In a lacklustre hotel in Saskatoon, Jonathan Goldstein stood before a crowd of aspiring young journalists.
He fumbled with his notes, adjusted his glasses, and maintained the posture of a skittish squirrel.
I should mention, however, that of all the great speakers at this year’s Canadian University Press Conference, Goldstein recieved the only standing ovation.
“I am a humourist,” he had said quite solemnly, “which means I am like a comedian but I may not make you laugh.”
The crowd snickered.
Unlike the other keynote speakers, Goldstein offered little by way of advice for future journalists. Instead, he mostly played clips from one of his radio shows, This American Life, and stood at the podium with his head hung low as the audience nodded, smiled, laughed and clapped.
Goldstein looked almost uncomfortable at the sound of our applause. During the standing ovation he reminded me of a pubescent boy being asked to read out loud in class. This is probably why I didn’t feel intimidated by him like I had by the other speakers. He was just too odd to be threatening.
After his keynote address, one of the CUP organizers took to the podium to remind us of the nightly-scheduled shmooze-fest. He invited Goldstein to come drink with the rowdy rookies at a local university pub.
To my surprise, Goldstein accepted.
That night, I watched him from afar. He drank what looked like whiskey on the rocks in tiny, birdlike sips. I took a big gulp of my pint of Keiths and worked out what I might say to him. “Jonathan? Mr. Goldstein?…I love your work. I love Wiretap. I love that you are a real character.” I watched him in my peripherals and plotted an approach with my conference roommate, Laura (a firey red head from the Ryerson EyeOpener).
We watched as a polite-looking girl stood in front of Goldstein, tilting her head and making hand gestures. He nodded and clutched his drink. The conversation looked like it needed interrupting, having already run well past the length of a first-time introduction.
Feeling gutsy, my roommate and I strode right up to him. The polite girl nodded her head and walked away. The three of us soon began to have–in my humble opinion–a great little exchange. I made references that implied “I love your work. I love Wiretap. I love you.” without actually saying it. Laura, less familiar with his work but working her people-skills, engaged him with questions and light-hearted banter.
And then there was Duy*–a chubby, baby-faced student that everyone at the conference knew or knew of. By day, Duy was sweet, friendly and well-meaning. . . but by night, it only took one beer to make him a little bit too friendly. He would touch faces and pet heads, murmur affectionate comments and make uncanny observations.
Goldstein was not to be spared.
It was like watching two comets collide–two kinds of awkward coming together to make a hilarious but uncomfortable situation. Goldstein had an incredulous look on his face as Duy, having popped up from behind Laura and I, walked right up to him.
No words were exchanged as Duy put his hand on Goldstein’s cheek. Then Duy took Goldstein’s scarf and began examining it.
“This is soooooo nice!” he purred, “And sooo soft too!” Duy proceeded to rub his cheek along the length of the scarf, rolling the fabric between his fingers.
Goldstein made the face people make when they really have to pee but can’t get to a bathroom.
“Do you know, I have a Jewish fetish.” Duy said matter-of-factly. Goldstein pouted.
I lifted my pint to my mouth, trying not to react.
I decided I was a little too inebriated to continue standing there without breaking into hysterics. Clearly, Duy was more likely to provide some good material for Goldstein’s next radio show. I mean, who knows — for a man that makes his living writing creatively, a bizarre encounter may actually serve as impromptu inspiration.
Backing away slowly, I took another sip of my pint. Duy was now tilting his head and making hand gestures as Goldstein continued to clutch his drink.
Regardless of what came of it, it was an encounter too priceless to prevent.
*This name has been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.