People are sick of hearing my story about reading Christine when I was in the 3rd grade. It’s one of those stories that I hear coming out of my mouth at least once a year. It was my first real book report. I had to write the title, the number of pages, a short summary and what I liked and didn’t like about the book. I don’t remember what I said I liked about it, but I do remember my one complaint — it had too many cuss words.
It seems I’m not alone when it comes to telling stories over and over again. Even Stephen King’s stories can get old after awhile. I’m not talking about his novels — his constant readers will continue to eat up every word he sees fit to put on their plate — it’s his off-the-cuff stories that get him in trouble. Evidently, his family isn’t as patient with what some have termed his ‘verbal diarrhea’. “I love you guys!” King said to the sold-out crowd at Boulder’s Chautauqua Auditorium last night, “my wife says I think my stories never lose their charm…my wife isn’t here tonight.” It was just one of the many self-deprecating comments that had the audience laughing way more than you would expect at a book reading.
To the outside world, King is not known for his humor (unless you find murderous prom queens, rabid dogs and viscous clowns humorous), but for those of us who have grown up with King’s voice, it was no surprise that the man was full of anecdotes and one-liners worthy of a night at the improv…
He had to sign his first autograph while dealing with an explosive case of the shits in a public restroom.
He’s been mistaken for Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg.
He’s been chastised by old women for writing scary stories.
He’s been called a liar for saying he wrote The Shawshank Redemption.
Some of his novels are partly autobiographical.
Some of his novels became autobiographical after the fact.
He’s been run over by a van and lived to tell the tale.
Sometimes he thinks the only reason we cheer for him is because he’s not dead yet.
Scaring little kids isn’t his favorite thing in life, but it’s close.
He enjoys a few of the films that have been adapted from his novels.
He doesn’t feel like we need seven Children of the Corn movies, unless the children meet Leprechaun.
He would like to do “something” to the person who made the Graveyard Shift movie.
He is Stephen King, one of the most successful writers ever, but he’s also Jack Torrance. He is Pennywise the Clown and Randall Flagg and Roland Deschain and Carrie White and Gordie Lachance and Annie Wilkes and Mother Abigail…
He is also Danny Torrance.
And that’s the reason we were all in Boulder. It’s been 36 years since little Danny barely escaped Colorado with his life, and for reasons unknown to us, he’s forced himself back to the scene of his nightmares. The first reading of the night found Danny standing on the curb in front of his old house — the same curb on which he sat, anxiously waiting for his father to get back from an interview at the Overlook Hotel all those years ago. “It’s going to be just like the first one, but later…” King laughed, before adding “no, that’s just how Hollywood does it.”
The second reading of the night was a graphic account of Danny hitting that same bottom his father knew so well. It was a hangover scene which found Danny puking into a dirty toilet while trying to piece together the night before. “…the cyclical nature of alcoholism and anger”.
While the first reading brought a tear to even the most hardened eye, the second reading had the strongest stomachs in the crowd feeling a little queasy. Overall, they were both classic King. I doubt anyone went home and put their copy of Doctor Sleep on the shelf. Every book got cracked that night. I got to page 50 myself.
The two readings only took up a small portion of the evening. It was the same with the Q&A session – a session that King preempted by answering some of the most commonly asked questions beforehand. “What were you like as a kid?” “Don’t you mean, how did you get so fucked up?” “Where do you come up with your ideas?” “Do you have nightmares?” At one point, during a diatribe against the banality of Las Vegas (“evil is banal”) and the Twilight series, he completely forgot what the question was… “So, to answer your question…uhh…I don’t remember what the fuck it was!”, laughing, he added “…and you paid for this!” It was another one of those human moments that made King feel more like a friend than a man who has made a fortune scaring the shit out of people.
You could tell the Q&A was his least favorite part of the evening. It was during the stories about his time in Boulder where he really lit up.
After writing Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot, King’s wife, Tabitha, thought it would be a good idea to get a change of scenery. She thought people would get sick of reading about Maine. They moved to Boulder by randomly pointing to the middle of an atlas. They moved out here, he rented a little room to work in, and it was one of his best memories of writing. He might have been drinking a lot, but what he does remember, he remembers fondly.
He wrote The Shining after visiting the Stanley Hotel on closing day. He also wrote The Stand there. In fact, we were all gathered in the same auditorium that Mother Abigail and the Free Zone came together. He also got the idea for IT while walking home one night. He was walking over a bridge when he starting thinking about a troll under it. He decided he didn’t want to write about a troll, so he changed it to a clown. “…and that worked out alright (laughs)”. He said they might have stayed in Boulder forever if it weren’t filled with IBMers, CU students and Republicans back then.
I didn’t know what to expect from an evening with Stephen King. He’s been a part of my life for almost 30 years now. I have read every novel he’s ever written. But I still didn’t know what I would do in a 115 year old room with him for an hour and a half. As it turns out, I didn’t have to do anything but sit there and be entertained. Unlike many authors, Mr. King has no problem in front of a crowd.
As I was walking to my car, on an extremely dark Boulder night, King’s first words of the night crept back into my head. He compared false statistics around how many people left their cars unlocked and how many crazies were out there. When I got settled in my car, there was a split second when I didn’t want to look in the rearview mirror. I was positive that there would be eyes staring at me from the backseat. I could almost feel the hands locking around my neck…
As funny as the guy might have been throughout the night, he knew exactly what he was doing. He planted the seeds of paranoia early, knowing they would come back and fuck us up in the end.