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Friday, March 19, 2010

Neil Gaiman in Manila: The Nightmare

If you've been following this blog, you've probably noticed that I have several posts on the Neil Gaiman book signing event sponsored by Fully Booked, a local bookstore chain. Well, it happened last night March 18 and it was anything but a dream date.  It was a nightmare.

In fact, the nightmare began even before we got to the venue.  We had to change taxis because the first one we were in hit a van it was following.  My initial reaction was to tell my friend that this could be a sign of what would happen that night.

My friend and me got there a little late because we have to attend a meeting before going there.  We registered and were assigned the number 380 & 381.  We looked at the crowd and some were standing and others were sitting and the floor.  The organizers after milking us with PhP2000 did not even have the decency to provide some sitting implements for their customers.

Time ticked and the crowd was getting rested.  An announcer who was trying to put on a phony British accent kept reminding the crowd to take care of their number stubs and prepare their books for signing.  He also told the crowd to fall in line once their numbers are called.

I watched the crowd entertain themselves by re-reading their books.  One little girl dropped a bottle of water smack into the table where Neil was suppose to seat.  Security guard shooed off the people in the area.  Had Neil been there, he could be heading home with a bump on his noggin.

All of a sudden, the staff of the bookstore started screaming excitedly and DJ with phony accent tried to work out the crowd by saying that Neil Gaiman has arrived.  Indeed, Gaiman appeared from the side of the stage  in a black shirt under a black blazer.  The girls in the crowd started screaming and the boys started screaming too as he climbed on the stage. My friend and I looked at each other, wondering if we somehow lost our way and wandered into a rock concert.   The special guests, well that's how I see them because they were the only ones sitting on chairs while we all waited standing or squatting, started taking photographs, obstructing our view of Mr. Gaiman.

Gaiman went into action and directed the clueless staff how the line would move and flow.  From where we were, I could see him showing where he wanted the people to stay .  Then he started signing books.  It was 5 in the afternoon, the skylight roof of the Rockwell North Tent was still lit by the sun.  First to get her book signed was a girl who squirmed in delight when Gaiman hugged and kissed her.

It went on and on, after around thirty minutes, Gaiman has not even finished signing the books of the first 25 lucky patrons.  My friend and I decided to go around the mall separately and told each other to come back by 7PM maybe it would be our turn by then.

I went back at the venue to find out that Gaiman was signing books of patrons 51 to 75 and it was almost 2 hours since he started on this.  I looked around for my friend and he was no where in sight.

By this time, some people who were probably office workers on their way home looked curiously at the crowd.  Perhaps they don't know Neil Gaiman and were wondering what the commotion was all about.

I decided to go around the mall again and have a sandwich. I ate my sandwich on a bench at the 2nd floor while watching the event unfold below me

The initial thrill has evidently died down.  Either that or fear has started creeping in on everybody that this gig will last longer than expected.  The kids who were awhile ago screaming their love and devotion to Neil Gaiman were just huddled in one corner, staring at each other's blank faces.  Maybe they have been worn down by the non-stop playing of Everything but the Girl's "Walking Wounded" CD which appeared to be playing on a loop since the time we arrived there at past 3 in the afternoon.

I was about to drink my cola when the can slipped from my hand and created a puddle at my feet.  I was reminded of the taxi mishap earlier and I started thinking that could this be sign number 2?

Anyway, after getting bored watching the signing from above, I went down to the venue again and started browsing the books on sale.  I looked at where Gaiman was and noticed that he already took off his blazer.  A pregnant woman approached him and a look of distress swept through his face.  He stood up and started giving directions again, at times pointing towards the pregnant woman.  After a while, DJ with phony accent called on all pregnant women to go in front of the line.  Some of the girls squatting on the floor screamed, "I'm pregnant! I'm pregnant!!"  But they all looked like they were still in high school.

By 8PM, everybody seemed to have been drained of his energy.  Even Neil had to leave and everybody guessed he must have taken a leak or something.  After all, he's been drinking from a dark sports bottle all the time.  Maybe the summer heat was getting too much for him plus the fact that at that point, he must have signed some 500 books.  I was worried that if he washed his hands after taking a leak, he might get pasma but my friend said that he should wash his hands because he wanted to shake his hand when his turn comes.

We continued browsing the books on sale and Neil came back to sign more books. My friend pointed at something on the counter and I almost choked.  Staring straight at me was Neil Gaiman's cardboard face on a stick.  It was supposed to be a fan.  But it must be the most expensive cardboard fan ever because it was priced at 150 pesos each!  My friend commented that the picture looked more like Bob Dylan than Gaiman.  It was creepy to me because it looked like someone decapitated Neil and placed his head on a barbecue stick

Then there was an announcement that Neil will not put dedications anymore.  He will just put our name and sign our books.  My friend's eyes widened.  The girl at the counter explained that the dedications were slowing things down so they have to be eliminated.  Our jaws dropped in disbelief.  After all, we spent a few days thinking what to ask Neil to write down our books.

Neil continued signing his books but he seemed to get irritated everytime someone took a picture of him and the flash hits his face.  He signaled not to let the flash hit his face.  By this time, the shops inside Rockwell started to close for the day and the lights in some hallways were dimmed.  There were still 75 patrons to go before us and we have resigned to the fact that we would still be there by midnight.

We were finally called and we gleefully fell in line.  We were still thinking what to tell Neil when we finally stand before him when this guy started getting those yellow strips of paper where we were suppose to write our name.  He was acting like an SS guard barking ""Let me have these papers, no more personalized signature, no more flash photography, Neil Gaiman is already mad!"

Everybody was shocked and angry.  One dude in spectacles approached us and in a tone that reminded me of my Math teacher told us, "We have to rush this because my priority right now is to make Neil Gaiman happy."

Whoa! We told him how about us who paid 2000 pesos to get our book signed and waited six hours, we are not their priority?  His answer was even worse than the first one, "If I can't make him happy tonight, I might not be able to make him come back!"  He then arrogantly stepped away from the simmering crowd.

I didn't listen to the other things he said because my ears were hot as lava.  My friend was clenching his teeth and murmuring something in my ear that I can't understand.

When I finally got before Neil, he asked me how I was doing that night.  All I could say was, "I waited for six hours and I am being rushed by these people." Neil looked at me and said, "Oh I am sorry for that.  You see they said we have to do this quickly because the mall is closing for the night."  I shut my mouth because I wanted to tell him that I've just been told that HE was the one who wanted this rushed because he's getting mad.

Neil signed my books without even writing my name on it.  He handed me my books and smiled before signing the books of my friend which were literally shoved in his face.

My friend and I left the place huffing and puffing in disappointment.  When we looked back, Neil was still busy signing books, the lights in the mall dimmed and only those in the area were lighted.

My friend reminded me about the earlier mishap we had with the taxi.  He seriously thought that something was trying to stop us this afternoon to go here and this was what we got for not heeding the warning.  His idea was so surreal it could make a good Neil Gaiman short story.

Neil, if ever you decide to come back to our country, please do not deal with those people from Fully Booked.  They made you into a money making venture.  I have nothing against you and I will still continue to read your books.  But this would be the last time I will go to your book signing because I can't let myself be trampled upon again like what happened last night.


  1. Hi Rom!
    I was supposed to go to this event but then I don't have anyone to drive me. I guess its a blessing in disguise. I wanted to meet Neil but after reading your post, I'm glad I didn't. Its really embarassing to know that Neil saw past through the organizers' attitude. -Bev Cruz

  2. I think you shouldn't blame everything on Fully Booked. While they have their lapses in handling this event, Mr. Gaiman was also acting like a rockstar that night. From what I see, he looked like he was throwing a tantrum. He arrived late, took time to hug and kiss the girls and then blame the organizers that the event took long. What do you call that?