Features & Columns
Cinequest Maverick Award Winner Chuck Palahniuk
Cinequest Maverick award winner Chuck Palahniuk
At precisely 6:26am, on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2003, four members of the San Francisco Cacophony Society pulled up to the Park Branch Library in a pickup truck. As the vehicle came to a halt at 1833 Page St., just south of the Panhandle, a fifth member met them on foot to help unload a fake plywood wall they had spent the last two days constructing.
That weekend, Chuck Palahniuk was in San Francisco to promote his new book, Diary, and was scheduled to do a reading that night in the library's rec room, on the street level, accessible through an entrance set back from the sidewalk.
At half-past-six in the morning, however, no one was around when the Cacophonists showed up. In clandestine fashion, the quintet of pranksters unloaded the fake plywood wall and began carrying it toward the entrance of the rec-room.
Diary takes place on a fictional islandto which yuppies travel to their vacation homes every summer. A building contractor named Peter lives on the island and hates the yuppies, so during the off-season he infiltrates their summer homes and walls off the doorways to particular rooms—that is, he seals off the entrances. Come summer, the yuppie vacationers return to find their bathrooms gone, their kitchens gone or their living rooms gone, because Peter has walled off the rooms.
Palahniuk was a member of the Portland chapter of the Cacophony Society and a seasoned prankster himself, so, apropos of the Diary novel, members of the local chapter decided to prank his author event by sealing off the entrance to the room so no one could get into the building.
The Cacophonists constructed the wall with precise measurements, so it fit securely in front of the rec-room doors, leaving a solid white partition flush with the building, which completely sealed off the entrance. After securing the wall, they scurried back to the truck and hightailed it east down Page Street, in search of a cheap breakfast spot, as the autumn sun began to rise in the sky.
Unfortunately, as history tells us, not all great pranks are successful. Later that morning, as soon as library employees arrived, they took the wall down. Had the wall stayed long enough for the audience and Palahniuk to show up, the prank would have been a masterpiece—for anyone who had read the book.
Therein lay the other problem. Diary was just being released—the reason Palahniuk was touring—and even though the Cacophonists managed to obtain an advance copy, no one else, including the library employees, even knew the story yet. And because the wall was removed long before Palahniuk showed up that night, not one single person even got the joke.
Now, anyone experienced in the prankster business understands that sometimes the best pranks are the ones in which the perpetrators don't get a chance to witness the result. But in this case, since neither anyone at the library nor anyone involved with producing the event had read the book yet, none of them realized the sealed-off entrance was related to the event. As a result, the perpetrators were the only ones who even knew that a prank had been played.
On Chuck's next tour, to hype his following release, Stranger Than Fiction, he appeared in L.A. but did not come back to the Bay Area. In 2005, he did a reading at Kepler's in Menlo Park, where one of the perpetrators, yours truly, presented him with "before" and "after" photos of the rec-room entrance sealed off by the Cacophony Society, apropos of Diary. Only then did Palahniuk seem to fully appreciate the prank. He definitely had a maverick spirit.
Two years later, Palahniuk returned to the Park Branch Library, divulging to the Cacophonists that the wall still existed but was stored somewhere in the back of the place. At that time, he said he was conspiring to autograph it and ship it to a storage area, to be included with numerous other artifacts sent to him by rabid fans over the years. The rec-room entrance has long since been remodeled, preventing any such prank from happening again.
Now, in 2013, Palahniuk arrives in San Jose on Saturday for the first time, to receive a Writer Maverick Spirit Award from Cinequest in connection with the film Romance, for which he did the script, based on his short story. I can't think of a better candidate.