On Sunday, the queue to meet John Waters at the signing for his debut novel, ‘Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance’, stretched from Atomic Books to Falls Road to Vu Skateboard Shop.
Fans from as far away as Nashville, Newark and London waited up to four hours for a 30-second encounter with the cult filmmaker, who was masked and behind a plexiglass shield in accordance with COVID-19 safety protocols.
Among them are a talkative 7-year-old who told Waters, “My parents met you 10 years ago before I was a thing,” and a man in a wolf costume, possibly in homage to Surprize, a memorable animal character in “Liarmouth” who is transitioning from cocker spaniel to cat.
In his first novel, 76-year-old Waters is more politically incorrect than ever. His fans deserve no less.
Jade Hurst, 31, drove nine hours from her home in Maryville, Tennessee, just to meet Waters. By the time their face time was over, the couple planned to get in their car and drive home.
“It’s kind of terrifying to meet your heroes,” she said. “I am a very big fan. Horrible things happen in his films. But there is also this strange joy.
“Liarmouth” tells the story of Marsha Sprinkle, a suitcase thief and weaver of sadistic yet entertaining lies.
Marsha is on the loose from airport police, her daughter’s cult of trampoline enthusiasts, and her own mother, who performs cosmetic surgery on pets. A former employee of Marsha’s is determined to collect the sex pay he was promised for providing a year of free labor, but his talking penis (aptly named “Richard”) has ideas of his own.
Mainstream news outlets, from National Public Radio to “Esquire” magazine, who have figured out how to criticize the raunchy-laden “Liarmouth,” have noted that it is rooted in the transgressive genre of fiction spearheaded by authors such as Chuck Palahniuk (“Fight Club”) and Katherine Dunn (“Geek Love.”)
“’Liarmouth’ is a good novel,” Molly Young wrote for the New York Times. “It’s a better gateway drug.”
Many people are already addicted.
Gerry Mastrolia, 27, is an impersonator from New Jersey. Her heroes include the late Divine (aka Glenn Milstead), whom Mastrolia credits with dragging female imitators into modern society, one ruffled petticoat at a time, and Waters, who made Divine famous.
He proudly showed off his shoulder, which bore Waters’ loose scrawl with his oversized initials. Waters signed his name in ink, but Mastrolia plans to make it permanent.
“I’m not going to wash this arm tonight,” he said. “Monday I’m going to call my tattoo artist to see if he has time in his schedule for tomorrow morning.”
Fan ages ranged from late teens to 70s. The crowd included men and women, bankers and “bears,” the nickname given in the gay subculture to hairy-chested, ultra-masculine men.
There was green hair and orange hair and a dramatic midnight blue Mohawk, but also women in sundresses and ballet flats and headbands topped with little bows.
Jeannie Roule, 67, of Silver Spring asked Waters to sign more than two dozen souvenirs during her brief visit to her table. It’s part of the collection of over 17,000 signed books that she and her husband store in their basement.
“Getting the author’s signature completes the experience,” she said. “It’s the finishing touch. And I love the challenge of collecting them.
Flamingos (a tribute to Waters’ groundbreaking 1972 film of the same name) were presented for the filmmakers’ signature, while a Pennsylvania antique dealer who collects medical oddities asked Waters to sign a prosthetic arm.
“I’ve signed arms and legs and mastectomy scars for people who have had sex reassignments,” Waters said. The only thing I didn’t sign is a scar from buttock surgery.
Waters works hard to maintain his fan base. He creates opportunities to personally interact with his fans, from Camp John Waters in the Berkshire Mountains (now in his fifth year) to the punk music festival he hosts in Oakland, California.
Sometimes fans show up when the filmmaker isn’t expecting them.
“When I get off the plane or the bus, sometimes there are people waiting to meet me,” Waters said. “They found out what flight I’m on. It’s almost a little scary.
Waters’ work celebrates outsiders. And who hasn’t occasionally felt like he didn’t belong, either because of his sexual preferences, or his weight, or his height, or his wheelchair, or his tendency to speak too loudly, people with bad hairstyles or flat feet?
As Mastrolia said:
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“John creates a safe space for all misfits to be themselves. He takes people who have been pushed down by the system and gives them a voice.
So even after waiting in line for hours and shelling out money to buy multiple copies of “Liarmouth” and various props, fans still feel like the filmmaker was doing them a favor. They called him “Mr. Waters” and “Monsieur”.
“Thank you,” said Dave Mortlock, 67, of Mount Laurel, New Jersey. “Thank you,” said Rosemary Solomon, 24, of Nashville, Tennessee. “Thank you,” said Brantley Ellzey, 60, and Jim Renfrow, 68, both of Memphis.
Even after two hours of nonstop signings, the line of fans still stretched down the hallway of the bookstore.
“Thank you” said Jeff Henry and John Nagle and Liatra Myers and Tanya Price and Colin and Amy and Becky and Paul and Eddie and Rachael and Jodi and Amanda, and fans whose names passed too quickly to be understood:
“I’ve waited my whole life to meet you.” “Thank you.” Thank you.” “My parents raised me on your movies.” “Thank you so much.” “You are still my favorite human.” “Thank you.”
“Oh! OH! Oh my God! It’s John Waters!