The Narwhal: How to Meet Your Idol and NOT Freak Out

The standard trip home goes like this: train to NYC, bus to Maryland, go to some appointment or family event, sleep, get back on bus to New York, bum about the city and finally catch a train back to campus. Occasionally, I’ll go home just for kicks, but it’s just far enough to be inconvenient, so that doesn’t happen often. Also, home can potentially be an awkward ordeal. Odds are none of my friends are home, so I have nothing to do and my parents tend to forget how to be…parents. I usually end up standing in my house, complaining to my dog about how I have no one to hang out with and nothing to eat. It’s not a particularly flattering sight.

However, this time was different. Originally I was slotted for an uneventful weekend of doctor’s appointments and Hulu, but there was an added bonus to this trip. Within this same weekend, one of my favorite comic artists, The Oatmeal (Matthew Inman), was doing a book signing near my house. I COULD NOT be more excited. I had the opportunity to go home and do the whole family thing AND meet my idol? That’s like eating Wheaties and still getting a prize in the box. Double win!

I really enjoy meeting people I admire, but let’s be honest, it rarely happens. Since I’m lazy and in college, there’s little room to go out and see/stalk people. I usually just watch their movies/buy their CDs/check their websites and call it a day. But every once in a while, the planets will align and our paths cross. Let’s face it people: for us mere mortals, having the chance to meet famous authors or movie stars is AWESOME.

At least I’m not as bad as this kid
Now its time for some background information about The Oatmeal, for those of you who don’t know who or what I’m talking about (and who should be ashamed of yourselves). Firstly, The Oatmeal, whom for our purposes I will call Matthew, is an online comic. Not the stand-up kind, the kind that draws funny images and posts them on his website. He can be found HERE, being his own special breed of funny. He recently came out with a book, 5 Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth, which is a collection of his comics. His work touches on everything from marathons to house pets to the Internet to his childhood to common grammatical mistakes. Recently, his increasing popularity and book have prompted a well-deserved and overdue book tour.

I, for one, was BESIDE MYSELF when I realized my home state made the short list of book signings. I mean, no offense to Maryland, but the fact that he was visiting pretty much defies all logic. He’s from Seattle (I’m not a creep– he says that on his website) and the chances of him coming to the East Coast seemed slim. So yes, as I’ve well established, I was super juiced to hear that Matthew was giving a talk on his book.

The problem is that my admiration for this guy mixed with my inability to conduct myself in public meant just about anything could happen. Bottom line: I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of someone I looked up to, but I was probably going to anyway. I hadn’t been this pumped up about something since the Pokémon Red video game came out. I hardly blinked on the bus home, I was so stoked. I ended up getting in hours before the event, which gave me plenty of time to freshen up and slowly but surely FREAK OUT. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually going to meet Matthew, someone who I respect as an artist and person. And I mean I could go on for hours about the whats and the hows of why I think he’s just the bees knees, but that’d be lengthy and embarrassing. All you need to know is that Matthew Inman was going be in the same room as me and I was pumped.

He’s the one in the “Champ!” shirt
During the entire car ride to the bookstore I concentrated hard on calming down and not peeing myself out of sheer anticipation. I must have rolled and re-rolled my shirtsleeves at least twenty times. Inside the bookstore, a small area of the cooking/wedding planning section had been taped off for the event. I snagged a seat in the front row, clutching my copy of his book (I’m not sure why I felt the need to cling to it, it’s not like everyone else in the room didn’t have their own copy). To pass the time I tried out different ways I was going to greet Matthew when I met him.

“Hi. You’re the coolest!” No. That’s not right. “Well ’ello there, ol’ chap. How are things?” Just. No. “I really liked your book!” He knows that, that’s why you’re here. “I read your book, cause I can read!” Okay, we’re done. Stop trying. I gave up then and began rereading my favorite comics. Well no. I just read the first page over and over again, seeing as in my excitement I forgot how to work a book.

Soon Matthew came on and gave a quick and absolutely hilarious talk. He spoke about his work, his inspirations and his visit to Washington earlier that day. After that, we were all instructed to line up according to where we were sitting in order to get our books signed. My front row seat assured that I was about the seventh person in line. Hot DAMN. I waited semi-patiently, nervously flipping my book open and closed (weird, I know, but it beats running around the room failing my arms). I was surprised no one yelled at me; I’m sure I was annoying/looked like a complete nut. In my defense, the woman in front of me had like four books to get signed and come on, who wouldn’t get impatient? I resisted the urge to call her a water buffalo, and once again went back to “rereading” comics. After a bit, it was my turn. I stepped up to the little plastic desk. I sheepishly offered up my book, cracking it to the first page. Matthew took it with a smile.

“Hello.” He said. I think I said hello back, but I’m not sure. This next part is a bit of a blur. Remember: I was trying really hard not to freak out/piss myself. He uncapped his sharpie and said, “Thanks for coming to my signing.” Now, my guess is that his elaborate signature must have hypnotized me or something, because before I knew it, I answered,
“Thanks for coming to…your own signing” …WHAT. Did I just say that? What are these words coming out of my mouth??? I froze for an instant; silently praying Matthew didn’t hear that.
He laughed (VICTORY!) and asked, “So you live around here?”
“Yeah…in Maryland. I mean Rockville, which is that way. Well no. I mean. I go to school in New York and I bused down to see you.” Wow. Good answer, champ. Apparently you went to college and got stupid. Matthew smiled.
“Oh wow.”
“Yeah. The ride was like four hours, but you were coming, so it was totally worth it.” I kept talking (but why?!) and Matthew looked up from my book.  I thought he was going to call security because of my total creepiness.
“Wait. You came from New York to be here?” I nodded. “Well…do want me to draw you something?”

Really? WHAT? I struggled to register what was happening and somehow managed an excited nod. Matthew nodded back, “Ok. Well what do you want?” What, what, what? I get to choose? Oh man this was just too much. My brain stopped working. I shrugged. Matthew offered, “Well, what’s your favorite animal?” Now, this is where I should have said, “Draw one of the Bobcats!” or “Gee whiz, I’d love a gorilla in a party hat.” I should have suggested one of the animals that he featured in his work. One of his characters, stuff he’s known for. Nope. Without missing another beat, I blurted out,“Narwhal.”

Yup. I was face to face with THE Oatmeal and all I could think was to say is narwhal? REALLY? Why did I have to say that? Who cares how true it is? What’s the matter with you??? The Oatmeal is talking to you. Matthew Inman is talking to you. And all you could think to say is NARWHAL? Ugh. In retrospect, I guess something deep inside just wanted a narwhal and I had no control over it. Thanks subconscious. You suck.

Matthew wasn’t fazed. Or maybe he was and thought I was psychotic and he was just complying out of sheer terror to keep me calm. I guess we’ll never know. Anyways he just smiled and said, “Okay.” Then started on the inside cover, adding, “I’ve never drawn one.” The end result was an amazing addition to my book. Despite my inability to use my words like a grown-up, I got to meet The Oatmeal! I got my book signed. I got a whale. I guess I really shouldn’t be that upset. It does look pretty damn cool. Not bad for a first try, Matthew.

Call me Ishmael?

Images from Google Images ,The Seattle Weekly, the Oatmeal and here.

Zoe Marquedant doesn't talk about Fight Club. She is an SLC writing student with a dinosaur watch and an over-developed sense of state pride. She can be found around campus perpetuating awkward moments and swearing like a sailor. Zoe firmly believes life is what happens in-between good cups of coffee.

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