AT BOOK SIGNINGS you never know who's going to suddenly be standing in front of you, sure you'll recognize them. But when a very tall woman came up to me at a book signing in L.A. last week, stuck out her hand and said, "Rick, I'm Christine Daniels," my mouth fell open like a bad drawbridge.
Because the last time I saw this woman, she was a man.
Her name was Mike Penner, and he and I came up together at the Los Angeles Times. She and I. Whatever.
We were both young sportswriters there in the early 1980s. We'd play hoops every Friday, clubbing each other half to death, nearly coming to blows over it, then laughing about it over tacos afterward. We'd glug beers together, catch concerts together, work games together.
And now here she was in two-inch heels, an elegant brown dress, eye shadow, lip gloss and a purse. And, don't take this the wrong way, not bad-looking. Better than she ever was as a guy, put it that way.
I'd heard about the change, of course. Everybody in sports had. Mike announced it in an amazing column in the Times in April. Said he was taking time off and coming back as Ms. Daniels. And my first thought was, Damn, this guy was really hurting for a column idea.
And my second thought was, How come none of us knew? Don't know what kind of hints transsexuals give off, but I sure didn't see any. Not a neatnik. Didn't match his underwear to his socks. Never wanted to get the boys together for makeovers. Nothing. Made me think I wasn't much of a friend.
And now here she was, 6'3" in heels, blue eyes I'd never noticed before, shoulder-length blonde hair, earrings and this soft little Gwyneth Paltrow voice I hardly recognized.
"Wow!" I said, bolting up from behind the table, unsure where to put my arms, setting an alltime record for wretched awkwardness. "What do I do with you?" I blurted.