Meeting Junot Diaz

“I have sweaty hands.” This was the first thing I managed to say to Junot Diaz, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and nerd extraordinaire. I never had any delusions about being cool; I’m very much aware of my social ineptitude. But that moment has to be one of the most mortifying displays of my dorkiness. Right up there with acting like a giggly school girl in front of Ed Lingao (in my defense, I was just a college freshman then) and wrecking my tape recorder as I was about to interview Conrado De Quiros (again in my defense, that recorder just acted weird on its own like it was possessed).

Me and Junot Diaz

Me and Junot Diaz

When I heard that Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was coming to Manila for a book signing, I went on fan girl mode overdrive. I dug up my battered copy of his book and re-read it to refresh my memory. I scoured the internet for interviews of him and articles about him and his writing. I spent the weekend trying to come up with smart questions and witty comments that might impress him. I then judged them all as lame and idiotic.

The big day came. I sat on the third row. He started talking about his novel. I gawked and hung on his every word. Other people who obviously had a lot more guts and self-confidence asked him questions. I gawked even more. That seems to be the one thing I’m good at.

The talk ended and people started lining up to have their books signed. I fell in line. An usher asked for my name, wrote it on a post-it and placed the note on the title page of my book. I was behind a couple of well-dressed girls in heels and I suddenly became very conscious of my dirt-stained Dr. Seuss sneakers and ratty shirt.

When it was my turn, he flashed a smile, extended his hand and said “Hi, I’m Junot.” Right. As if he needed to introduce himself to me. My palms tend to sweat like crazy when I’m nervous or excited or in situations that involve handshakes. This particular situation was all of the above. I stared at his outstretched hand and uttered my first four words to him: I have sweaty hands.

“It’s okay,” he answered, still smiling. I shook his hand and grinned sheepishly. I handed him my book. He opened it, looked at the post-it note and asked, “Is this your name?” I used my nickname, Tin.

“Yes. Well, my name is Kristine. That’s my nickname,” I said. And that’s when I realized I had the lamest nickname ever. It’s a metallic element for God’s sake, and not even an awesome-sounding one like promethium or neodymium.

He signed the book and gave it back to me. At that point I miraculously got up the nerve to ask if I could have a photo taken with him. The sweaty handshake must’ve given me a measure of confidence.

Signed!

As a parting shot, I said “I love your book,” which only happens to be the most generic reader comment in the world. I left the bookstore still kicking myself for not being able to act like a brainy yet sophisticated bibliophile. I was my usual stammering, awkward self, only ten times worse. Which is probably why I fell in love with Diaz’s novel in the first place. It’s about a fat geeky boy with the social skills of a mushroom. What could be more relatable than that?

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