I don't know how else to say it, so I'll just say it: I'm pretty sure I accidentally caught Kim Kardashian leaving the bathroom after taking a crap.
When she emerged, she was mid-conversation with an assistant. I caught her say the phrase, "…just, like, yesterday…" I have no idea what the context was, and I will not pretend to. As the word "yesterday" lilted into infinity, she looked to her right, where I was standing next to a shelf filled with popular Christian literature. We might have made eye contact, we might not have—there is a very good chance she actually looked through me, because I assume the ultra-famous do not actually see the non-famous, who presumably vibrate on a less advanced frequency than theirs.
It was on the third floor of the Barnes & Noble at the Grove, an outdoor supermall in Los Angeles. The time was 6:05 PM, roughly an hour before she was set to sign copies of her book, Selfish, for a small army of fans, including me. She had been in the bathroom for seven to ten minutes. I know this because I too was trying to take a shit, and her security team wouldn't let me into the bathrooms at the same time as her. I repeat: Kim Kardashian is so important that no one else is allowed to poop if she is (allegedly) pooping. That, my friends, is true power.
Say what you will about Kim Kardashian, but there's no denying that she's one of the most influential and versatile celebrities currently celebrity-ing. Her kingdom spans TV ( Keeping Up with the Kardashians is in its tenth season), fashion (she has five signature scents, helped launch the Kardashian Kollection, and co-owns the boutique clothing store DASH), tech (her mobile game, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, has earned more than $1.6 billion since its launch), music (for better or worse, Kim's song "Jam (Turn It Up)," written by The-Dream and Tricky Stewart, is a thing that exists), and social media (she has nearly 32 million followers on both Twitter and Instagram). If a rogue nation were to kidnap her, I truly believe it would start World War III, which sort of makes her the modern-day Helen of Troy. And with the release of Selfish this week, she can add "author" to that list. Published by Rizzoli, Selfish is a book of Kim K selfies. The tome itself is the approximate size and heft of the Bible, which I choose to believe is not a coincidence. On page 83, it features Kardashian in an African diamond mine.
I arrived at the Grove at around 8:30 in the morning, greeted by a line to buy Selfish that already stretched around the block. Though the signing wasn't until 7 PM, in order to be guaranteed entry to the event, you had to buy a book, which came with a wristband, of which there were limited quantities. Since B&N didn't open for half an hour, I decided to go around and ask strangers in line what they thought about Kim Kardashian.
Kardashian's fans, it turns out, are an intensely dedicated bunch. Many had traveled to Los Angeles from places like San Diego and Anaheim just to meet her for a few seconds, and some had been there the entire night. The young woman at the front of the line told me she'd been camped out since 10 PM the night before, and the young men behind her said they'd been there since 4 AM. They planned to sleep in their car after buying their books. Another was wearing a shirt with a gigantic print of her face on it.
After buying my copy (I sprang for a Barnes & Noble membership, paying roughly $15 extra, which allowed me to bypass the line to get my book signed), I took a look around the store. Though a Barnes & Noble press person declined my request to interview staff members, it turns out you can just go up to anyone and ask them pretty much anything, and if you're holding a recorder in their face, they'll probably answer.
"Honestly," one security guard told me, "I don't understand how someone could wait so long for someone they don't even know." I asked him which other authors he'd seen lines like this for. "Arnold Schwarzenegger," he responded, adding that celebrities usually got the longest lines.
Straining to think of the most famous, vaguely well-respected author I knew of, I asked the guard if he thought Jonathan Franzen might be able to attract a crowd like this.
"I don't know who that is," he told me. Gesturing to the crowd waiting to get in the store, he said, "Neither do they."
Making my way to the top floor of the Grove's sprawling Barnes & Noble campus I met a cashier who told me about the scope of the store's celebrity signings. "We had an event last week for Connor Franta," a popular YouTuber who recently released the memoir A Work in Progress. "We had 1,200 kids there for that event. Almost the same numbers as Hillary Clinton had."
For some reason, I also asked the cashier what kind of crowd Jonathan Franzen, who at this point might as well have been the pinnacle of literature to me, would have drawn. "Not everyone's a reader," she said with a sigh.
By 5:30 PM the wristbands were gone and the staff had begun to set up for Kardashian's arrival, looking grim, as if they were preparing for battle. Admittedly, this might have been my imagination running wild due to boredom, as I'm pretty sure the store was playing a selection from the Game of Thrones soundtrack at the time. I overheard an event planner warning security that paparazzi had already arrived, so I started looking around the store for people with bulky cameras. After finding none, I began to suspect she'd actually just been talking about me.
After waiting in another line, this time with my copy of Selfish clutched to my chest, it was time.
If I tried to tell you any specifics about my actual interaction with Kardashian, I'd be lying. Her presence is like the neuralyzer from Men in Black. As soon as I got within about three feet of her I blanked. What I do remember is fumbling around with my phone in front of security, saying something polite to her while averting my eyes, her saying something equally polite back to me, and then taking one selfie with her before being shooed away by her people.
When I stumbled outside, blinking dumbly at the light, I cursed myself for completely blowing my one chance to ask her anything I wanted. I could have asked her about her game. I could have asked her about Kanye. I could have asked her what it was like working with The-Dream. Instead, I asked her none of those things. I had become hypnotized; overcome by the thought, Holy fuck. This person, who has existed as an abstraction to me, is about to become real. I am about to interact with a Kardashian, the closest thing America has to royalty.
And like it or not, Kardashian and her clan are a cultural force to be reckoned with. Her stepfather, Bruce Jenner, singlehandedly thrust trans issues to the forefront of American dialogue last month when he told Diane Sawyer, "For all intents and purposes, I am a woman." And Kardashian herself is in an incredibly powerful position to enact positive change—if she can get a bunch of people to line up at a Barnes & Noble at seven in the morning to buy her book of selfies, she can definitely help, say, destigmatize difficult conversations surrounding mental health issues, which is exactly what she's been doing. Recently, she produced #RedFlag, an HLN documentary about mental health in the age of social media, and last week she participated in a Google Hangout meant to raise awareness about the issue.
Ultimately, people who complain about Kim Kardashian being famous for nothing—or even worse, people who claim she's famous for specious reasons—are missing the point. It's arguable that our most vaunted celebrities are simply reflections of our values as a culture. So if Kim Kardashian is trying to change that culture, that's kind of incredible. It's the tail wagging the dog, or at least the selfie striking back.
Drew Millard is on Twitter.