The day I met Gary Larson, I ended up wiping cream pie off his face.
Larson had come for a book-signing at the Bookseller in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where I worked as the assistant manager. It was 1984, when local, independent bookshops were still thriving and authors would visit even small towns if the bookstore was big enough. (The Bookseller went out of business years ago.)
Not long after Larson had been set up at a table piled with his books in the store's lower-level, a woman sauntered in dressed in a bunny costume and carrying a cream pie. I was at the cash register and laughed as she walked by, thinking she was here to make some kind of absurd offering to the visiting celebrity. But, without saying a word, she smushed the pie in Larson's face. "Hey, what are you doing?" he said (or something to that effect).
I grabbed paper towels and rushed down. The woman was standing there, looking perplexed and about to cry. It turns out she had called Larson's best friend, who was a reptile specialist at the Seattle Zoo and who occasionally appeared in his "Far Side" comics. "What can I do that would make Gary Larson feel welcome here?" she'd asked, and the friend had replied, as a joke, "If I were you, I'd dress up in a bunny costume and throw a pie in his face." I still can't believe she took the guy seriously.
I was reminded of this incident last week when I helped out at the PTSA used book sale. I miss that kind of tactile interaction with books. It was energizing to be surrounded by all those words, all those possibilities—I never feel that when I do a search and order on Amazon.com.
But what really brought it to mind again is that my son (I-guy) wrote Larson in early February, not expecting a reply because Larson has taken himself out of the public eye and offers no direct contact info on the Far Side web site. So, to get his attention, after the usual adoring fan paragraph, I-guy said, "More to the point of this letter, my mother swears she met you once in a very odd way." He went on to describe the incident just as I had described it to him, closing with: "Anyway, I guess I'm wondering if you remember this, or if my mother is full of it."
And he got back a reply! Not from Larson, but from one of his assistants. She said: "I checked with Mr. Larson and he confirmed that your mother remembers the episode quite accurately.... I'm happy to report that your mother did not in fact make it up!"
To offer further proof, she told him that the episode is mentioned in The Complete Far Side, Vol. 2 (p. 450). I have also since discovered that it is mentioned in the children's reference series, Something About the Author (v. 57, p. 124). In an interview in that volume, Larson says "celebrity has its price," and goes on to mention the woman who threw the cream pie: "I felt bad for her—the crowd was ugly about it." That moment and another, when he was led into a hive of too-eager fans, turned him off to public life, he says. "It used to be so simple," he laments, now "it's too showbiz."
Of course I wonder now if I had prevented the woman from throwing the banana cream pie in his face if Gary Larson would still be in the public eye—or, more importantly, if he would he still be publishing cartoons.