I’m recording an audiobook today and tomorrow, in a small studio up in the valley where I work fairly regularly. Everyone there knows me, and it’s comforting and sort of grounding to go to work in a familiar place, even though I’m working on entirely different books whenever I’m there.
Today, I finished the first of two stories from a collection, and got about halfway through the second story before my voice gave out.
“I am out of gas,” I told the engineer, “and I have an audition for a voice commercial later today, so I need to call it.”
She checked the word count and told me that we were far enough along that we would have plenty of time to finish tomorrow, on schedule.
“Great,” I said. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
I gathered up my things, put on and zipped up my favorite new hoodie, and left the recording booth. I walked up a hallway and into the main lobby, where some of the other engineers, directors, and artists were eating their lunches.
I walked past one person who I haven’t seen before. He had grey hair, wore glasses, and had his head down, reading something off an iPad. I noticed that he had an old school Black Flag tattoo on the base of his neck.
He was right next to the door to the parking lot, so I paused before I opened it, and said, “Hey, I really love your Black Flag tattoo. They were one of my favorite bands, growing up, and I’ve been seriously considering getting one just like it.”
He looked up at me, sort of squinted a little bit, and furrowed his brow. Before he could speak, I felt all the blood drain out of my body. My body, in fact, ceased to exist. I was, at that moment, just a brain, a mouth, and a pair of eyes.
Because I was looking at Henry Fucking Rollins.
With some degree of horror, I heard the following come out of my mouth: “Holy shit. You’re Henry Rollins.”
He seemed to recoil, just a tiny bit. I’ve heard that he’s shy, and thank the old gods and new that some part of my brain reminded me of that.
“I … um … wow. I can’t believe I’m in the same room as you,” I said.
He continued to look at me, a little unsure.
“I … um … I am going to do to you what people sometimes to do me. It’s weird and embarrassing and will probably make you a little uncomfortable, but I want you know know how much your work has meant to me.”
I held out my hand. Or, rather, I realized that my hand had extended itself from my body, drawing my arm behind it. It sort of hovered in the air between us. “My name’s Wil. I’m an actor and an author …” I trailed off. Like Henry Rollins is going to give a fuck about who you are or what you go. Get to the point and just leave, dude.
He took my hand, gently, and politely shook it. “I’m Henry. Nice to meet you.”
I said something else. I don’t know and can’t remember what it was. I felt like I was six bottles of w00tstout into a night, or like I was falling through the black emptiness of some kind of deep well that had minimal gravity, and no air to speak of. I felt like I was both outside of and inside of my body.
I swallowed. “I’m so sorry. I know you’re busy, and I feel really awkward and I can’t stop talking but I want you to know that I’m trying to,” I stammered, “but I listened to your band all through high school, and when I was in drama school, I used your books — especially See A Grown Man Cry and Now Watch Him Die — as sources for my monologues. I had to emotionally internalize your words and feelings and make them my own, so … wow I just realized how weird that sounded.”
I tried to breathe, couldn’t, and decided to just keep talking.
“I’m so sorry. I feel so weird when people do this to me, but it’s just that your work meant so much to me, and played such a huge part in my development as an actor and as a writer, and I have this really great life right now, and I don’t expect this to mean to you what it means to me, but thank you for being part of it. Thank you for all of your work.”
At least, that’s what I think I said. That’s what I intended to say, though I could have just said “Duuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhh….” for all I know. He said something back to me, but I can’t remember what it was. I think it was positive. I’m not sure. I hoped that I wasn’t pissing off one of my heroes.
I felt like I was going to pass out. I don’t mean that in the hyperbolic way people say, “oh my god I shit my pants.” I mean that in the very real way that something was happening to my body and I was on the verge of losing consciousness. In front of Henry Rollins.
I pulled it together enough to realize that I really needed to stop talking.
“I really need to stop talking and leave now,” I said.
He said something else, again, I think it was positive, or at least neutral, and he went back to his iPad.
I turned to open the door, and it didn’t budge. I pushed on it, hard, then I pulled on it, hard. I can only imagine what a jackass I looked like, this babbling idiot who vomited this deluge of things onto Henry Fucking Rollins, who was now unable to operate a simple door. A simple door that he’s used dozens of times. I was completely broken.
“You have to push the button to release it,” someone said.
Of course! The button! The green button that I’ve pushed dozens of times to open this door.
I pushed the green button.
“This is so embarrassing,” I said. Then: “I’m so sorry. I’m really, really sorry.”
I practically ran across the parking lot to my car. I got into the driver’s seat, and pulled out my phone. I told Twitter:
“I definitely learned a lesson this time. I know that I can be broken. I am not as tough as I thought. I see it now. At this point, it’s the only thing good that came out of all of this. I know myself better now and know what I have to do.”-Henry Rollins, The Portable Henry Rollins