In 2009, Joan Rivers visited the Borders store I worked at in Rancho Mirage, CA for a book signing. I’ve never been able to forget that visit she made to our store, because I get e-mails from time to time about it from people who I know.
In 2010, a documentary film titled Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was released. It turned out to be a huge deal and it seemed that people from all walks of life were seeing it. That was also around the time where I started getting e-mails from friends of mine asking, “Did you know that you’re in the new Joan Rivers documentary?”
I rented the DVD from Netflix as soon as I heard about it, and sure enough, my brief encounter with Joan Rivers appears in the documentary in our Borders store. It’s not me standing in the background like our general manager at the time was doing, it’s not me briefly walking by anywhere – no, it’s me getting a copy of a book signed.
There’s an amusing story about this amusing moment in my life.
I’m honestly not the biggest Joan Rivers fan. I remembered her from Spaceballs doing the voice of the robot, she had tons of plastic surgery, and she was a little on the bizarre side. A friend of mine in Texas was a fan of Joan Rivers and Carol Channing both. I had mentioned that Joan Rivers was coming to our store for a book signing on Facebook and he had made some comments on it. I figured that I would buy him a copy of the book and try to get it signed given I was scheduled to work that day. The store was a madhouse when she showed up. Her limo brought her to the loading dock of our store and she entered in through our stockroom. When she was brought to the front of the store, there was a large crowd waiting to see her.
She addressed the people in the store through a portable PA system that was used in our café for music performances. In the documentary, they show her dropping an F-bomb and our general manager, with the ugly striped shirt, is shown looking like he’s about to have a panic attack. When she began to sign books, I was sent to the register to help ring them up. There were a lot of interesting people who could gather a lot of attention coming up with their personally signed copies of Joan Rivers’ book, including some Joan Rivers impersonators that were dead ringers. I had mentioned to our district manager and general manager I would like to get a copy of the book signed and as the line began to shorten and our store emptied out, I heard over the radio, “Brian, come on over and get your book signed.”
I got in line with the 2 last people waiting to get their books signed, and I was wearing my Borders press badge and my radio earpiece, which obviously made me look like an employee of the store. The district manager asked me if I wanted to have a photo taken and I gave her my cell phone to take a photo. There was also a video crew and I had no idea what it was they were filming for at the time. When it was my turn, I was the last person in our Borders store to get a book signed.
She asked me if I watched the Oscars a week before and I said I didn’t, she then asked me how I wanted the book to be signed. I explained it was for a friend of mine and she said, “Tell me about this friend.” I mentioned that he was a big fan of Carol Channing and that he also liked her. She chuckled and immediately began to write, slowly saying each word she wrote. The personalization read: “To Roy, Sorry Bitch I’m not Carol Channing but this will have to do. Much love, Joan Rivers 2009.” I thought it was pretty hilarious and started to laugh, and I thanked her. We then posed for a photo that was snapped on my cell phone.
Joan went to our back office area and proceeded to sign every copy of the book that was left for us to display and sell to those who were not able to make the signing. When her manager was telling her, “We have to go!” because she had another engagement later in the day at the Riviera in Palm Springs, she snapped that she wanted to sign books and stayed until all them were signed. At the same time, our general manager was telling us that every customer got a personal experience with her and she personalized every book, posed for every photo, and treated all the customers with respect. That was also the case with me, and I was pretty impressed with Joan Rivers and how she handled a crowd. We had a few other big name writers come through our store, and none of them were as generous as Joan Rivers when it came to personal experiences, and I can name one Hollywood star who came to our store who was an absolute nightmare, refusing to sign photos of herself or pose in photos; she even wanted people to stand a certain distance away as she signed their books.
When the documentary came out and I began getting the e-mails, I was pretty amused with the circumstances. For one, I wasn’t a huge Joan Rivers fan. She had fans who showed up that day who were total maniacs for her and had much more to offer to a documentary film crew in terms of personality than I did. The impersonators that she had looked exactly like her, and there was one who was even deaf that looked like he could be her twin, and he apparently had a much more interesting and emotional experience with her than I did. I appear in the scene with her that obviously showed I was an employee with my radio earpiece and my press badge with my name on it, and yet I was deemed worthy to be included in that documentary. I’m thankful for the moment given it was quite a surprise, but I also wonder as to what made my encounter with her worth showing.
Hearing the news that Joan Rivers died today was a little sad. I had been following her Facebook page since that day in 2009. I also have had that photo of Joan Rivers and I on my Facebook page for a while now and have shared it a couple of times for “Throwback Thursday.” I of course shared the photo after hearing the news that she had passed.
I was given another surprise when I returned home.
My e-mail box had 2 e-mails in it from people saying that they saw a picture of Joan Rivers and I from that day in 2009 at Borders on MSNBC. My roommate also opened up the doors to my office and told me that he had seen the photo on MSNBC as well. I just tried to see if I could find the photo on MSNBC’s website and unfortunately don’t see it anywhere, but I’ll take people’s word for it given I thought people were lying to me when they said they saw me in the documentary.
Rest in peace, Joan Rivers. You were a comedic genius and you will be missed by many of your adoring fans, and thanks for the memory that I’m sure I will probably keep hearing about for the next few years.