Part 2: Things Get Better
Who is Hodgman?
As I picked away at my adequate Supreme™ Pizza, I tried to think back to where I first heard of John Hodgman. I realized he had been on my radar for only about a year. Neil Gaiman had tweeted that one of his favourite new podcasts was something called “Judge John Hodgman“. I dutifully went to iTunes and downloaded it to see what it was all about. It reminded me, as I’m sure is it’s intent, of the old “People’s Court” TV show. On this podcast, people bring their complaints to “Judge” John Hodgman who will hear both sides and then retire to chambers before rendering a verdict. Like Judge Wapner, Hodgman has a trusty bailiff, Jesse Thorn, who introduces the podcast and interviews the parties before and after judgment is given. The cases that are brought range from household pet-peeves (should the person who takes the garbage out also be responsible for replacing the kitchen catcher bag under the sink?) to etiquette (is it poor form to ask a cabbie to take you through a drive-thru?) to even matters of science (is there such a thing as car lag? i.e. jet lag from road trips?). In fact, Marla and I believe we have a case worthy of adjudication. It involves when to open doors for another person. Marla and I hold very different views on this topic and I believe only someone like John Hodgman could settle this for us. Mr. Hodgman seems to be the perfect person to adjudicate these kinds of complaints as he has written 3 books of COMPLETE WORLD KNOWLEDGE. They are written in the style of those old-timey almanacs, expect that every fact and article is COMPLETELY MADE UP. They are wonderful reads and I found myself wanting to read sections of them out loud to people on many occasions. You really need to own all three, as the page numbers continue right where the last book left off, and many items cross-reference each other across the books. The third volume, “That is All” plays off the idea that the world will come to an end on Dec 21, 2012 according to the Mayan calendar. Much of the third book concerns itself with the portents and omens surround Ragnarok, the Scandinavian concept of cataclysmic rebirth. In fact, the evening’s entertainment is simply titled “That is All: An Evening with John Hodgman”. It was much later that I realized that John Hodgman also appeared in the “Hi, I’m a Mac” commercials. (He played the PC). People tell me that he has also made numerous appearances on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” as the resident expert, although I do not see that show as I’m not usually up that late. Perhaps with my newly acquired PVR I can change all that.
So here we were, about to see the man himself. After supper, we drove past the little Italian restaurant that was so busy an hour ago. Who did we see on the sidewalk? You guessed it. John Hodgman. Marla wanted to try to get a picture of him, but by the time I had the car turned around, he was gone. We had officially become stalkers, apparently.
The University of Minnesota Morris campus was beautiful. It’s been around only since 1960 and many of the buildings were built in the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style. As we walked into the student building we bumped into the guy who turned me down flat at the restaurant. Although I had demonized him in my mind, he seemed like a nice guy and appeared to be happy to see us. “You made it!” he exclaimed. He shook our hands and told us his name was Dave. He worked at UMM as the events coordinator. We introduced ourselves and told him we drove down from Winnipeg. “Winnipeg.” He said it with that mix of wonder and confusion that many Americans use when they’ve heard of a place but can’t quite place it. As we were waiting to be let into the auditorium, news flashed across the TV screens in the student lounge that Whitney Houston had died. “Who’s Whitney Houston?” said a couple of students passing by. I guess we’re old. Dave was also taking tickets, and as he tore ours, he remembered us and said “I just talked to John and he said he’d be happy to sign stuff afterwards”. I thought that was really great of him to ask and remember us enough to pass the message on. “That Dave is all right, ” I thought to myself and we entered the auditorium.
In my mind I’m going to Carolina
It was rush seating so we chose a spot about half-way down in the middle. Soon a group sat down next to us and the guy turned out to be quite the chatter. In about 10 minutes we found out that he and his wife lived in Fargo but used to work in Morris and still had friends there. They had come down to visit friends and decided to come to see Hodgman too. We discovered that his niece and I both attended the same library school, and that he and my wife both played the ukulele. He was friendly. Maybe a little too friendly. Oh, and he was the spitting image of James Taylor.
“Good evening, I’m John Hodgman”.
Finally, it was time for the man himself, John Hodgman. He’s been touring the country in a “deranged millionaire” persona on this latest book tour. This includes growing a creepy moustache, wearing dark glasses and going places without shoes or socks. I am delighted to report that moustache, glasses and bare feet were all in attendance that night! He even brought a ukulele. He gave us a solid two hours of eccentric humour that had the entire auditorium in stitches. A lot of the material dealt with Ragnarok, like the types of animals you’ll want to keep on hand after the apocalypse for “food, fur and fun”. These include rabbits for their gift of the second sight, “Watership Down” style. It made me think that maybe this was a little bit what college audiences got to see in the ’60s and ’70s when the likes of Woody Allen and Andy Kaufman made the circuit. It was wonderful to experience it and well worth the drive down. As an introduction he said that most people would probably not know much about him, as the crowd was mostly younger college types, “Except for a couple of weirdos that drove down from Winnipeg!” Marla and I cheered! We were referenced from the stage! “Its a monologue. Mono. Logue.” was his response. He went on to say, “actually the Winnipeggers will probably appreciate this next story, it’s about the magician Doug Henning”. We cheered again and were reminded, “Mono. Logue”. Doug Henning did grow up in Winnipeg and actually attended Oakenwald school, where our daughter will be going in a couple of years. Small world.
The show ended with a sweet, poignant song called “Resist the Tide” by Cynthia Hopkins. The standing ovation for Hodgman was immediate, sincere and sustained. Since we’ve been home, Marla has looked up the chords and can play it on her ukulele too. Here’s a clip of the song from the book launch back in November. Hodgman seemed impressed with the singing ability of our crowd. “Boy, The Prairie Home Companion sure trained you people well,” he said.
At the end of the night, the friendly talkative James Taylory guy next to me asked what we were doing now. “Um, I don’t know. We were going to see if we could get this book signed. Why?” The guy, who name I never even got, was inviting us to a house party in town (for a couple of beers). It wasn’t even his party, or his house for that matter. Marla and I looked at each other and kind of decided at the same time that we were done for the night. It had been a long drive down, and what if this guy had other, sinister intentions? I’m sure it would have been fine, but we both sort of saw the headlines in the next morning’s paper. “Two Canadians found murdered in rural Minnesota after attending a presentation by a minor tv personality”. We probably wouldn’t even have made front page. That would be reserved for Whitney. We thanked him for the invite and noticed that a small group was gathering at the base of the stage up front. Now was our chance!At this point of the night, Mr. Hodgman was finally out of character. The “deranged millionaire” persona was set aside for the moment, and he was just a regular, friendly guy meeting with his fans. The person ahead of us presented him with a signed copy of one of Guy Fieri’s cookbooks. It seemed like we were eavesdropping on the cusp of an ongoing series of antagonisms. “This is amazing, I’m really excited by this,” was John Hodgman’s response. Apparently this fan works for Guy Fieri and part of his job is to get him to sign memorabilia for fans, so it was no problem to get this book in front of him. The fact that is was inscribed “To John Hodgman” made it even more special. It seems there is some kind of weird secret feud between Fieri, Hodgman and cartoonist David Rees. Later, I tried to find more information about this online, but couldn’t. If there is a feud, it’s not well documented. In any case, obtaining a signed Guy Fieri book seemed to put John Hodgman in a really good mood. He even posted it to his tumblr account.
We told him we were the Winnipeggers, and he said he was really happy we took the time to drive down to see him. He said he’d like to come to Winnipeg, and that there were lots of places he’d like to go that he hasn’t been yet. It was a sweet thing to say. Marla finally got her picture, and I got my signed book. “To Trevor from Winnipeg.” it said. He also inscribed it with the hobo symbol for “Let’s take over the U.S. Government”, which is totally awesome. On the dust jacket for “That is All”, there is a quotation from Neil Gaiman. It says, “If you meet Hodgman on the road, kill him.” Sorry, Mr. Gaiman, we couldn’t do it. He showed us the sign of the hobo, and hobo bond trumps all. This is clearly the furthest I’ve gone to get a book signed, almost literally too far, as Hodgman pointed out, but it was also the most fun. John Hodgman proved to be “that little bit of light in all that darkness.”