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the unbearable weirdness of signings 

Plus, out of the frying pan and into the fryer

Book signings are pretty strange events, when you get down to it. Consider: A writer -- in this case, UNC-Charlotte professor and forensic thriller writer Kathy Reichs, who was signing her new one, Monday Morning, at Park Road Books last week -- spends most of his or her time in solitude, doing the hard work of creating worlds from the ether.

The reader also works in solitude, the better to lose themselves completely in the work at hand. If done correctly, both reader and writer may share what is essentially an intimate experience, without that nagging issue of, you know, actually having to meet each other.

At a book signing, that invisible wall is broken, a situation which is understandable enough -- you read a book that resonates with you, it's logical to figure that you may share a kinship with the penner of said piece, a sort of long lost friend that, for whatever reason, you've yet to meet in person but have "understood" for years.

I didn't go to the store to see Reichs -- searching instead for a Charles Portis reissue -- but hundreds of other folks did, and the author greeted every one with a smile, asked their name, and thanked them for coming out. Books were proffered, scrawled on, and returned. Each person in line -- some for close to an hour -- got about 10 seconds of face time before another patron was hustled through.

After watching this awkward dance for a few seconds, I grabbed my book -- Gringos -- and got the hell out of there. If I'm meeting a "long lost friend," I want more than 10 seconds and a glorified ink-stamp to prove the meeting happened. Friends, like writers, will come and go. But time is irreplaceable.

A band called The Wylde Bunch opened up the X-ecutioners show at the Neighborhood Theatre on Saturday, which excited the Sam Peckinpah fan in me. Despite the complete absence of both William Holden and Ernest Borgnine, the band put on a solid show, full of the eclectic kind of hip-hop that might well take off like gangbusters were there some urban programmers with the nuts to play anything outside of the "slammin'est new tracks." And even though I was a little disappointed that this Wylde Bunch didn't go out with a submachine gun in a blaze of glory like their movie brethren, I was duly impressed.Next up was the all-female rap trio Northern State. The gals had been described to me as something of an early Beasties Boys-circa-Licensed to Ill, but reminded me more of Luscious Jackson. Their verbal interplay was nice, showing some serious linguistic dexterity -- hell, one of the gals was named Hesta Prynn, after Nathaniel Hawthorne's protagonist in The Scarlet Letter -- but was marred by the puzzling, and regrettable, tendency to say the word "Charlotte" every three seconds. ("Hey, Charlotte! Ain't that right, Charlotte? Sing it, Charlotte!" Gals: we're glad you know where you are, but do you have to keep reminding us?)

After Northern State (Hey, New York!) left at a little after midnight, so did I. As this went to press, I haven't heard how the X-ecutioners did, but I bet they killed it.

On the second Saturday of each month throughout the summer, the "alleys" between the Design Center buildings in SouthEnd become the Historic SouthEnd Artist Alley, featuring paintings, jewelry, pottery, and all sorts of other home and body decorations.When I got there around noon, the place was still packed, despite all the asphalt and concrete conspiring to create a temperature that had to be in triple digits. The art was, um, pretty interesting -- lots of faux-folk-art-type stuff, golf course pictures, and the like -- but my favorites were the paintings of Jim DeMaine. His work was equal parts blocky abstraction and sports card realism, still life and real life. Looking for that special gift for the Pittsburgh Steelers fan in your life? Check out Jim's huge head shot portrait of Bill Cowher, which one could use as a modern art scarecrow to keep people out of your rec room on autumn Sundays. His Tiger Woods portrait? More accurate than Tiger himself has been recently.

The best way to top off your visit? Do like I did and walk down the block to the legendary Price's Chicken Coop and get yourself a bird to go. In an area more and more dedicated to the artistic sensibility, Price's fried chicken is Picasso in a brown paper bag.

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