There I was holed up at the home office pushing pixels around. It was beautiful outside and I was going into my 7th hour of staring at the computer screen. It was time to get out. My mind numb from repetition, I needed fresh air and a few revolutions on the bike to blow the staleness away. I headed up 24th street towards the Noe Valley neighborhood. I'd just parked the bike at a usual spot of mine in front of the Cover to Cover bookstore. I turned around to check out their bargain books that always lie there on a table outside.
It was a small page. Letter size. It was the notice taped to the window that read 'Dave Eggers, today 2-4pm. "Today" ? Checked the time. It was 3pm. I poked my head in the door. There was a handful of people standing in front of a guy sitting at a desk. It was Eggers and it was quickly becoming one of those situations where you find yourself in a good place at the right time. I tidied my helmet hair, brushed the beads of sweat off my brow and I joined the queue.
I read Eggers story 'What is the What' last year and it immediately struck me. It is a powerful story based around Valentino Achak Deng's, flight from war torn Sudan into refugee camps in Ethiopia and finally resettlement in Atlanta. Valentino was one of thousands of children who escaped the brutal civil war that ravaged his country from 1983 to 2005. One of the thousands who became known as the 'Lost boys of Sudan'. It is at the same time a brutal account of repression and the triumph of the human spirit in it's battle to survive.
Eggers was a Pulitzer finalist for his book a 'Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius'. The fact that he lives in San Francsico now and opened his project 826 Valencia aimed at helping kids (6-18 yr olds) develop their writing skills, a couple of doors down from me, compelled me to this man even more.
So my turn came and I walked up to where he was sitting at his wee desk. He was definitely a handsome, healthy, happy looking man. I got a good feeling about him instantly. We had a nice chat him and I. He like every good Irish American was eager to tell me of his Irish roots. 'I'm 7/8ths Irish' he said. Hence McSweeneys the name of his San Francisco publishing company. "Fair enough, that'll do" I said, with a wry smile. He was off to Ireland in a few days to help acclaimed Irish author Roddy Doyle open the Dublin equivalent of 826. His pride in his Irish roots was demonstrated with a extravagant scribble across my copy of his new book proclaiming such.
It reads : 'To Michelle, Hail Ireland and all things Irish. Your true friend, Dave Eggers (nee McSweeney)".
If his new book 'Zeitoun' a story of Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun struggling in the tragedy of New Orelans that was Hurricane Katrina, is anything like 'What is the What' you'd have a good mind to go get yourself a copy of it.