I don't remember when I first became aware of George Carlin. I like to think it was before Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, but I can't be sure. I know I'd heard A Place for My Stuff by then, but whether or not I realized that was the same person playing Rufus or not is unclear.
Somewhere between Bill &Ted and Dogma, I caught up on my Carlin education. We sold his books in the bookstore. If I heard a snippet of his routine while flipping channels, I'd pause and watch the whole thing. He was a comedian whose work I admired.
I was lucky enough to meet him.
One of the perks of my job is that every now and then I get to be in the same room with famous people. They write books, I sell books. It works out nicely. I'm not high enough on the totem pole to do much more than smile politely and shake a hand before moving on, but it's still one of those job benefits that isn't written down on any piece of paper. When I consider what I want to do after this, it's one of the things I know I'll be giving up, and it makes me a little sad.
In 2004, he wrote When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? and came to sales conference to talk to us. He read a few pages, having to ad-lib some of it since either the print was too small or one of the pages he'd printed out had gone missing. He stood at the podium while we sipped at our post-lunch coffees and talked for a while about his career and his life, and what the book was about. He took questions from us. He was open and honest, and of course, hilarious.
We had some time after the Q&A was finished to introduce ourselves, and I waited around, intending to just dart in, say thank you, and leave. The knot of people he was talking to shifted and I edged my way into the circle, just to listen. He noticed the newcomer - he noticed every time one of the faces surrounding him changed - and for each of us, he'd pause to say hello.
I don't remember what he said to me. It was most likely that kind of small talk you make when you're shaking the hand of someone you've never met and will never see again, but it wasn't a plain "Nice to meet you." I was utterly charmed by whatever it was he said (and I'm kicking myself that I don't recall the words), and I stood there awhile, entranced, listening to him patter on with the other reps.
I was, for a few moments, in the presence of someone I greatly admired. His was a brilliant voice, speaking truth through humor, making us think about politics, language and our treatment of one another. The world is a little dimmer today.