John Waters’ fans flock to ‘Liarmouth’ book signing in Baltimore

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The line Sunday to meet John Waters at the book signing for his debut novel, “Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance,” stretched from Atomic Books down Falls Road past Vu Skateboard Shop.

Fans from as far away as Nashville, Newark and London waited for 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.

They included a chatty 7-year-old who told Waters, “My parents met you 10 years ago before I was a thing,” and a man dressed in a wolf costume, perhaps in homage to Surprize, a memorable animal character in “Liarmouth” who is transitioning from cocker spaniel to cat.

In his first novel, the 76-year-old Waters is as politically incorrect as ever. His fans deserve no less.

Jade Hurst, 31, drove nine hours from her home in Maryville, Tennessee, just to meet Waters. The moment their face time had ended, the couple planned to get in their car and drive home.

“It’s a little terrifying to meet your heroes,” she said. “I’m a very big fan. Horrible things happen in his films. But, there’s also this weird joy.”

“Liarmouth” tells the story of Marsha Sprinkle, a suitcase thief and a weaver of sadistic but entertaining lies.

Marsha is on the lam from the airport police, her daughter’s sect of trampoline-bouncing enthusiasts and her own mother, who performs cosmetic surgery on pets. A former employee of Marsha’s is determined to collect the sexual salary he’s been promised for providing a year of free labor, but his talking penis (aptly named “Richard”) has ideas of its own.

Those traditional news outlets from National Public Radio to “Esquire” magazine that have figured out how to review the raunch-laden “Liarmouth” have noted it’s rooted in the transgressive fiction genre pioneered by such authors as Chuck Palahniuk (“Fight Club”) and Katherine Dunn (”Geek Love.”)

“‘Liarmouth,’” is a good novel,” Molly Young wrote for the New York Times. “It is a better gateway drug.”

Plenty of people are already hooked.

Gerry Mastrolia, 27, is a female impersonator from New Jersey. His heroes include the late Divine (aka Glenn Milstead), whom Mastrolia credits with, umm, dragging female impersonators into modern society one flounced petticoat at a time and Waters, who made Divine famous.

He proudly showed off his shoulder, which bore Waters’ loose scrawl with its 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. “On Monday I’m going to call my tattoo artist to see if he has any time in his schedule for tomorrow morning.”

Fans’ ages ranged from the late teens through their 70s. The crowd included men and women, bankers and “bears,” the nickname given in the gay subculture to hairy-chested and ultramasculine males.

There was green hair and orange hair and a spectacular midnight blue Mohawk, but also women in sundresses and ballet flats and hairbands topped with little bows.

Jeannie Roule, 67, of Silver Spring asked Waters to sign more than two dozen pieces of memorabilia during her brief visit to his table. It’s part of the collection of more than 17,000 signed books she and her husband are storing in their basement.

“Getting the author’s signature completes the experience,” she said. “It’s the finishing touch. And, I like the challenge of collecting them.”

Pink flamingos (a homage to Waters’ breakthrough 1972 film of the same name) were presented for the filmmakers’ signature, while an antiques dealer from Pennsylvania who collects medical oddities asked Waters to sign a prosthetic arm.

“I’ve signed arms and legs and mastectomy scars for people who have been through sex changes,” Waters said. The only thing I haven’t signed is a scar from bottom surgery.

Waters works hard to maintain his fan base. He creates opportunities to interact personally with his admirers, from Camp John Waters in the Berkshire Mountains (now in its fifth year) to the punk music festival he hosts in Oakland, California.

Occasionally, fans show up when the filmmaker isn’t expecting them.

“When I get off the plane or bus, sometimes there are people waiting to meet me,” Waters said. “They have figured out which flight I’m on. It’s almost a little scary.”

Waters’ work celebrates outsiders. And who hasn’t felt occasionally that they don’t belong, either because of their sexual preferences, or weight, or height, or wheelchair, or tendency to talk too loud, people having a bad hair day or with flat feet?

As Mastrolia put it:

“John creates a safe space for all the misfits to be themselves. He takes the 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 the money to purchase multiple copies of “Liarmouth” and assorted paraphernalia, the fans still felt the filmmaker was doing them the favor. They addressed him as “Mr. Waters” and “Sir.”

“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 signing, the line of fans still stretched down the bookstore hallway.

“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 flew by too quickly to catch:

“I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you.” “Thank you.” Thank you.” “My parents raised me on your films.” “Thank you very much.” “You’re still my favorite human.” “Thank you.”

”Oh! OH! Oh my goodness! It’s John Waters!”