that time I met Nicholas Sparks...

I have a confession, dear reader. And it's not an admirable admission like, "Oh, for the past 2 years I have been quietly donating glazed doughnuts throughout the Financial District." Ok, here it goes... I have read or listened to all the books written by a certain Mr. Nicholas Sparks. It started out innocent enough. First, when I was in college. My sister, Priscilla, was also in college and was raving about her roommate's favorite book - "A Walk to Remember." It seemed scholarly and, well, I was in college now. It was time to give up childish interests and start reading the classics. She shipped me a copy of "A Walk to Remember" from the only website we trusted way back in the early 2000's. Something called "" I walked ten minutes to my college mail box, which for some reason was located in a separate building from my actual dorm (what was this? 1948?). I ripped open the small brown package and pulled out the tiny tome. And so it began.

From there I dabbled in Sparks occasionally, here and there. Just a little something to get me through. I don't remember all the story lines. I know there was something with a dog. Maybe a fire. A number of dangerous ex-boyfriends or lonely husbands. And a lot of beaches. So many seaside heart-to-hearts. Alas it was all too much. I went cold turkey on Nicholas Sparks. I couldn't take any more of these tragedies where someone - sometimes even the dog! - died at the end.

But I wasn't clean for long. In 2008, I got my first real job somewhere in New Jersey. Maybe it was the stress of starting a new job, but I started listening to Nicholas Sparks audiobooks on the drive to work. The southern accents were at times a little too soothing for the road. But his newer books proved more gripping than the earlier ones. "Dear John" even featured a soldier story - I mean this stuff was getting legit! I even went back in time and listened to "A Walk to Remember," narrated by Nicholas Sparks himself. I was hooked. Even after I moved to New York City and gave up audiobooks, I couldn't say goodbye to Nicholas Sparks. Just like his beautiful, brooding characters, I came to understand that the heart wants what the heart wants. And what the heart wanted was more Nicholas Sparks.

It's not that I love, love, love his work. Don't get me wrong. I find his books very entertaining. But more than anything, I think they are simply fascinating. I mean it's all basically the same story. There's always a scene where one of the characters cooks their love interest some sort of seafood dinner, caught right from the ocean that happens to be in the backyard. There's often the phrase "their breaths came out in little puffs" (yes, that one phrase!). And, of course, all the books have one common love interest... North Carolina.

With every crab dinner, Nicholas Sparks quietly tries to convince the reader to move there. To give up your big city ways. Trade in your business suit for some pressed khakis and a white button-down shirt. I believe his sole reason for writing books is to support the economy of North Carolina's tiniest towns. I mean, it makes sense. For one thing, your crazy ex-husband will never find you there! Well, I have news for you, Mr. Sparks... Your sneaky little plan is working. I do indeed want to move to one of the quiet towns you write about in your books. Places where people find sad messages in bottles and rebuild really ugly houses and heal festering wounds.

If you haven't yet judged me for my Nicholas Sparks confession, you soon will. Because just the other day I actually paid subway fare and went to see Nicholas Sparks at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square, where he was signing books. That's right, reader. I have met Nicholas Sparks! And it was... well, interesting!

I got there at 7 p.m. sharp and dragged my friend, Gino, with me. He's not a fan but I bribed him with dinner beforehand... although I didn't pay for his dinner. So really it was a lose-win situation. Now, Barnes & Noble promised a discussion with Nicholas Sparks. Instead, we arrived and found a snake-like book signing line. I didn't even have a book to sign! I mean this is 2013 - who still reads books where you actually have to turn the page with more than one finger?? While Gino waited in line, I went and bought a book for $20. I had already purchased the Kindle version on my phone for a fraction of that price (thank you, Amazon, for processing my return! There's a reason you were the only website we trusted in 2001!). The cashier handed over the book like it was a prize. Something special that should only be wrapped in delicate tissue paper. I couldn't believe how bulky it was. Really way too heavy for what I assumed was just a heartfelt love letter to North Carolina's seashore.

I got back in the line and discovered Gino had become friends with the lady in front of us. We learned she was a huge Nicholas Sparks fan, just like me! But the friendship quickly dissolved. She interrupted all our conversations and politely criticized us for almost two hours. My smile, she said, was almost exactly like that of some 80's gymnast (it was very wide). Gino's height (he came from a country of petite people). Gino's brothers (they're heavy, right?). Even the great city of New York (no place to raise a family!). At one point, a random guy came up to the line and asked what the book we all were carrying was about - apparently he didn't understand the purpose of book jackets. The woman in front of us tried to explain. I interrupted her this time. "It's about the economy," I joked. "What?" the man said. "The economy," I giggled. "What?" he said again. "Oh nothing," I said. Tough crowd.

Finally, it was time to go up the escalator to see Nicholas Sparks. In the midst of the excitement, I got separated from the woman in front of us. Gino had to wait behind - you could only visit with Mr. Sparks if you had a book. No matter how much we protested, his entry was denied. I bid farewell to my dear friend, patted him on the back like he was a brother and went on up. It was time. I was about to meet the man who kept me awake on countless drives in northern New Jersey.

But not quite yet. The Barnes & Noble staff asked us to sit and watch Nicholas Sparks sign books for just a bit longer. Gripping stuff. He was going quick. Just a few words. Then a scribble. That was really it. I made use of this time to snap this photo - it seemed like he was looking directly at me! Peering into my soul! Those poor other girls on line. They were getting a simple "hello." I'd probably get a chance to question him on his overuse of "their breaths came out in little puffs." Surely the Nicholas Sparks who looked into my soul had a genius explanation for that.

photo 1

"This group of 6, line up!" one of the Barnes & Noble authorities said. We assembled into a neat line. Who was in front of me? The same lady who thought I had a wide gymnast smile. But what did it matter? From a few feet away, Nicholas Sparks was glowing. He didn't look a day over 40. It must be that sea breeze. The man was a walking advertisement for relocating to North Carolina. The Barnes & Noble workers could see the affect his tan was having on us. We were just so pale and sickly in comparison. "NO CELL PHONES!" they reminded us. Nobody listened.

Now I was inches from him. The lady in front of me handed over her book. "I've been to New Bern!" she said. Nicholas Sparks said something like, "Oh yeah? The lines would be long in New Bern!" I didn't catch all of it because, as they were chatting away like old girlfriends, Nicholas Sparks reached for my book, signed it and got started on the next one. He barely looked at me! Not even a kind "Hey, how are you?" I smiled awkwardly - and, I'm assuming, squarely - and a few noises escaped me. Maybe my attempt to breathe out in little puffs. But it was no use. He said goodbye to the lady in front of me - maybe he thought we came in a pair and that he had to address only one of us? - and we went on our way. Not only had she brought down Gino's confidence to an all-time low. But her wordy banter denied me my moment with Mr. Nicholas Sparks!

photo 3

I have yet to read the book he signed - "The Longest Ride." I don't know what it's about (possibly my New Jersey commute??). But it certainly has been a long ride, Nicholas Sparks. I'm really looking forward to our next journey. And see you soon in North Carolina, where I'll one day move to escape my past.