Ann Christophersen, co-owner of Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, turned to Linda Bubon, her longtime business partner, and scowled at the table that had been set up on a riser at the back of their store. The actress Jane Lynch was due in a few minutes. She was there to sign copies of her new memoir, “Happy Accidents.” This was Sunday afternoon, and several hundreds of fans of Lynch, who grew up in nearby Dolton, Illinois, and plays the mean-spirited gym teacher Sue Sylvester on “Glee,” were waiting outside.
“Nobody thinks this is a good idea,” Christophersen said, meaning having the table on the riser, meaning customers would have to take a step up before having a book signed.
“I never thought it was a good idea,” Bubon said.
“Suggestion?” said Kathie Bergquist, an employee. “Don’t put anything on stage.”
“Yes,” said another employee, “but the stage keeps people from standing behind Jane.”
As they talked, red tape was stretched across the floor, creating impromptu aisles to organize the impending crush of customers. Bubon and Christophersen wore matching black-and-white tracksuits and carried whistles, nods to Sue Sylvester. Outside, on the sidewalk, the store had erected speakers so fans unable to get in could listen to Lynch’s remarks. Lampposts and trees were marked with numbers to help organize the crowd into numerical clusters. Brent Perrotti, 26, held onto marker No. 145.
Actress and now book author Jane Lynch, left, one of the stars of the TV show “Glee,” signs copies of her new memoir, “Happy Accidents,” at Women and Children First bookstore in Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, on Oct. 9. (Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
He stood patiently and read Lynch’s memoir and waited for his mother, who was meeting him. He explained, like many others in line, that Lynch was an inspiration to the gay community: “To see someone out and successful makes you feel not so alone.”
Indeed, a day earlier, seated in a quiet backroom in the basement of a Barnes & Noble in Skokie, Illinois, just before another book signing, Lynch explained that she didn’t tell her parents she was gay until she was in her 30s, and that she had an idea how her life would be, “and in that life I wasn’t gay and I wasn’t an alcoholic.” The point of the book, to some extent, “was to write a letter to my 20-year-old self, who was so afraid and full of anxiety, and tell that person to relax. Our circumstances may not line up,” she said, referring now to her readers, “you might not have grown up on the South Side and been raised in an Irish Catholic family, but you don’t need to be anywhere other than where you are, at this moment, now.”
Heartwarming, uplifting sentiments about relaxing aside, it must be said: Jane Lynch is a model of efficiency ― streamlined, sharp and no-nonsense. She spoke in the same quick, rapid sentences of Sue Sylvester. She wore a long, tan leather jacket, the kind a tough TV cop might wear. And no doubt, though appreciative of her admirers, Lynch herself had to admire the methodical nature of her Women and Children appearance. She said she just had lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s in Skokie with her mother, who still lives on the South Side. After that, she crossed the street and signed at Barnes & Noble. After that, she left for Unabridged Books in Lakeview, to sign more books; then she had coffee with a friend. “I work fast,” she said. “Laser focused! I’m like that with everything. I do something, I want to be done with it.”
She hates disorder. She can no longer own throw pillows: “Too messy, too frivolous.”
As she arrived at Women and Children on Sunday, the line of people waiting to meet her started at the front door of the bookstore, on Clark Street, then stretched around the corner and headed down Farragut Avenue. She had just been at the taping of an episode of “Windy City Live.” As her car turned in to the parking lot behind the store, it drove past Carol Cheney, who went to high school with Lynch and clutched their yearbook from 1978. Cheney said she directed Lynch in a school production of “Godspell.” She was carrying with her a letter for the actress: “It’s three pages, but I didn’t know how to get in touch with her anymore.”
Inside the store, questions flew: Were her lines in “Best in Show” written or improvised? (Improvised.) What actor did she most want to work with? (Carol Burnett and Olivia Newton John) Do you feel any backlash for being a lesbian? (“Not unless it’s behind my back.”) Is there really a “Velvet Mafia” in Hollywood? (“Is that a gay thing? Do they have a potluck?”) Do you have advice for a 20-year-old? (“Say yes to everything but porno.”)
The crowd was asked not to step around the table or touch Lynch. She would take pictures with fans while seated, from across the table. This kept the line moving, plus, as Christophersen said: “Would you want to be touched by 500 people?”
Having had their books signed, Lisa Martin and Vicki Kenyan, both from Chicago, and both of whom have been in a relationship together for the past 10 years (and who also recently made it official with a civil union), stood apart from the line, inspecting the pictures they took with Lynch. In the photographs, both parties stood a respectful, tabletop’s length apart. “It’s incredible how much of a role model she is,” Martin said. “She came out later in life, was uncertain of who she was. She means a lot to people.”
“It’s also nice to see someone like this happy,” Kenyan said.
“And that it’s been financially rewarding to her,” Martin said.
“I really believe that the more positive images of lesbians there are in the media,” Kenyan said, “the more that people just don’t give any of this a second thought.”
Lynch signed books for three hours, then she left for O’Hare International Airport, where she signed more books. Then she flew back to Los Angeles, where she was having a niece’s rug washed first thing Monday morning. She stayed pragmatic and on schedule.
By Christopher Borrelli
(MCT Information Services)