I had volunteered to assist at the 2009 Willamette Writers annual conference in exchange for a two-day pass. It was Saturday night, things were winding down, and people were drifting out of the Portland Airport Sheraton.
All except for those attendees who had purchased tickets to the gala banquet, which included a keynote address by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk. Volunteering may get you into the workshops, and even a free lunch, but it does not get you into the banquet. With the recession ongoing, I had not felt that I could afford the $45.
I was standing at the reception counter with Portland story analyst and Willamette Writers office manager Bill Johnson, both of us a bit ragged after a long day. While Bill helmed the busy front counter, I had moderated a sobering and at times brutal pitch practice, where aspiring novelists had tested their elevator pitches on a panel of industry pros.
A guy ambles up to the counter, and Bill and I recognize him immediately.
“Hi, I’m Chuck Palahniuk, here for the keynote address,” he said.
“We know who you are already,” I said, half humor, half respect.
Bill reached under the counter and pulled out an envelope. “Chuck Palahniuk plus one,” he said.
“Oh, my partner couldn’t make it tonight,” Palahniuk said.
Like I said, I was exhausted, otherwise I probably would not have blurted, “I’ll be your partner.”
Palahniuk opened the envelope and handed over one of the tickets. He did not say, “Enjoy.”
I didn’t get to sit with him, that was all preordained, but I did get to hear about his trip to Paris where, due to the Eiffel Tower having been shut down for maintenance, he was able to witness an afterhours relighting.
The dinner was pretty good too.