too. In addition, I learned the following:
• I did, in fact, lose my hummus on the tips of his shoes.
• He threw the shoes in the garbage and walked to his hotel in socks.
• His shoes were not crafted lovingly by hand in Italy. Rather, they were Clarks for which he paid $30 on ebay.
• He bought a new pair of shoes the next day. He likes them far better than the trashed Clarks.
• He is very kind, and went out of his way to assuage my four-year-old guilt and embarrassment. If you must hurl on an esteemed author, I highly recommend Sherman Alexie as your target. He’s an excellent sport.
• He does not remember the sandwich.
*Sherman Alexie photo by Chase Jarvis.