Originally Written for TheBlot Magazine October 15, 2014.
To describe the scene at Neil Patrick Harris’ book signing yesterday at the Union Square Barnes & Noble as a zoo would not be a stretch. In an effort to assure my spot to meet the man who has played everything from a boy genius to Hedwig in the hit Broadway musical “Hedwig and the Angry Itch,” I started prepping at 2 p.m. for the 7 p.m. event by getting my copy of “Choose Your Own Autobiography” and securing myself a spot for the signing. In the end, my diligence did not pay off like I had hope it would.
After ensuring I had a spot, I made the mistake of heading back to my office to finish up some work. When I left Barnes & Noble, there was no real line to speak of. Upon arriving back at the location at 5:15 p.m., however, the only room left was on the street as the lecture part of the event was completely full; a security guard would later tell me that “about 1,000″ people were in attendance, and it was one of the biggest events they’d ever had there. At this point, the story could have come to an end, but luckily Mr. Harris — along with the B&N staff — made it a point to assure those of us left outside that we would still have a chance to meet the star, and although the ideal situation would’ve allowed more people to attend the lecture, fans were jovial.
Like the variety of his roles over the years, NPH’s fanbase is made up of virtually every demographic. The air was a-buzz with stories from his career and people’s connections to him. The group in front of me were in New York from Spain and said that meeting the former child star was the highlight of their vacation. The woman behind me lived locally and had attended many events at this B&N location and said that this was one of the more popular ones for sure. Parents were bribing their kids by saying, “If you can’t stay calm, you won’t have a chance to meet Barney,” obviously referring to NPH’s character on “How I Met Your Mother.” And, of course, there was a small percentage of stoners reciting lines from the “Harold & Kumar” films at a dizzying rate.
Twenty minutes before the start of the event, I made it to the second floor, still not close enough to see or hear anything, when an announcement was made: “If you don’t have a wristband, you will not be able to have your book signed. If you do not have a wristband, but you did buy the book, you can return it.” I found it odd that there was an actual return policy for the book, but what was even stranger was the lack of people looking to take advantage of the offer. Having been to similar events in the past with far less organization, there was always a sting of spitefulness that spread to those who did not get what they came for, but this crowd would not revolt. Those who had access to the event would wait for as long as it took to meet NPH; those without access just found places around the store to read about the man we were all here for.
During the now-four-hour wait, I had time to actually start reading the book myself, and it is genius. Not only is it an insight to a non-dysfunctional child actor, which is refreshing, but the structure is magnificent! It is set up like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, where at the end of every chapter, you are guided to alternate sections of the book to learn more about a specific topic. Sure, you could read through the entire book in sequence if you prefer, but with the thought that went into developing the project, why wouldn’t you treat yourself to an adventure? Storylines range from NPH’s first roles as a kid to becoming a father, with recipes and magic tricks peppered in. It truly is brilliant and addicting.
Four and a half hours after arriving, I was finally standing in front of Neil Patrick Harris, husband, father, Doogie Howser. It was quite the surreal experience, and our time was short.
“Thank you for staying for all of us tonight, sir, I’m sure this went much later than expected,” I said. “Oh, no problem, Tom, I appreciate you all coming out tonight,” Harris replied, knowing my name from the tag in the book that was pre-written by a screener to help move the line along faster, but the personalization in his addressing me meant a lot. “I love the structure of the book, I think you have done a fantastic job with it,” I told him as he closed the book and slid it across the table to me. “Thank you, I really appreciate that,” he said, holding up his hand to give me a high five before I went on my way.
My night was complete, but I didn’t understand why until I left. Honestly, I never really got into “How I Met Your Mother,” but there was something about Neil Patrick Harris that made the occasion special. Standing there in front of Union Square Park on the now-quiet street, I realized it wasn’t the fame that so many people were there for, but rather to see a person that many, including myself, had grown up with. From opposite sides of a TV screen we shared as kids, anything was possible, including a 16-year-old becoming a doctor.
That is what so many people were there for last night as the name “Doogie” came up more than any other. Through “Choose Your Own Autobiography,” we have a way of catching up on all that has changed in our lives, and like so many pieces of literature before it, through it we re-connect.