Patrick Rothfuss is my personal hero. He wrote a book called The Name of the Wind, which is by far the most beautiful fantasy novel I have ever read. He revised it 400 times and spent a decade bringing it to perfection before it was even published. The god damn thing reads so smoothly it’s like printed velvet. The ideas contained within are so clever you’ll wonder how you managed to live your entire life without licking a light socket. And you know what Rothfuss did once his book hit the shelves and went supernova? He started a charity. It’s called World Builders, and it feeds money into Heifer International.
I’ve been blabbing at my German wife about Patrick Rothfuss for years, and not even in a healthy, admiring sort of way — but in a totally creepy, dilated pupils, gay as hell sort of way. So as my last birthday was approaching, I casually mentioned Rothfuss would be, “in Leipzig for some kind of book thingie,” and my wife went to work planning the greatest birthday gift ever: the chance to meet my idol and have him sign my copy of The Name of the Wind.
The event was called the Leipzig Book Fair (or Leipziger Buchmesse) — an annual convention in the city of Leipzig, just shy of 3 hours by train southeast of our home in Hannover, Germany — and my wife handled everything: the train tickets, event tickets and all of the logistics. She only made one mistake, and that was taking me out for drinks the night before.
We went to our favorite pub, Bavarium, and drank an inhuman amount of pilsner, then woke up the next day at 5:00 in the morning. What followed was the longest train ride of my life. We were crammed into a tiny cabin and it was freezing cold — probably because the greasy nerd next to the window was blocking the heater with one of his gargantuan thighs. There was another nerd, this one a college professor straight out of the 70s, who kept snapping his newspaper open and closed — refolding it so loudly no one in the cabin could sleep. Then there was the fact that I had the trots so bad I was sure I would load my shorts. It was like trying to staunch a biblical flood with nothing but blind faith and my puckering anus. I could not solve the problem, however, because I am physically incapable of dropping trow anywhere but in the comfort of my own bathroom at home. (I’m the kind of guy who likes to sit there for at least 20 minutes — or until both my legs fall asleep. Whichever happens first.)
So we finally rolled into Leipzig, but to be honest with you, I have no idea what the city really looks like; it was a very rainy, very gray sort of day, so everything looked scary to me. Like, former DDR, Soviet Bloc scary. We got off the train and walked to the convention center, quickly finding ourselves lost in a sea of Manga costumes. Apparently, one entire hall of the fair was dedicated to Japanese comic books, and German teenagers from across the country were flocking there to out-nerd one another (and show off a whole lot of shockingly, snow-blindingly white skin).
We navigated to the main entrance, found the hall where all the Fantasy writers were, and discovered an insanely long line of people waiting for signatures from Patrick Rothfuss. (Seriously, the line doubled back on itself twice, with an anticipated wait time of 2 hours.) Still, we joined the queue and the countdown began.
I was so nervous my palms started sweating and my wife had to hold my book so my salty nerd filth wouldn’t destroy it. Now, please understand, I don’t normally feel starstruck; I once met James Avery, who played Will Smith’s dad on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. I shook the late Jerome Kersey’s hand at a fundraising event in Portland, Oregon. And I’m about 85% sure I saw Lily Tomlin walking past a cheese store in Beverly Hills. What I’m saying here is, when it comes to spotting celebrities, I’m generally not impressed. They’re either so egotistical they look right past me when I meet them (I call this the, “You-Are-but-an-Insect-to-Me, Is-there-Anyone-More-Important-Here?” gaze), or they’re so accustomed to blind adoration they have lost touch with reality and gone completely, 100%, batshit insane. But this was not the case with Rothfuss; when I finally saw him, I completely lost my shit. I felt nauseous, giddy, lightheaded and completely overwhelmed — like I was like staring into the holy glow of a chubby, bearded angel.
He was wearing his trusty black Serenity t-shirt and signing books with Teutonic efficiency. He had the system down, man. One assistant was selling new books, the next one was checking fan books to make sure they had Post-it notes inside showing the intended recipient’s name, and then the books were handed over to Rothfuss for signing. You had about 10 seconds to stand in front of him before the next ravenous nerd gave you an elbow to the kidneys.
Suddenly the path was clear and I stepped in front of my favorite author in the world. My heart was pounding and I desperately needed to fart. Here’s how our “conversation” went, word for word:
ME: “Hi, I’m from Portland, Oregon, and I’m a big fan of yours.”
ROTHFUSS: *Looking down, saying nothing, signing my book.*
ME: *Starting to panic, thinking, Obviously the man is trying not to screw up your name as he writes it. He has to sign like a thousand books today. But maybe he just didn’t hear me? Keep the line moving, weirdo. Stop talking now.*
“Uh, have you ever done a signing at Powell’s Books?”
ROTHFUSS: *Glancing up at me.* “Oh yeah. Portland is a great town.”
ME: *Meeting his gaze and suddenly feeling like I’m either going to burst into tears or throw up violently.*
“Well, you’re my absolute favorite author and I really admire your work with World Builders.”
ROTHFUSS: “Oh, thank you.”
ME: “Thank you! Have a great day!”
And that was it. I slid one of my Oh God, My Wife Is German business cards next to the pile of other fan gifts and picked up my book. My wife told me to hold still for the camera but he was already signing books for the next person in line. (The picture was epic though: it’s all blurry and I was in mid-blink, so it looks like I’m about to pass out in front of a thoroughly uncaring Patrick Rothfuss.)
As my wife and I walked over to a nearby wall to rearrange our things, the adrenalin wore off and I started shaking like a drug addict. Like, visibly quaking. My wife even held my hands so she could feel it. Man, I could hardly string two coherent words together, so I just focused on drinking my probiotic yogurt smoothie and trying not to black out.
Hours later, after the fair was over, my wife and I took the S-Bahn to the Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. This is the conversation we had as we waited for the train back to Hannover:
ME: *Asking for the thousandth time…* “What do you think Pat is doing right now?”
THE WIFE: “Probably eating dinner.”
ME: “Yeah… I bet he’s at some fancy restaurant with one of the organizers of the book fair. Maybe some of the other famous authors too…”
THE WIFE: “I think he’s eating a cheeseburger in his hotel room.”
If you would like to read another one of my adventures as an American expat in Germany, check this one out: The Top 10 Worst Things about Joining a Gym in Germany