Will McKinley lives in New York City. He thinks you might be interested in what he has to say.
I never planned to have a stroke at the age of 28.
Let me rephrase that. I never planned to have a stroke ever. But if I had to have one, 28 was a pretty good age for it.
I knew this from experience. I was sitting next to my grandmother when she had her first stroke, back in the early 1980s. She was in her 60s. I was 11 or 12. We were in the back yard at my aunt and uncle's house on Long Island. It was summer, which apparently is a popular time for strokes.
"Go get Aunt Margaret," my grandmother said to me, as it was happening. I think it was as it was happening. Strokes are funny that way. All the action takes place internally. It's not much of a show for the audience.
So I went and got my aunt, and my sister Missy and I were whisked off to the home of Mrs. Griggs, the nice old lady next door. She and I used to watch New York Mets games together, on an old black & white TV with one of those circular antennas.
The ambulance took my grandmother away and the next time I saw her she couldn't really talk.
It took her a long time to recover -- to relearn how to speak, how to get around, how to be self-sufficient. And by time she had sort of gotten back to normal, she had another one. And the process started all over again.
But that's not what happened to me when I had a stroke. Nothing really happened to me, at least not that I was aware of at the time. If you looked at me that night -- sitting in my little memorabilia-filled apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, eating Chinese food and watching videotaped daytime soap operas -- you would have thought that nothing was amiss.
But inside of me, plenty was amiss. And it had all started that day, six weeks earlier, when I had my wisdom teeth removed.
Dr. Ruth (the male oral surgeon, not the diminutive female sex therapist) had prescribed a course of antibiotics for me to take, following the surgery. I filled the prescription. I took the pills for a couple days, but then I stopped.
I always hated pills when I was growing up. It seemed that my mother was on dozens of them, for this ailment or that malady. There were bottles all over the house. But they never seemed to do any good. Whatever she took the pill for always came back again. It seemed like a endless treadmill. I associated pills with weakness, and I wanted no part of them.
And then, I got hooked myself.
I developed a back problem around the time I started college. When it would act up it would leave me incapacitated for a week or more. The backaches always seemed to happen at moments of high stress or emotional turmoil. I know now that it was entirely psycho somatic. But at the time, it was as real as a punch in the mouth.
My doctor had prescribed a muscle relaxant called Flexeril for me to take whenever the pain was unbearable. It worked like a charm. Then I started taking it when the pain wasn't so bad. Then I started taking it to prevent the pain from even happening at all.
If I was nervous about an exam at NYU I would pop a Flexeril. On one of my first dates with Mary I slipped into the men's room and took a Flexeril. The day I met her mother for the first time I took two. In fact, there was awhile where I was taking at least one per day. Just in case.
How cliche, right? I was addicted to prescription painkillers, like fucking Rush Limbaugh. Why couldn't I have been hooked on something hip and trendy, like high colonics, or Kabbalah or heroin? Oh well.
Fortunately, my career as a drug addict was brief. My doctor - my pediatrician, in fact -- noticed that I had been going through my Flexerilprescriptions pretty quickly. So he cut me off. I had to go cold turkey, which was not fun and resulted in chronic back trouble that dogged me until, well, until I got sick for real. At that point, I had no need to come up with fake ailments anymore.
And so I vowed never to take pills again. Unfortunately for me, I kept that vow after my oral surgery.
I can't tell you how many of the prescription antibiotics I took after I had my wisdom teeth removed, but I can tell you that it wasn't all of them. Not even close. In retrospect, that was a highly flawed decision. Because, had I taken all the antibiotics I was prescribed, I might not have gotten the bacterial infection that was now in the process of slowly killing me.
But the trouble didn't really start the day I had my wisdom teeth extracted. It started the day I was born.
I know now that I (or, more accurately, Christian Beaton) was born with a condition called Mitral Valve Prolapse, an irregularity in one or more valves of the heart. There's a very good chance that other people in my -- sorry, Christian's -- family may have had the condition too.
But I wouldn't know about that, because I'm adopted. Actually, I prefer "previously owned."
Most adopted kids don't know their family's medical history. They aren't aware of hereditary medical issues, or serious conditions to which they are pre-disposed. This is the great injustice of adoption, and one that adoption rights advocates have been fighting for years, in some cases, generations.
It's not about knowing the names of your birth parents, so you can track them down pay for college when you turn 18, or chastise them for giving you away or otherwise fuck up their lives. It's about preventing medical complications later in life.
For example, people with Mitral Valve Prolapse are particularly susceptible to infection during and after oral surgery. Those that have it are often pre-medicated and closely monitored afterwards for infection. But if you don't know you have it, bad things can happen.
And bad things certainly happened to me.
I don't know any of this to be 100% fact. But here is what I think happened: The day of my oral surgery, some bacteria managed to enter my my blood stream, through the open wounds in my mouth. It may have happened during surgery, or on my visit to the Mayor's Office for Film & TV, or at the movie theater seeing the terrible Batman& Robin movie.
And when the antibiotics failed in their mission -- because I didn't take enough of them, which was entirely my fuck up -- the bacteria that was coursing through my body found a friendly host: my charmingly irregular heart valves. They liked it there so much, they invited some friends. And all that accumulated bacteria began to chew away at my heart valves like a dog might chomp on an old sneaker filled with bacon.
I had a condition called Endocarditis. And once you get it, you can't get rid of it on your own. The body can't fight Endocarditis without help. But because it is often hard to diagnose, the help often comes when it's too late.
Or, as it did in my case, when it was almost too late. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, dear readers!
The Endocarditis didn't cause the stroke, at least not directly. The bacteria had begun to multiply on my valves, where the normally heroic white blood cells couldn't get at it. The heart valves are sort of like home base in a game of tag, and that's why the bacteria likes to hang out there. They're safe, because there is no direct blood flow within the valves themselves.
And so, the valves said to the bacteria, "Be fruitful and multiply!" Because I am part Vulcan.
Doctors call the growing mass of bacteria on the heart valves that occurs during Endocarditis vegetation, which I think sounds very pastoral.
Like, "I say! What are you doing in the garden, my love."
"Oh, I'm just reclining amongst all this delightful vegetation, enjoying a beautiful summer's day! Would you be so kind as to bring me a snifter of brandy? Pip pip, tally ho and all that rot!"
My internal monologues always sound British. Don't yours?
Anyway, a particularly ambitious piece of this vegetation catapulted off one of my valves, and began a madcap journey through my blood stream, just like the ship in that 1960s sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage. Eventually The Little Bacteria that Could ended its trip, lodged in the right central cerebral artery of my brain.
But bacteria being the intrepid little mico-organisms that they are, it didn't just hang out there and have a smoke. It got right to work destroying my brain, just as its brethren had been destroying my heart.
Soon, blood was clotting around the bacteria and blood flow was cut off in one of the largest arteries of my brain. And then, in the words of celebrity chef EmerilLagasse -- BAM! Stroke.
I know all of this now. I knew none of it then. That night, all I knew was that I felt an odd tingling sensation that had disappeared as quickly as it appeared. So the next morning I called Dr. Baldpate, the psycho-pharmacologist who had prescribed my Prozac.
"You mentioned that I might experience side effects from the anti-depressant," I said. "Is tingling one of the side effects?"
"Tingling where?" he asked.
"Well, my tongue mostly. Also my lip and my nose a little bit."
"What were you doing at the time."
"I was eating Chinese food."
"Was it spicy?"
"Yes. It was garlic sauce."
"Well that may have been it. But just in case, we'll keep you below therapeutic levels for another week."
And that was that. I had done my due diligence. I had reported this unusual experience to a medical doctor, and that medical doctor told me not to worry. So I didn't worry. And I went on with my life.
But each day things got a bit worse for me. I was finding it hard to focus mentally. I was short tempered, particularly at work. I had always been a bit of a terror to work with (or for) but this time I was really going around the bend.
I was producing a corporate video at that point for a large financial services company, and I briefly fired the director in the middle of a shoot, hired myself, fired myself and then rehired him. Then I fired the editor in the middle of the edit, and then another editor. And so on.
I felt like I was possessed by evil spirits. I was angry, hostile, scared. I needed help, but the one person who had helped me through all of my neuroses and emotional turmoil, through my fights with my parents, through the abject panic I felt when encountering anything new or making any sort of change in my life -- Mary, my partner, my best friend, my surrogate mother -- was gone.
But she wasn't gone, really. She was only a short train ride away, right out on Long Island, in the town in which I had grown up, the town in which my parents still lived. So I decided to pay her a visit.
That would be over-simplification. What I will say is, I didn't particularly want to live. So you might say I was passively suicidal that summer.
The Summer Of Suicide. It sounds like the name of the hottest band on college radio. But that's what it was. I was seeing a shrink at the time, which was a pretty big step for me. It was a desperation move -- a Hail Mary pass (pun very much intended) that started a few months before the breakup.
Mary had told me that she wanted to get married, to build a life together, a more stable and committed one than we had already. I could totally see her point. After nine years, it's not surprising that a woman might ask for something in writing -- particularly a woman who is ten years older than the man (boy?) she was dating.
But I could just not see me with Mary for the rest of my life. Honestly, I had never seen that, not even from the beginning. But I couldn't see me without her either. I could make a completely compelling case for both sides of the issue. And that indecision checkmated me. So I let down my guard, gave up my youthful arrogance and did something I almost never did. I asked for help.
The first step was the shrink.
How do you find a shrink, when you've never had one, or even considered seeing one? Remember, this was the Dark Ages of 1997 - before every single thing you could ever want (and then some) was available on the interweb. This was back in the days when the high-pitched squeal of your 14.4 modem made you feel like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
So I had to do it the analog way. I had to ask a human person for a referral. But who to ask? You can't just go up to a friend or co-worker and say, "You seem pretty fucked up. Can you suggest a psychiatrist?" People might take that the wrong way.
So I asked my friend Mary (different Mary), a TV producer whose apartment I was subletting. I had met Mary when I was still in high school, and working for a once-famous actor. The Other Mary (as she came to be known) had known me longer than just about anyone else, besides my family. And I wasn't about to ask a relative for shrink referrals, even though a few of them needed therapy way the fuck more than I did.
"I think I need to see someone, a doctor or something," I said to The Other Mary. "I need to talk about what's going on, or I'm gonna lose it."
She gave me a referral to a shrink that she had been seeing, and I set up an appointment.
"I'm Sheila," the silver-haired woman in the shiny blouse said, as I walked into her expensive-looking Upper West Side office in my denim shorts.
I was immediately taken aback. Wasn't this lady a doctor? Wasn't I supposed to call her Doctor So-and-So? Sheila sounded like something you call your Grandma's mah-jong partner, not a trained, licensed, metal health practitioner. Bad start. But I sat down and we began chatting.
"What's on your mind?" she asked, with her legs obnoxiously crossed.
"Well, my girlfriend wants to get married but I don't" I said.
"So break up with her," Dr. Sheila replied.
"I don't want to."
"So marry her."
"I don't want to."
It went on like this for the first few visits. Honestly, I found her to be a bit combative. In that sense she reminded me of my mother who, at that point in my life, I couldn't stand to be around. So I sort of stopped being on time for my weekly, Wednesday night appointments. And then I stopped going all together. And then Mary (the real one) broke up with me for good, so I decided to try again. But Dr. Sheila was having none of it.
"I'm not going to be able to work with you anymore," she said.
I was annoyed by the self conscious word choice -- "work with me" -- like we were building a deck in the back yard, or something. From what I could see, I had been doing all the work. Sheila was mostly sitting there, staring at me like I owed her money (which I did).
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I"m referring you to another analyst," she said coldly. "A male doctor. I think you might respond better to a male therapist."
I was being fired by my shrink. I didn't know shrinks could do that.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because you act out," she said. "With the lateness and the missed appointments. It's acting out."
I wanted to jump out of my seat. I wanted to grab her by her Ann Taylor collar and scream in her face:
"Of course I'm acting out, you fucking moron! I'm troubled. What do you expect? That's why I'm seeing a fucking shrink. If I was in good shape I'd be home watching Wheel of Fortune with Pat Sajak and Vanna White, not spending my Wednesday evenings whining about my problems to some bitch named Sheila."
But I didn't say that. What I did say:
"Oh I see what's going on here. You're on the Upper West Side. All the yuppies come in here and complain about how the maintenance fees for their condos are going up. But you get somebody who's trying to actually deal with some real problems, and you tell him he's acting up."
"You see," she said flatly. "This is what I'm talking about. The hostility. Where is this hostility coming from?
"You're the shrink" I said. "You tell me."
And that was the last time I saw Dr. Sheila, God rest her pantsuit.
The next shrink was a man which, surprisingly, did make me feel more comfortable. I have always been intimidated by men. At that point, I hadn't had a male friend my own age since the onset of puberty. Once the body hair arrived, the guy friends were sent packing, along with the stuffed animals and comic books (okay, maybe not the comic books).
Speaking of hair, this shrink had none. So I called him Dr. Baldpate, like he was a character on Alistair Cooke's Masterpiece Theater. I liked him. He was pleasant, low-key and smart-seeming -- unlike that shrill harpie on the other side of the Central Park.
But he was all the way on the East Side, and he was twice as much money per hour. It was something absurd, like $275 per session. I asked him why he cost so much more than his friend Dr. Von Cuntstein. He pointed to the diploma on the wall.
"I'm an M.D.," he said. "Sheila is an M.S.W."
"Wow," I said. "You guys should buy a vowel." I was hilarious, even in emotional turmoil.
And therein lied the problem. Everything with me was a joke, a crack, a smart remark. I was completely falling apart on the inside and my way of dealing with it was to make jokes. It was a defense mechanism I had learned as a child, growing up in a home with an emotionally unstable mother. As long as I didn't let her push my buttons, bait me, scare me, whatever -- as long as I kept the edge, everything was okay.
Dr. Baldpate suggested that I might not be ready to do "the work" (there was that term again) of therapy, to get to the Tootsie Roll inside of my candy coating of snark. But, unlike his predecessor, he had a suggestion.
"Have you ever considered anti-depressants," he asked.
It was one thing to sit on a leather recliner across from some over-educated, over-priced, over-fed bald dude and whine about your troubles. But it was another thing for that guy to tell you that you are so fucked up in the head that you needed pills to fix you. P'shaw!
Pills were the downfall of America, the first step toward death, the opiate of the masses (duh). That's the way they get you. Once they get you on pills, they got you forever. They own you. They control the horizontal. They control the vertical. They take over and you just just stand by and watch, waving one of those little flags as the firetrucks roll by.
"That's kind of an old fashioned view, don't you think?" Dr. Baldpate said, without a hint of defensiveness or judgment.
And then I started to think about everything that was going on inside of me. Mary and I were now done. It was over and I was convinced that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I was always tired. I was having trouble eating, sleeping, working, thinking. I couldn't focus. I just wanted to distract myself, to not think about things. I hated my job, my apartment, my baby carriage-filled neighborhood, my life. I was addicted to phone sex, to porn, to cigarettes. I was going to die alone. I didn't want to die, but I wouldn't have turned it down if someone had offered it politely. I just wanted this whole mess to be over.
"Okay," I said. "I'll try it."
So I did. I went on Prozac, a low dose. Dr. Baldpate called it "sub-therapeutic," which meant, I think, that it wasn't really going to do anything. Yet. The way he explained it was, I had to ease into it, to ramp up. Apparently it's bad if you just flood your brain with happiness.
You're brain is like, "Whoa whoa whoa! Who let all this happiness in? What do you think this is?" It doesn't know how to react, like the first time you masturbate and stuff comes out. You're like, "What the fuck?! Is that supposed to happen?" And then you spontaneously combust, or start singing in the mountains like Julie Andrews.
"Come back in two weeks," Dr. B said. "And we'll see how you're doing. In the meantime, I'm going to refer you to a colleague of mine for talk therapy. He's on the West side of the Park."
I liked him already, even though I was once again the cliche of the young professional complaining about life to his Upper West Side shrink. But this one was different. His name was Marcello, although I didn't call him that. I called him Dr. Ruben, because he was a PHD. I felt better calling him Doctor. It felt less weird.
He was also Argentinian or Portugese or from one of those countries in Europe where they speak Spanish or Spanish-like languages, but aren't actually Spanish. Dos that sound confusing? If so, it's because you can never get shrinks to tell you too much about themselves. It's ridiculous.
You ask a question and they're like, "Why do you want to know."
And I'm like, "Well, you know a lot about me. For example, you know I like to call phone sex hotlines and act like I'm fucking a girl in the ass -- over the telephone. I think you could at least tell me where you're from."
It was now about six weeks or so after my oral surgery and, maybe a week and a half after I had gone on the pills. They weren't working I still felt like shit. I had absolutely no appetite. I would go days without eating, and my pants were staring to hang on me.
"What do you like to eat?" Dr. Ruben asked me.
"Chicken and broccoli with garlic sauce, and some egg drop soup," I said. "I order that about three times a week from Ollie's on 84th Street."
"Order some tonight," he said.
So I did that. And I sat down at my rickety, white, pressed particle-board table, the one that I got at Ikea for like $19.99. And I ate my Chinese food.
And then I felt it. It was a tingling sensation in my tongue.
"God, this stuff is spicy" I thought.
But then the tingling continued. It moved through my tongue, from the back to the tip. Then it traveled around to the left side of my lip and up into my nose, my left nostril. It was almost like the burp you feel from drinking too much carbonated soda.
It moved through me. And then it was gone, as quickly as it came -- 30 seconds, maybe 45. A minute, tops. I went back to my chicken and broccoli and that day's episode of Another World on the VCR.
They say that soldiers don't like to talk about war when they get home.
It's some sort of a protective mechanism, not to think about it. They leave it where they left it, and hope it never comes back to visit.
But what do I know? I've never been in combat, not even close. I was in a war once, though, and the enemy was me.
I started dying on Friday June 20, 1997. There was no kick-off event, no gala red-carpet launch, no cocktail party for the media. It was just me and an oral surgeon, and some non-descript nurse wrapped up in white like Boris Karloff as Im-ho-tep back in 1932.
The doctor's name was Ruth. That's right - Dr. Ruth. I found that funny. He didn't, I'm sure. That morning he took out my wisdom teeth. How that is done I have no idea. I was unconscious at the time, and nobody took pictures, at least not that I know of. All I know is, I woke up and my wisdom teeth were gone. And there was blood. Oh yes, there was blood.
I'm giving you a prescription for antibiotics," Dr. Ruth said, in the wake of the bloody carnage. "Make sure you take all of them to prevent infection."
I agreed, signed some papers and paid the bill with my father's Union Plus Mastercard. He was downstairs, on Central Park West, in the car -- the gray Chevrolet Celebrity with the St. Joseph's sticker on the back window. My mother was there too. She was listening to her opera tapes, I think. Or maybe it was Bible study. She had a cup of something in the cup holder, like always.
My parents were there for three reasons:
1) To pay the bill 2) To make sure I got home okay, and 3) To take care of me.
That's really what parents do, in a nutshell, isn't it?
My dad pulled over at the pharmacy on Broadway between 82nd and 83rd Street, I think it was Ricky's. I filled my prescription, got back in the car and headed for my apartment, a walk-up near Riverside Park on 85th Street. It had pink carpet, which was not my idea.
"Take it easy today," my mother said, when they were sure I was safe and sound. "You just had surgery. That's a serious thing."
Of course, I ignored her. I never took it easy. Taking it easy is for pussies, or Grateful Dead fans. Same diff. Anyway, I had stuff to do that day. I had to go over to the Mayor's Office for Film and TV and get a permit for a shoot I was doing the following week, for work. And I had tickets for the midnight show of the new Batman movie that was opening that night.
Getting the permit went fine, but it turned out that Batman and Robin wasn't all that good.
George Clooney wore a costume with sculpted pecs and raised nipples. He looked like a leather daddy on fetish night at Boots & Saddles. But at least I was there right? I was right in the thick of it with all the other fans, sitting in the balcony at the Lincoln Square Theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. On opening night, just like always.
It was there, probably, that the seeds of the infection were sown.
After all, a stuffy, crowded, sold-out movie theater is probably the last place you should be with two open wounds in your mouth. I couldn't even eat my popcorn! The salt stung and the blood ruined the taste. I felt like Dracula. That was $6 down the drain!
You might just say that Batman and Robin was so bad, it almost killed me. Take that, director Joel Schumacher! That's what you get for gaying up the Caped Crusaders. Or, more to the point, that's what I get.
I walked home after the show, north on Broadway. It was around 3 AM. I was by myself. I was by myself a lot back then. That is what you're supposed to do when somebody breaks up with you after ten years.
"I'm spending some time by myself," I would say to people, when they asked. "And I think it's really gonna be good for me."
I can't really blame it on Mary, the breaking up part. We were boyfriend and girlfriend for ten years. Actually, one day shy of ten years. But nine years, 11 months and 29 days doesn't have quite the same zing to it.
She called me, on the phone, at work, the day before our ten year anniversary. I was sitting at my desk.
"I need to move on with my life" she said. She may have said something else, but that's what she meant.
"Just promise me you'll keep the pictures," I said. And then I broke down. For me, the picture means it really happened. The picture is not worth 1,000 words, it's worth every word.
What was the name of that stupid documentary about Madonna? The one that was in black and white, when she was dating Warren Beatty? I know. Who cares, right? Fuck Madonna and her pointy bra.
But the pointy is -- I mean the point is -- Beatty said something to Madonna like, "What's the point of living if the cameras aren't on?" He was being sarcastic.
But I was like, "Yes, Warren! Exactly. What's the point?"
Whatever you're doing right now, take a picture. Because if you don't, it never happened. It will cease to exist, like the disappearing cliffs in a Road Runner cartoon. You can only walk on air so long before you will fall into the canyon with a puff of smoke and a sign that says, "Yikes."
But ten years with Mary certainly did happen. It started when I was a fresh-faced freshman in college and it ended with a year and a half of fighting, crying, separating, getting back together and, finally, acceptance.
She accepted the fact that I wasn't ready to get married -- not after 10 years, not after 10,000 years. There was too much I had not done. There was too much living yet to come
I fully cop to being a weirdo, but there are some people at Mets games who make me look positively mainstream.
For example, this guy:
This genius was at the last game I went to at Shea Stadium. He was a fully grown adult, somewhere in his twenties. And he spent the entire game holding up a stuffed monkey in a Mets outfit.
I am not kidding about this.
This adult man had purchased a child's doll, and was waving it around at every possible moment during a professional baseball game. He didn't get it free when he walked through the gate. It wasn't Stuffed Monkey Day at Shea. He paid for this stuffed monkey. And he didn't buy it for his kid. He bought it for himself, so he could wave it around like a complete fucking moron.
Who does this?
I must add a caveat here. At Angels Stadium in California, the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim (yes, that is actually the team's official name), have a mascot called the Rally Monkey. It's a real, live Capuchin monkey who appears on the scoreboard video screen during key moments of the game. He holds up a sign that says rallytime! and he jumps up and down accompanied -- appropriately -- by the House of Pain song Jump.
And yes, some fans like to bring their own stuffed rally monkey to the game.
But everybody knows that people who live in LA are out of their fucking minds. Why else would they live in the Land of the Biblical Plagues - Earthquake, Fire, Flood, Heat, Schwarzenegger as governor. They're nuts.
Anyway, this is not LA. This is New York City. We like our baseball real, not cute. And guys in their 20's who play with stuffed animals at baseball games just might catch a beating. I'm just sayin.
So if you want to play with a stuffed monkey in the privacy of your own home, be my guest.
But when you come to a baseball game, you better man up.
TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME -- AND STAY UNTIL IT'S OVER
Yesterday Maggie and I went to Shea Stadium to watch the Mets play the St. Louis Cardinals.
A homerun by Metsleftfielder Fernando Tatis tied the score in the bottom of the ninth inning and sent the game into extra innings. The excitement continued for five more innings, until a two-run homer by Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols in the top of the 14th put the Cards ahead for good.
I stayed for the whole game, of course.
Maggie petered out after 12 innings and headed home on the subway. But I was there until the bitter end, six hours after I had arrived. In fact, in 33 years of going to baseball games at Shea Stadium, I have never left early.
Actually that's not entirely true. There was one time, back in 1980, when I went to Shea with my summer day camp. The game went into extra innings and the counselors announced that we were leaving, because we had to get back to Long Island in time for all the parents to pick us up.
Even at the age of 11, I considered this sacrilegious. So I hatched a diabolic plan to stay at Shea.
I snuck away from my group and took an empty seat with another group of campers who, unlike us, weren't leaving. But my camp t-shirt was bright yellow, and their camp t-shirts were white, so I stood out like a gold tooth. I was eventually apprehended and dragged kicking and screaming to the bus.
I'm not sure how I thought I would get back home if the bus had actually left without me. I planned to cross that bridge when I came to it, I guess. Who knows, maybe the Mets would have adopted me as their batboy.
But here's the best part - when I got back to my house, the game was still going on. So I got to watch the end of it during dinner, and the Mets won in dramatic fashion. Had my escape plan worked, I might have ended up homeless, or kidnapped or dead, but at least I would have gotten to see the end of the game live.
I've never understood why people leave a baseball game early. I mean, I know why they do it -- to beat the traffic, because they have to work in the morning, because the kids are tired.
But there were plenty of kids at that game last night who stayed until the end. They shouldn't be there if they're not prepared to stay until the end. You want your kids to be engaged, passionate, devoted, right? You don't want them to be nambypamby fair weather fans. And a true fan doesn't leave until the last out is called.
Would you leave a movie before it was over -- particularly if it was just getting to the climax? Of course not. So why would you leave a baseball game?
The good news is, thousands of people agreed with me last night and stayed. After all, there are only 31 more baseball games at Shea Stadium before the wrecking ball knocks comes in to pitch the final inning this winter.
What if last night had been an amazing victory? Would you really want to be the person who left an historic game early -- in Shea Stadium's final days?
I take this all very seriously, in case you haven't noticed.
As a freelancer I often find myself with time off, particularly during the summer months.
Companies tend not to hold large training or sales meeting in the warm weather, so freelancers who work on the production of those meetings often find themselves living off the government during July and August.
It's a pretty good deal. I'm not employed by anyone -- and I never have been -- and yet I still get unemployment insurance when I don't work. I'm not bilking anyone. It's not like I filed a workers' comp claim so I can go mountain biking in Vermont. Nope, this is entirely legit.
So I get $405 a week to do nothing -- all summer long.
I'm not really doing nothing. I'm teaching my stand-up class for kids and teens at Gotham Comedy Club. We're right in the middle of our second, two-week day camp session, with one more to go. So I'm getting money from that, and Unemployment (which is still legal, because my teaching money falls below the minimum income for an unemployment claim).
So that is how I've been off from work for a month, yet still able to pay my bills and buy movie posters on eBay and blow $400 on "celebrity" autographs.
But here's the problem with me being off from work: I tend to stay up late, which means I get up late, which means I don't really accomplish much in the course of a given day, which means I'm one day nearer to death and no closer to achieving my dreams.
Some people would be okay with that, content to take their government handout and lie on the beach until Labor Day. But that's not me. I need to be doing something, engaged, productive, moving toward a goal.
Making my living as a writer is a goal of mine, as you know if you read this space. But I can't say I've made great strides in that direction in the last four weeks. I will have a story in print tomorrow, and there's another one in the pipeline, but these are more of the same arts stories that I've been writing for the last year and half.
Honestly I'm tired of writing about other people's art. I want to create some of my own. Or, more to the point, I want to sell some of my own. But it's hard to do that when you're staying up until 4 a.m. watching Turner Classic Movies.
It was around 1:30 last night, and I was thinking of getting ready for bed, turning over a new leaf and getting to sleep early. I know 1:30 doesn't sound like early to you, but to me it feels like my 7th grade bedtime.
So, with Maggie already off to sleep and instructed to make sure I was up and at 'em before she left for work in the morning, I decided to switch on TCM. It was a Doris Day movie, which usually would be my cue to turn the channel. I find the prissy good girl character she always plays a bit tiresome. But last night's offering was Day's first starring role, in 1948's Romance on the High Seas (directed by Michael Curtiz, of Casablanca fame), and Doris was anything but prissy. She was a sassy, jive talkin' hipster looking to make some trouble.
I started watching and I couldn't stop. And then came 1944's Jam Session with Ann Miller. I can't shut off a movie with Ann Miller. That's just a rule I have. And our DVR is on the fritz, so I had to stay up and watch the old fashioned way, live and in person.
Next thing I know it's 4 a.m. And then I got ready for bed and then I woke up around noon and then I watched the Mets game and then -- all of a sudden -- the day is over.
That means the United States government (and by extension, you the taxpayer) paid me $80 today to do nothing more than write this blog post.
Which means -- wait for it -- that I'm making my living as a writer.
Whoo hoo! Who wants to get a beer and celebrate? Because it's quittin' time!
I don't know if it's the heat, or what, but I have been very short tempered recently. And by recently I mean since 1989.
I'm kidding. Well not really.
But it is hot in New York City right now. The streets smell like an order of fried vomit with a side of hot piss.
This morning I got off the subway at 14th Street and I wanted to get a protein bar. As a rule I don't eat breakfast. I eat protein bars chased with about a gallon of Diet Coke.
So I go into the GNC, or the Vitamin Shoppe, or whatever chain it happens to be. It's the kind of place where gigantic, muscular men with terrible back acne buy their sort-of-illegal-but-not-really bodybuilding supplements. I only go there because the protein bars are cheap and I'm not really working right now, and I'm going broke buying movie posters on eBay and getting Batman's autograph.
So I walk in and look at the protein bar shelf and there's a Power Bar for $1.79. That's a good price for a Power Bar. So I pick it up and bring it to the counter, where I have to rouse the disinterested sales clerk from his dazed stupor.
"Um, I'd like to buy this," I say to the young man, who is just sort of staring off into the distance with a sad expression that screams out "my dreams are unfulfilled."
"Okay," he says. And then he looks at me blankly.
"So, how should we handle that transaction?" I reply.
"I need to scan it," he answers, as he waves the Power Bar under a high powered laser that emits a boop sound. "That'll be $2.29."
"Well, the sign said $1.79," I said, glancing back at the sign to make sure I was right. I was.
"Okay," he replied. "But it's still $2.29."
At that moment another sales clerk comes over, takes my Power Bar from the first clerk's hand and holds it up in front of the $1.79 sign like it's a Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring in 1943.
"Well the problem is, you got a Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Bar," Clerk #2 says to me. "The ones that are $1.79 are the Creamy Chocolate Peanut Butter."
"Okay" I say. "I'll take one of those."
"We don't have any more," he replies.
"Okay," I say. "So in the interest of good customer service, how about you give me the Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Bar for the same price as the Creamy Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Bar."
"We can't do that," he says. "The machine won't let us."
"Well, does the machine know that you have a sign that says $1.79 in front of a product that costs $2.29?" I ask. "Because if the machine knew that I think he might take my side, unless of course the machine is a complete moron."
The conversation went on like this for a few more sentences, at which point I gave in. I caved. I was hungry and I just wanted my Power Bar. So I gave the guy my debit card and signed the little screen.
"Thanks," I said, as I slid the non-Creamy Chocolate Peanut Butter Power Bar into my sweaty pocket. "You guys are doing a great job."
My nieces Emily and Laura just went back to Florida after staying with my aunt and uncle on Long Island for about three weeks.
Emily is nine and Laura is six. Can you imagine being away from your mother for three weeksat the age of 6? If I was away from my mother for three hours at that age I would start to get nervous.
That's why I never went to sleep away camp when I was a kid. I couldn't be away from my mother for any extended period of time.
The summer I was ten I went to Ray Egan's Baseball Camp in upstate New York. I don't know who Ray Egan is (or was) and what made him qualified to run a baseball camp, but he had one. And I was there, along with my friend Eddie. Eddie's parents drove us up there, dropped us off and said, "Have a good time!"
Eddie was excited, and he couldn't understand why I was so down. And I wasn't about to out myself as the complete Mama's Boy that I was.
The baseball academy was operated on the campus of some sort of junior college that was on summer break. The campers slept in the dorm rooms and used the locker room facilities that were intended for college age men. This freaked me out. I was a smart kid, but I was tragically immature and afraid of growing up, and nothing says "growing up" like dorm rooms and communal showers.
I liked being Little Billy, and being safe in the cocoon that my mother had spun for me.
One of the guys in my dorm room had a gigantic can of Right Guard deodorant. I couldn't believe that. The concept of using deodorant seemed to me as adult as using condoms, or smoking cigars or drinking Jack Daniels. I felt completely out of place there - all of these young guys on the cusp of manhood and me, with my little stuffed animal called Doggie Woof-Woof, the one with the ears my mother replaced after they fell off.
I made it through exactly one night at Ray Egan's Baseball Camp. Even though I had a friend there, I was an absolute mess. I kept making errors during practice because I was crying all the time. I finally had to go to the office and ask them if I could use the phone.
"Mommy can you c-c-come and g-g-get me?" I said, really turning it on, to insure rescue.
My parents were there within hours, shaking hands with Ray.
"Maybe he'll be ready next year," Ray reassured my Dad, who was probably pissed that he paid for a week of camp and got 24 hours.
"I wouldn't bet on it," I said to myself. And I was right.
My mother always told me that I needed to be more grown up, but I know she liked how attached I was to her. It made her feel needed, like she had a greater purpose in life than her quilting, her teaching, her volunteer work. I think she had always craved that sense of meaning in her life and she only found it when she became a parent.
My father never truly understood the co-dependency that I shared with my mother when I was a kid. All he knew was that I spent a lot of days home "sick" from school watching soap operas with Mommy. I'm sure he thought that was unhealthy. And I'm sure he was right.
There is no question my mother babied me way too much when I was a pre-pubescent. But she wasn't doing it out of selfishness. I think she was trying to protect me from growing up too fast like she had to do when her father died while my mom was still a high school student.
In retrospect, she probably over-compensated. And she was loath to release me from our codependent bond once I hit adolescence. But I fought her, and broke away.
It took a quarter century for that fissure to heal. But it did, while she was still here.
Every time I write something like this, I want to go back to her and ask her for her perspective, her side of the story.
Today's eBay purchase is a rare poster for the 1957 film The Cat Girl, starring Barbara Shelly. And, believe it or not, I didn't buy it for me.
As I have written before, my girlfriend Maggie is a cat person. This is a appropriate, considering that her namesake was Maggie the Cat, as portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1958 film version of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Since I officially moved in with her a few months ago, Maggie's beautiful, elegantly appointed, Lower Manhattan penthouse has undergone something of a transformation.
Where once the closets were spacious and roomy, they are now jam packed with comic books, baseball cards and four decades worth of my various memorabilia collections.
And where once the walls were covered with trashy chic from Urban Outfitters and funky artists who hawk their wares in Union Square Park, they are now covered with posters from horror and sci-fi movies.
As I write this at my desk I am looking at: 1970's House of Dark Shadows (3 different posters in 2 different languages), The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1963) Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966), The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954), The Raven (1963), Groucho Marx in A Girl in Every Port (1952), and the Marx Bros. in The Big Store (1941).
And there are three more I've recently bought -- The Tingler (1959), Scars of Dracula (1970) and Munster Go Home (1966) -- in California right now, being restored and mounted on linen. (Click here if you want to see what goes into the restoration process.)
Maggie has been a great sport at letting me hog the wall space and turn the place into what her pot dealer called "a museum of creepiness." But she's gotten into it too, working with me to achieve a sort of artsy horror motif in the living room area.
When I saw this poster I had to get it for her - particularly because I have always believed that Maggie is more cat than human. And it was a great relief that I was the high bidder, considering that I lost six different auctions on Sunday.
If you've ever spent any time on eBay, you know that it can become something of an addiction. You find that obscure thing that you thought only you would want, and then you bid against other people who apparently have the same odd tastes as you. You wait for a week and then, with five seconds left in the auction, someone swoops in and steals your prize away.
In online auction parlance this is called "bid sniping."
In fact, most people who use eBay engage in this, in one form or another. It makes sense -- why get into a bidding war over something you like, when you can wait until the very end and pay a lower price?
But what makes it so frustrating is that the prime offenders are using customized programs to steal auction items away from you. It creates an unfair advantage and, to some degree, bastardizes the whole concept of a seven-day public auction.
So after I got beat out by these vultures six times in the same day, I decided I wasn't going to get beat again. I bid twice as much as I had seen the poster sell for elsewhere, and I kept my fingers crossed that one of these computer programs wouldn't some how bid me up to my maximum.
Luckily, that didn't happen. I beat out the sniper, who upped my low bid by 300% but still didn't reach my high bid. I got what I wanted and now Maggie gets just what she always wanted: another scary movie poster.
THE COOLEST GUY AT THE COMIC BOOK SHOW - CONCLUSION
"So how do you think that went?" I asked Maggie, moments after our meeting with Adam West, star of the 1960s Batman TV series.
This is how it always happens. Maggie and I will do something together -- not just autograph seeking in a suburban New Jersey hotel, everything -- and I will immediately seek her positive feedback. And not just in a general sense, either.
I replay the entire interaction, along with my "post-game report" and I ask for her opinion of how it went.
"I think it was definitely memorable, don't you?" I added. "He genuinely laughed two times, and then Adam West told us that he thinks we make a good couple! That's got to count for something, right? What do you think?"
"Yes," Maggie said. "It went well."
Maggie is not much on detail. I am. And this has occasionally been a problem for us. But we're working through it.
I was happy with how my audience with the great Adam West had gone, but I needed a moment to compose myself before we moved on to the next celebrity.
"Relax," Maggie said. "You've been waiting your whole life for this. Have a little fun with it."
Right there is my problem, in a nutshell. I get myself so worked up over things that are meaningful to me that fun becomes almost impossible. The real enjoyment for me comes afterwards -- looking at the pictures, hanging the autograph on the wall above my desk and telling the story to people like you. That's when I can relax.
Truly living in the moment has never been my strongest suit. I'm always thinking about what's coming next, or what just happened, or how I'd like what is happening now to go. I learned that from my mother, who was always two steps ahead of everyone else, distracted by her need to do, to achieve, to accomplish.
It was only at the end of her life, when the ravages of aging and Parkinson's Disease had forced her to slow down and focus on one thing at a time, that I ever saw my mother truly live in the moment. It's funny how life sometimes forces us to do what we should have been doing all along.
"Who's next?" Maggie asked me, as I assessed the landscape of the crowded, seemingly un-air-conditioned meeting room.
"Lee Meriwether," I said. "She played Catwoman in the Batman feature film that came out in 1966, after the first season of the TV show."
Maggie and I moved over to the line in front of Lee Meriwether's table, which was covered with 8x10 photographs from her five-decade-long career: Miss America in 1950s; Batman, The Time Tunnel, F-Troop, The Fugitive and just about every iconic TV series of the '60s and then, perhaps her greatest success, her starring role opposite Buddy Ebsen in the 1970s detective show Barnaby Jones. And she continues to work today, as a regular cast member on ABC's All My Children.
"Hi, my name is Will," I said to Lee, with outstretched hand. "I loved you in the Batman movie, but my fondest memories are of my Mom letting me stay up late so I could watch you on Barnaby Jones."
Take note, fans. This is a technique that works without fail.
When you go to an autograph show to meet someone who is very famous for something, ask them about something else. Lee Meriwether played Catwoman for a few weeks of a movie shoot 42 years ago. But she appeared in 177 episodes of Barnaby Jones over the course of seven seasons. Which is she going to remember better? And which would she rather talk about?
Fans never understand this, but it's an easy trick to master. Act like less of a fan, and the celebrity you are meting will actually think more highly of you. Don't be just another weirdo on line at an autograph show asking dumb questions about something that any actor would have forgotten years ago. If you do, they'll shake your hand, talk at you for a minute or two, pose for a picture and then send you back to your parents' basement.
But if you seem like a person who is aware of the actor's body of work, someone who has diverse interests and something interesting to say, your interaction with them will be far more satisfying -- both for you and the person you are meeting.
Try that technique next time you're at an autograph show (because I'm sure, after reading my multi-part epic, you will want to experience one first hand.)
Lee and I talked about Buddy Ebsen and how he had been the first actor hired to play the Tin Man in the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz, but had to drop out due to his allergic reaction to the make-up. Then she talked about how they had remained close until his death five years ago a the age of 95.
"If you're really interested in Buddy," Lee said. "He wrote a beautiful autobiography that I highly recommend. It's called "The Other Side of Oz" and you can get it on eBay."
I told her I would do that and then we posed together for a picture.
Next, right on cue, Maggie pulled out the Mexican lobby card and placed it before Lee.
"Wow," Lee said. "I've never seen this one before. Where did you get it?"
I told Lee that we had won it on eBay, and she looked at it for what seemed like the longest time.
"Did you enjoy working with great old veterans like Cesar Romero (the Joker) and Burgess Meredith (the Penguin)?" I asked.
I know, asking questions about Batman was breaking my own rule. But she was sitting there, practically transfixed by this poster. She seemed to be transported back to that time, and I wanted to share the moment with her.
"You know," she said." I was the new kid on the block in that show. Those guys had been doing it on TV, but I came in just for the movie. I had only two weeks or so to prepare, and they helped me through every step. They were both so gracious."
Honestly I could have gone on to talking with Lee Meriwether for hours, and never again brought up Batman. But the otherCatwoman needed attention.
"Is that place on your shirt -- the Cat Club -- a real place?" Julie Newmar, the other Catwoman, asked Maggie from her table a few feet away.
Let me explain. There were three actresses who played Catwoman on the 1960s version of Batman. Lee Meriwether played her in the movie. Eartha Kitt played her on the third and final season of the TV show. But the first, best, and sexiest actress to play Catwoman on TV was Julie Newmar.
Julie was Catwoman for the first two seasons of the TV show and it was her seductively vulnerable characterization that entranced me as a child.
Two years ago, when I met Yvonne Craig, the actress who played Batgirl, I told her she had been my first crush. But Julie Newmar was the first woman I wanted to get busy with. She was a bad girl, which I loved, but she was also needy, and I think she had a little bit of a Daddy Complex. Her scenes with Adam West are some of the most perversely sexy in the history of primetime network television. You never knew if she was going to kill Batman or kiss him.
And now, here she was, having a conversation with us.
"Julie," I said. "Our apartment is the Cat Club. We have two cats, and we'd have about 20 more if it was up to Maggie."
"Well, I think three is really the limit," she said. "Particularly in an apartment."
And thus began our interaction with Julie Newmar who, it seems, has a thing for cats. Who would have guessed? Another woman (actually one of the handlers forCHiPs star Erik Estrada, who was signing autographs as well) pulled out her wallet and began proudly showing kitty pictures to Maggie.
"You see?" Maggie said to me. "I'm not the only one who carries around pictures of her cats." Then Maggie pulled out her camera phone and began showing off her two kitties, as I struck up a conversation with Julie.
"Julie, you look beautiful," I said. "What's your secret?"
"Good energy," she said. "Optimism. Positive thinking is important."
I told Julie that I had looked at her website, and read some of her essay writing. I explained to her that I was a writer myself, and she asked me what I wrote.
"Well, in terms of what I get paid for, it's arts writing," I said. "Features, interviews, criticism. But what I really love is personal essay writing. I'm very influenced by David Sedaris, if you're familiar with his work."
Julie told me that she was, and then she asked me more and more about what I liked to write, and how I liked to write it. It was almost as if she was interviewing me, and then I realized why.
"I'm working on a project," she said. "It's a series of essays about your turn-on. I'd love you to contribute something if you're interested."
"Well, that's appropriate," I said to her. "Because you were my first turn-on."
I told her I would love for her to read some of my writing and I promised to stay in touch. Then we took a picture together.
"Thank you so much for coming" I said to her. "I really want you to know how much we appreciate the opportunity to met you in person, and offer our thanks to you directly for all the pleasure you've given us."
Unbeknownst to the rest of the Batman fans in attendance, I had nominated myself as spokesman. I was thanking Julie Newmar for the collective, but also, for myself.
"You should really send her something," Maggie said afterwards. "How cool would that be? To work on a writing project with Catwoman?
After doing some shopping in the Dealer's Room, and buying a poster from the 1961 horror film The Shadow of the Cat (it seemed appropriate), Maggie and I made our way to the hotel parking lot, where the original Batmobile was parked and ready for photo-ops.
"It's $10 per person to take a picture in the car," barked a portly man in a black t-shirt that read Batmobile staff.
By this point in the day, I had spent so much money that dropping another $20 to sit in the actual Batmobile seemed like a no-brainer. So I handed the guy $20 and sat down in the car that I had dreamed about driving since I was four years old.
"Pick up the phone," the guy said, as Maggie snapped away. "It makes a good picture."
Then Maggie took her turn in the car, and we took a picture together.
It's amazing how every step in this journey down Memory Lane had cost something -- from the cab to Port Authority, to the Lakeland bus tickets, the admission price, the autographs and photos with the actors and the Batmobile. Less than five hours after we had left our apartment, the total expenditure had ballooned to $391.
This whole "living out of your life-long dream" thing is certainly not for the impoverished.
Of course, I could have used that $391 to pay off some of my more than $40,000 in high-interest credit card debt, but where's the fun in that? When I die, I'm not going to say, "Thank God I cleared up all my Mastercard bill."
But I just might say, "Thank God I met Batman and Catwoman."
Afterwards, as we endured the endless wait for the bus back to New York City, Maggie and I recapped the day. Every moment had gone perfectly, but the conversation with Julie Newmar was the most intriguing.
"Maybe she was just being polite, asking to read my writing," I said. "I bet she didn't really mean it."
But actually, she did.
Three days later, I was shopping at a well-known movie memorabilia shop on the West side of Manhattan, and Julie Newmar walked through the door and right over to where I was standing.
"Julie!" I said, like we were old pals. "We met on Sunday at the Comic Book Show -- I mean the Memorabilia Expo. We talked about writing."
"And you mentioned David Sedaris," she said. "I remember."
Then I told Julie that I was intrigued by here offer to read some of my work.
"Please email me something," she said. "I'll be home on Saturday. And I'd love to read it." And then she was whisked off to a back room by management, no doubt to sign autographs for other weirdo fans, just like me.
And that's the end of the story. Or is it?
Will Julie Newmar like what I write? Will I finally get one of my stories published in a book? Will my big break as a writer come courtesy of one of my childhood idols?
For the answers to these and other exciting questions, tune in again tomorrow...same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!
I tried to be normal for awhile, but it didn't stick.
All through my 20's I didn't go to any conventions, collect any comic books or ask for any autographs. I had stopped working for Dark Shadows star Jonathan Frid during my last year of college and, once I graduated and began working, I put away all my memorabilia (neatly archived, of course) and began my adult life.
I did go to a Dark Shadows convention in the early '90s, but only to sell off pieces of my collection, which was now gathering dust in my parents' attic.
I had developed a bit of contempt for my old Dark Shadows friends. A decade after I had attended my first convention, the same core group of people were still there, watching the same episodes, chirping the same gossip and complaining about the same bullshit. Only now they were no longer charmingly awkward twenty-somethings. They were pushing 40 -- graying, gaining weight, losing their hair.
And yet they seemed frozen in time, just where I had left them.
At 15 years old, it all looked like a fun alternative to standard issue high school life. I had no interest in sports, or parties or drinking. Dark Shadows fans were my friends and traveling around the country to conventions in New Jersey, Dallas and Los Angeles -- that's what I did for fun.
But at 25 it seemed as if I had evaded a death sentence by growing up and moving on. I was happy to be normal, and glad to rid myself of some the trappings of my previously dorkiness.
And so, I lived my life. I became a workaholic, toiling well into the night, every night at my job in corporate communications. I had a long term relationship with a girlfriend I thought I might spend my life with. And I had my own apartment in New York City, inherited from Jonathan Frid's manager when she moved on up to Central Park West.
Time passed. And then I had a brush with death (or two) and made the kind of changes that you make when you survive a close call. I stopped doing the things that weren't making me happy, and started doing things I always wanted to do: stand-up comedy, writing, living in the Village. I met Maggie and I started having a lot more fun.
But, as middle age approached, I became nostalgic for the things that had given me so much pleasure when I was younger. Now that I was older and established I could look on those things with more forgiving eyes, and to appreciate them for helping to shape the person I had become.
For the first time in nearly 15 years I made an appearance at a Dark Shadows convention and re-connected with some of my old friends, most of whom were still there, doing the same things. It was fun to see some of the old faces, and to mourn for a few who had passed on. And Maggie was right there with me, finally getting a chance to witness my former oddness firsthand.
After that I began seeking out autograph shows with aging actors from TV shows I had enjoyed in my youth. It was my opportunity to thank them for the pleasure they had given me. Often the opportunity to thank them came with a price tag, which seemed a small tribute to pay for decades of enjoyment.
And now, here I was at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Fairfield, New Jersey standing before the single biggest influence on my pre-pubescent life: Batman.
In the last twenty years, Batman has been played by Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and, most recently, Christian Bale. But these guys are all impostors.
There's only one Batman and his name is Adam West.
West played the Caped Crusader in the 1966-1968 TV series, a show which I believe to be one of the most highly creative and distinctly memorable programs in TV history. I was too young to watch the first go-round on ABC, but I was there for the syndicated reruns -- every day, seemingly, for my entire childhood.
The Batman series, with its villains played by former Hollywood stars of the 1940s and '50s meshed perfectly with my burgeoning taste for classic films. I was the only ten year-old in 1978 who loved Vincent Price both for his characterization of Batman villain Egghead and for the series of creepy Edgar Allen Poe movies he made during the 1960s. And those films, in turn, inspired me to seek out Poe stories in print, some of which I suggested to Jonathan Frid for the one-man shows I helped him create.
Everything is connected. That's a fact that I believe more and more strongly as time passes.
But I was nervous about meeting Adam West. What if it didn't go well? What if he was an asshole? What if I said something stupid, or if he dismissed me as just another middle aged weirdo desperate to get his autograph? A four-minute meting that goes badly can erase four decades of good memories.
And there he was, sitting at a table, wearing sunglasses and a big smile.
"Adam West," I said to him, as if I didn't believe it, which I kind of didn't. "This may be the most significant moment in my life so far."
He looked at me and laughed in a completely self-deprecating way.
"You look great," I said, to the seventy-nine year old actor who does, in fact, look absolutely great. "What's the secret to your longevity?'
"Vodka," he shot back -- line that gets big laughs every time he uses it, I'm sure. And this time was no exception.
"Straight or on the rocks?" I asked, gladly playing the straight man.
"On the rocks," he said. "Definitely on the rocks."
At that moment, an elderly couple approached and Adam West's "handler" interrupted my conversation so they could have a brief, awkward chat.
One thing you should know about these events is, the celebrities almost always have a handler with them. This person is usually a younger friend, fan or family member. The handler handles the ugly business of asking the autograph-seeker for money, making change and telling you what you can or cannot do with the celebrity you have been waiting your entire life to meet.
For example, Adam West's handler had informed me that an autograph from Mr. West would cost $40. But if I wanted to take a picture with him, that would be an additional $20. To you, the objective reader, this sounds like a lot of money. And it is. But for better or worse this is what it costs and, for me, it's totally 100% worth it.
But I was glad to hand the $60 I was paying to meet Adam West to someone other than Adam West. Handing Batman three twenties in return for a lifetime of enjoyment would just feel wrong, in so many ways. How can you put a price tag on your childhood, on treasured memories of hundreds of afternoons spent in front of the television, jumping around and mock fighting with your sister, yelling "POW!" and "BAM!" like a crazy person?
And so, as Adam concluded his conversation with the very old man man and his wife, I took my position next to him for a photo.
"Even the elderly chicks dig Adam West," I said, as I genuflected beside him for our long-awaited photo op.
"I'm equal opportunity," Adam quipped, as we posed for our picture.
"And speaking of women," I said, as I stood up. "I'd like to introduce you to Maggie. She particularly enjoys your work on Family Guy and would also love to get your autograph."
At that moment, on cue, Maggie pulled out the Mexican lobby card from the 1966 Batmanfeature film. Adam's handler perked up.
"Mr. West will have to personalize that," he said with an utterly hilarious air of self-importance.
Here's the thing. Lots of people come to autograph shows and get celebrities to sign things, for the express purpose of selling those things on eBay. It seems like a lot of trouble to go through, for not a lot of profit, but people do it. And some of the bigger names (and yes, Adam West is a bigger name -- at least in this little world) don't allow it. And I don't blame them one bit.
If money is to be made on them, they should be the ones to make it. Adam West spent thirty years waiting for the phone to ring after Batman ended it's original run. he made little to no money on residuals. Pretty much all he did was autograph shows, and the occasional cartoon voice over. It's only now that he is famous again for his work on Family Guy that he probably doesn't need to worry about making the rent.
The only problem with this rule was, I hadn't planned for it. I had instructed Maggie to ask Adam to just sign his name, to keep it simple. But now I had to quickly change the plan.
"Who would you like Mr West to make it out to? Both of you?" the handler asked.
"Well you never know," I jumped in. "There's always the chance we might break up."
"I have a good feeling about you two," Adam replied, as Maggie switched places with me. "I think you guys are going to be okay."
Then he signed the lobby card To Will and Maggie - Adam West. And Maggie sat down next to him for a picture.
"Get in close honey," I said to her, as I snapped away. "Adam West deserves some sugar."
Adam laughed again and, as Maggie stood up, we bade him farewell.
"God bless you, Adam West," I said. "You are a national treasure. America loves you. And I love you."
I swear to God I wasn't kidding. Not even a little bit.