Tonight I heard Joan Didion down by Union Square and got there walking these really massive assured steps just to get out of work and be on time, which is to say extremely early, which is to say just charging between subway doors, just holding things up.
Out the train and up the street. Inside the bookstore I felt something warm and affirming as everyone traveled in the smooth progression up the escalator, floor after floor, to arrive at a place that had clearly undergone hours of preparation, hours of chairs alignment and hours of being “wired for sound.” The store favors people who buy the book and had prime seating cordoned off for purchasers. The table was stacked with Didion’s different titles, and then compilations too, greatest hits and best of’s—colored canvassed editions beside periwinkle blue paperbacks.
Didion on stage. I, like everyone else, craned and beamed, snapping photographs as I could, capturing mostly someone’s fedora. People who sit in front rows wearing fedoras—honestly.
Afterward, I stood in line for my book to be signed. Of course I did. The genius of Didion’s work is that she does it, has done it and continues to do it unwaveringly since a sort of beginning of the mid-late-twenties. This provoked in me my question and I’m perhaps tonight I was chastised by Joan Didion. It went like this:
(My name had been written on a yellow Post-It inside my purchased book, a good trick of the store.)
“Yes,” I said. “I’m Caroline. Hello.”
“Hello, Caroline,” she said.
“Hi. So, if I could ask you,” (such a terrible way to start a question. One must breathe and not start questions this way. But one does not breathe and one does start questions this way.) “Why Vogue?”
Cue JD looking baffled.
“I mean,” I said, trying again. “When you were young, when you worked at Vogue. Why Vogue? Why was that magazine important to you?”
The look can only be described as one of bafflement. It was the baffled look.
“Vogue,” she said, very slowly. “I worked at Vogue because they gave me a job.”
Things were not going well.
“That’s it? You didn’t, you know, look around at all? You just went, erm, straight to Vogue? Just right on over to Vogue?” This is a mealy, horrible disaster. The reason I wanted to ask this question was down to the fact she could have—and since has—written anywhere. But I had no time here, zero time, and this was the question. My one question in my one life to this writer.
“Yes,” she said. “They offered me the job and I took it.”
“Ah,” I said, jovial now. All soft shoe and beginner’s goof. “As one does,” I said.
“Thank you so much for coming, Caroline,” the Barnes & Noble woman said. “Goodnight.”
I took my books and walked, then down three flights, then through the store to the cashier where I checked, or rather I had my membership card checked, and confirmed that it had all indeed expired and that I had, in fact, been carrying an expired membership card for nearly a year and any discount or buyer’s honorarium—on top of the already impeaching horrors of the night—would go unapplied. But even this expired card I didn’t throw away. I tucked it back into my wallet as I moved on to Customer Service because Customer Service has all the information about Future Speakers Events and Cashiers Do Not.
So. It is a monumental thing to have a hold of this new piece from Didion, this Blue Nights. If I were her with all that loot and a fat pad up Park Avenue way, I’d fly book a flight and travel immediately to Paris and feast upon all the great and possible feasts. There’s no blue light there.