When I Met John Rember
In my junior year of high school my English teacher introduced us to the works of John Rember, An Idahoan author who writes about the Idaho outside of Boise. The story we read was a simple tale of a man taking a road trip from Southern Idaho to (what sounds like) Northern Utah with his friend and realizing that all he needed was some sunlight and a brief moment of clarity.
You can read that story and others, in the book Coyote In the Mountains, a book that, the summer after my junior year, resonated with me. The stories were about people having experiences that were deeply divided from my own; they were all in mid-life crises or mid-life ennui, I was still dealing with high-school angst. (Please remember I was in high school at the time and thought that using foreign words for feelings made me cool.) Many nights I would lie awake, and imagine myself having grown up to be Coyote: laconic, failing at being Zen, and full of vibrant if inexpressible yearning.
That summer I was also working with my father in the gift shop that had been his dream for years. We sold all kinds of gifts. If you needed a greeting card for grandma, an off-color t-shirt for that one uncle, a pewter figurine of Lt. Cmd. Data, and a unicorn balloon, we could sell you all of those on the same trip. And something in that mix must have called to Mr. Rember and his daughter that day.
I didn't recognize him as he wandered the store, how could I have? He didn't put author pictures in his books back then. At least, not in either of the two I had purchased. When he came to the register I read his check. “John Rember...Rember...it seems like I know this name...”
“I'm not a criminal if that's what you're asking, the check is good...”
“No, no, it seems like I've...read...”
“I have written a couple of books,” he said, almost sheepishly.
“Coytote In the Mountains and Cheerleaders From Gomorrah!” I said, more excited than I really meant to be. His daughter laughed.
“See, dad? People do read your books!” She said.
“Oh, well, I'm glad you've read them,” he said and a thousand questions swirled in my mind. Who is Otter when she's at home? Where do these people come from in your books? Are the real people you know, are these real stories of your friends? I've written a few stories based on my friends and they were received with less than fulsome enthusiasm. Is that what you get? Is ennui all it's cracked up to be? What does Idaho mean to you, as a frame of mind? How can any of us accept being alive in the tail end of the 20th century with the world as messed up as it is? Is there any way you have a good hour to discuss your stories in and around me helping other customers?
And I said none of that. I thanked him for his purchase, lamented that I had left my copy of Coyote in the Mountains at home because that meant he couldn't sign it, and he left.
That night I went home, opened the window in my sweltering bedroom, turned off all the lights except my reading lamp, andread Coyote again. And I thought of all the things I could have or should have said to the man who pulled these people from his mind and wrote them clearly enough that they inhabited mine.
Tonight, twenty four years later, I put my kids to bed, opened the window in my library, turned off all the lights except my reading lamp, and read that same paperback copy of Coyote again. And I find that I'm okay with my experience. I'm happy I got to meet one of my literary heroes, unasked questions and all.