The King and I

The Day Stephen King Showed Up at My Bookstore


I met him first when I was seventeen, at a radio station called WHJY in Rhode Island. I met him again several years later at a book signing during which I got no books signed. I've seen him in bookstores and I've seen him in movie theatres; I've seen his house from the ground and his house from the air. I've shaken his hand and exchanged pleasantries ... but it's never been like this before.

Today, Stephen King came into my bookstore.

I was at the registers, ringing a fellow up when I heard, from afar, Matt M. say the words, "Kevin's going to freak." I looked up, and then I heard him say, "Can someone cover Kevin at register?"

Then, behind me, sotto voce: "Mr. King is in the store."

At once, my heart raced. My brain went into a panic, freezing and flatlining and not letting me get coherent thoughts to the front. I asked Matt, in a numb, shaken voice, where Mr. King was. Matt pointed to the magazines, and I looked over. Saw nothing. Got closer. Saw nothing. Got even closer. Is that the back of his head? Is that the OH MY GOD THAT'S HIM THAT'S STEPHEN KING OH MY JESUS YOU ARE MY HERO HOLY GOD YOU ARE MY IDOL OH MY GGGGgggggg....

I dashed away.

Alex, my manager, came up and said, "Hey, I think I'd like to talk with him."

"I'll come with you," I said, breathing shallowly. My heart was pounding in my head. In my throat. Everything seemed brighter.

"Mr. King!" Alex said, and then went into this story about how King had come into his old bookstore way back when, and how he loved The Colorado Kid, and how he was planning to read The Cell next. Yes, Alex said The Cell. I tried to correct him, but in my current vegitative state, I couldn't remember the term "definite article." I could barely remember my name. He was wearing a ball cap and blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt. He was perfect.

Alex headed away to get a copy of Cell to get King to sign, which in retrospect I should have done, but thought it might be a bit of an imposition. When Alex left King and I behind, I - seriously - asked him if I could help him find anything. He volunteered that he was going to be editing the Best American Short Stories this year, and needed to read like 300 short stories, with the panic that he'd be missing one. I laughed and then headed away myself, for fear that he might smell the crazy on me.

King wandered the bookstore leisurely, hopefully not noticing that I was popping up in his vicinity all too often. As a way of proving that I wasn't a lunatic, I helped several customers near me in a polite fashion, with a metered tone of voice and everything. See! I can stay calm! I'm not verging on a heart attack or, ha ha, a fainting spell! Like I did the last time we met! See!? I AM NORMAL!

I began to shake a bit. I headed into the bathroom, breathing deliberately, trying to compose myself. Then, in my ear, I heard Anne say, "Um, Kevin? If you'd like, I'll take your phone, if you want to come up to the registers right this second."

I don't think I've run that fast in my life. I soared down the stairs toward the registers. The second I got there, Jess P. moved out of my way ... and I got to ring Stephen King up.

It was almost awkward. I rang up his plethora of magazines and his Margaret Drabble novels and tried entirely too self-consciously to make small talk. Then, I took a breath and said, "I hope this doesn't freak you out, but I'm a huge fan."

He smiled. "That doesn't freak me out." I wonder if he recognized me as the red-faced seventeen-year old in the Ren & Stimy shirt. Or the guy who stayed near his signing table while he signed Desperation for everyone but me. Or the dude who fainted outside Betts Bookstore after he signed my Misery with the inscription: To Kevin, from your #1 fan, Stephen King.

"I've read all your books," I said, trying and failing not to sound like a Gushing Fanboy. "I've read It nine times. It should have won a Pulitzer."

"I agree!" he said. "Wow, nine times. That's almost the number of times I felt like I wrote it."

I laughed. "I'm really looking forward to Lisey's Story." (And I pronounced "Lisey" right, WHEE!!!)

"That's going to be a good one. I hope you'll like it."

"Well, thank you," I said, handing him his bags. "Very much."

...for talking me out of suicide more times than I can count ... for giving me joy when I didn't think it existed ... for teaching me how to write novels ... for giving me escape from places I couldn't escape from ... for being a guy to look up to when my Dad wasn't doing such a hot job ... for making me laugh ... for making me cry ... for being the type of man, the type of person, who I can admire and not comprimise myself. For everything, really. For everything.

Wow. Wow. I rang Stephen King up. I rang Stephen King up.

Okay, I'll have my heart attack now, thanks.