In 2006, I met Salman Rushdie.
In case you have no idea who he is, I’ll enlighten you. Mr. Rushdie is a novelist. A whacked out novelist. A novelist who, because of a book he wrote, had a hit put on his head by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (the dude in charge of Iran in the 1980’s). It was a little novel called “The Satanic Verses”. And Mr. Rushdie had to go into hiding.
Who says words don’t have power?
In 2006, long after the major threat to his life was over, I had the chance to hear him speak at a writers conference. So, I picked up his book. And put it down again. And fell asleep while reading it. And nursed a perpetual headache while trying to figure out what the hee haw was going on.
Yet, I was determined to finish the book. So, I brought it along with me to work to read on my break.
However, at the time, I was the Bible teacher at a daycare. The kids in my after school program could read. I worried that the word “satanic” might scare and confuse them. So, I did what any self respecting, mature person would do. I covered the word with luau stickers. Aloha!
The writers conference arrived. I still hadn’t finished the book. I made it to 287. Close. Right? NO. The book is 561 pages long. Whew. I stowed the hunk of a book in my bag just in case I had a few moments to chisel away at it.
The auditorium was packed for his speech. Security guards stood among us. You know. Because he still had that bounty on his life.
He spoke. Made fun of all religious people (this was a faith based conference). Mocked those praying in Mecca (Really, dude? You want more of that fatwa on your head?). About how he was asked to make a cameo appearance in “Talladega Nights”.
After he spoke, a line formed for him to sign books. I got in that line.
What you need to know is that I was 5 months pregnant and pretty grumpy. I stood in that line for over an hour. My feet were swollen and sore. I was so hungry, I contemplated eating bits of paper from the book (well, not really…). And, most annoyingly, I had to pee.
When I finally got to the front of the line, he looked at me from those gray eyes under intimidatingly peaked eyebrows. He looked as grumpy as I felt.
I handed him the book, open to the title page. He rubbed his hand on the cover of the book. Closed it. Scowled as he inspected the aloha stickers.
“Why are there stickers on my book?” he asked with his deep, British accent, looking up with haughty eyes. Not to be mistaken with hungry eyes.
“It’s my book,” I answered, crossing my arms over my round belly.
“Why did you cover the word with a sticker?”
“Um, it says satanic.” I tried to keep him from seeing how my nerves were making my need to pee so much worse.
“And what is so dangerous about that word?”
What I wanted to say was, “Well, you tell me! You’re the one who was in hiding!”
What I said was, “I work at a daycare.”
“And what makes the word dangerous at a daycare?”
“I’m the Bible teacher.” I just wanted to get to the bathroom. And get a cheeseburger. “My name’s Susie.”
He took on a sour face and scrunched is pointy eyebrows. He lowered his face and signed my book. Handing it back to me, I hoped to thank him. But I didn’t get a chance.
“Next!” he called to the person behind me in line.
That was the day I ticked off Rushdie.
What’s your story? Have you ever met a famous person? Ever ticked them off? Had a good experience?