Thursday, February 14, 2013

July 2010: The Summer of Wow (Part 1)


I'm pressed up against the stage, and my wheelchair's jostling sporadically from the bodies in motion around me.  Wherever I look, I see torsos, arms and heads; I'm surrounded.  Everyone's bouncing up and down to the beat or dancing, waving their arms above their heads, heads matted in most cases with wet hair from the super-soaker cannons and thrown water bottles.  It's a scene of mass, euphoric chaos, with me right in the middle of it.

The music blares so loudly that the warm air itself seems to pulse.  The house lights are down, and multi-colored spots are rotating and casting beams across the ceiling and the gathered crowd of nearly four thousand people.  These people have been here for close to fourteen hours this day, and this moment is the crescendo.

The wall of humanity parts just slightly, and I see her.  She's absolutely gorgeous, a dark-haired vision that seems to me a cross between a younger, hotter Fran Drescher and Vanessa Marcil.  She's dancing, and her moves are hypnotic, but without pretense - they are pure celebration and abandon.

My eyes have barely touched her when hers lock onto mine.  Her face suddenly lights up, her mouth opens in a huge, beautiful smile, and she points at me with one whole outstretched arm.  I point back, only because it seems like the only reasonable thing to do.  We've both seen each other over the past three days, but have never met.  But in this place, that doesn't seem to matter.

She bounces over, pressing her way between the others, and with her smile wider than ever begins to dance with me.  Her face is even more stunning up close, and her eyes sparkle.  She wears a long, loose white skirt, and for the kind of reasons you don't bother trying to figure out, I've always been a sucker for long skirts.

She suddenly stops dancing, but her eyes stay on mine, and her smile remains.  She seems, to me, to have gone into slow motion, while the world all around us continues to writhe and bob and sway.  She leans down and slowly, softly, puts her hands on both sides of my face.  Our faces are very close now, and even in the low light I can see how green her eyes are.

She doesn't rush it, so I know full well that it's coming.  Her face fills my field of vision until my eyes close on their own.  Still holding my face, she presses her lips into mine, kissing me softly, slowly, and deeply.  I think just long enough to note this is certainly the most beautiful woman I'll ever kiss in my lifetime, and then I tell myself to stop thinking and just relax and enjoy it.  And I do.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...


Our plane touched down on the tarmac in San Diego, where it was sixty-five degrees and overcast.  Two words popped into my head as I found myself grinning warmly.

I'm home.

You see, San Diego was my town for about six and a half years, before a change in living situation and a realistic look at the financial side of southern California living led me to moving back to Sacramento.  I loved San Diego - loved it every day that I lived there.  But given a choice between living poor there and living well in Sac, I decided it was time to return home for a few years, to spend time with the friends and family I'd seen far too little of.  So San Diego changed from home base to the place I took any excuse to visit when opportunity and finances allowed.  But I always know that at least once a year, there's a big glowing excuse to hop that plane and head for the ocean again.  And that is Comic-Con.

Aside from being a comedian, you see, I'm also a writer, and spent some time in the comic book writing field.  And if you're in comics, and you're on the west side of the country, you just don't want to miss the biggest comic convention in the world.  It's the place where not only all the comic companies and industry people are (not to mention all the comic fans), but has become, over the years, the home for all things entertainment, beyond just the comic world.  Hollywood slowly moved in, and the movie studios and TV networks began using it as a marketing place to launch their latest films and shows.  This started in earnest a few years ago, and quickly, Comic-Con International went from a gathering for fans of comics and sci-fi to California's very own Sundance.  Mega celebrities started showing up.  I mean US Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, TMZ celebrities.  And once the world at large started catching on to this, attendance skyrocketed, turning a once modest show and a mammoth affair that sells out every year (and months early) and hosts over one hundred and twenty-five thousand people over the four days of the event.  Yes, one hundred and twenty-five THOUSAND.  It's a madhouse, but one of the most awesome madhouses you'll ever be lucky enough to step into.  I do my best not to miss it.  It's typically the highlight of my year.

But scheduling and finances had kept me away for a couple of years.  And it looked like the same thing was going to happen this year, with me being unemployed and trying to focus all my time on comedy - not to mention the heart surgery I'd had to deal with in June.

But somewhere in May, my best friend, Tim Watts, who's also the co-creator and artist on the comic we did together called "The Nice Guy", called me up and asked if we were going., I told him.  Had he not heard?  None of our usual group of friends/creators was going.  It was a bad financial year for all.  Tim had somehow missed this information.  He felt we should go anyway.  I thought about this.  Another friend of mine had let me know a while back that he had a free airline ticket available to him that I could use if I needed it.  That would take out a lot of the cost.  Then there was boarding to worry about.  I emailed our friend Tony, the last of my old San Diego gang of friends that hadn't moved away since my departure, and checked to see if, as in years past, he might have room to put Tim and I up.  He answered with an enthusiastic yes, as he had Comic-Con tickets and didn't think he'd have anyone to go with.  So that solved that problem as well.

But something else very unexpected came into the equation, too.  It was around this time that an interview I did for Quest Magazine (the magazine of the Muscular Dystrophy Association) showed up online.  One day I was out on my patio, working on my laptop, and happened to check my Twitter.  I saw a post had just gone up from Tony Robbins.  You know, THAT Tony Robbins?  The motivational guru?  I follow him on Twitter because I'm a serious fan.  During a bad time in a my life a couple of years before, when the stress of my job and life was really getting me down and I couldn't figure out where my life was going, I started a self-help phase that led me to Tony's "Personal Power II" CD course, the one you see on the infomercials.  I picked it up, completed the 30-day course, and it really did change my life.  No fooling.  I use concepts from that in just about everything I do, every day.

Seeing Tony's post, which had just gone up seconds before, told me that he was currently online.  For how long, I didn't know.  Here's the thing with Twitter celebs.  You can get a note to them that shows up on their feed, sure.  But when they have as many followers as Tony Robbins (1.7 million), chances of them actually seeing your post amidst all the many others they must be getting are pretty slim.  But I'd had some success before.  For example, I had sent a link to my first comedy performance YouTube clip to actor Adam Baldwin ("Chuck", "Firefly", "Serenity"), and he had not only watched it but started communicating with me about it and reposted it on his Twitter feed for his fans (something that gained me a number of new fans as well).  I would send Adam new clips and updates on what was happening, and he'd review my stuff, offer advice and encouragement, and, again, share it with his people.  He became a fan of my comedy without every having seen me live.  YouTube is kind of awesome that way.

So I decided I had a precedent to work with, so I went ahead and sent the link to my Quest interview to Tony Robbins.  One never knows, right?  Well, sometimes one gets to know a lot quicker than one might expect.  It wasn't but a few minutes later that I got an email notice that Tony Robbins was now following me on Twitter (!).  Before I could properly process that bit of shock, I got another notice telling me that I'd received a private message from Tony Robbins (!!).  I read it, and, in summary, Tony had read the interview, felt I was very inspiring, and asked me if I wanted to come to one of his seminars as his guest.  He provided, in the same note, the email address for his assistant, and advised me that, if I did wish to do so, to email a copy of the message to said assistant and he'd set everything up.

Okay, wow?

Stunned was an understatement.  Like I said...big fan here.  This guy's one of my heroes.  And I can clearly remember listening to those CDs, hearing him talk about his live seminars, and wondering what it would be like to go to one of them one day.  A look into the cost of a ticket to one, though, left me feeling that it would have to remain a dream, because I'd never be able to afford that cost.  Now, two years later, the man himself was offering to let me into one of them for FREE.

I did a quick check on current seminars of his, and found ones going on in New York...Rome...Fiji.  Clearly I couldn't afford travel THAT far.  But then I spotted one coming up at the end of July.  This one was in Long Beach.  And it was scheduled to take place the week after the end of Comic-Con.


With the airline ticket I had available, I could get a flight to San Diego, and then fly home from Long Beach.  Comic-Con plus Tony Robbins.  With a few days in the middle.  Thinking about those few days, I remembered how much I'd been wanting to try out some Southern Cal comedy (I'd only been a NorCal comic at that point).  So I made some calls, and managed to get myself some stage time at the Comedy Spot in La Jolla (right near San Diego) and the Comedy Palace in San Diego during those in-between days.  So it all came together.  Comic-Con.  Comedy.  Robbins.  Just about two weeks of southern California adventure, career advancement, and possibly life-changing motivational mojo.  All...good.

And there was one other piece of business I wanted to fit in.  I had recently mailed Adam Baldwin one of my tee shirts as a thank you for all the work he'd done getting me some LA fans (one of whom I had been chatting with for a while on Twitter who was going to be at Comic-Con, another bonus of the trip).  He asked me after that when I was going to be in LA next, and I explained the trip.  Adam was going to be at Comic-Con attending a panel for his then-current NBC show, "Chuck".  This would be a perfect place for the two of us to finally meet.  And if that didn't work out, there was always my time in Long Beach (though little of it would be available since the seminar would be running until after 10:00 PM most of its days).  So working a meet and greet with Adam in became a priority, too.

So the adventure began with Tim and I landing in San Diego on Wednesday afternoon.  We got our rental car and headed downtown.  Wednesday, you see, is registration day at the Con, the day you have to go pick up your badges.  That process didn't start until 5:00 PM, which gave us some time to kill.  So we headed for Seaport Village, an old favorite place of mine.  We parked there and decided to grab lunch at a favorite restaurant/bar of ours, Buster's Beach House, where we'd shared drinks in the past with pals of ours who, sadly, weren't going to be able to join us this time around.  So it seemed only fitting that we should have a drink FOR them.  After lunch it was a stroll (in my case, roll) over to one of my cigar haunts in town - Captain Hunt's Tobacconist.  I bought and smoked a cigar while we checked in on our pal Tony's progress.  Tony, you see, was flying in from a business trip that evening, and the plan was to meet him for dinner and cocktails downtown when he arrived before we all headed back to his house.

Soon we made our way to the convention center, and the registration lines were, as ever, ridiculous.  Being industry pros, Tim and I got to get in the Professionals line, but even that stretched as far as the eye could see.  However, someone who worked there helpfully came up and let us know that we could go to the Disabled Services booth inside and they'd handle all the registration stuff for us.  What?  No line?  Score!  We went and did just that, and they got us hooked up nice and quick.  Tim got a special "attendant" sticker on his badge, which meant that he and I both could use our badges to get past the big-ass lines that would be awaiting us at every event during the Con and get inside to disabled seating.  Again...score!

With badges hanging around our necks from lanyards, we then settled in with many others in the lobby and waited for the doors to open for Preview Night.  Preview Night has had an interesting evolution.  It started as just a bonus for people who bought the four-day badges.  On Wednesday, when everyone picks up the badges, those folks would get to go check out the convention floor before all the others suckers who wouldn't be able to get in until Thursday morning.  Most of the companies and vendors would have their booths and tables all set up by then, so this would allow you to walk around and check out who was where, what neat items were for sale that you'd be coming back to snatch up later, and so on.  After a while, sales by the vendors were the allowed, so now if you went in, you could have your choice of all the most-wanted goodies before they started selling out.

But once the big Comic-Con explosion happened (once it broke a hundred thousand people), Preview Night turned into an unofficial extension of the Con.  Full sales, most of the artists there behind their tables in Artists' Alley (where you could meet your favorite pro comic artists and get autographs and sketches from them), an insane amount of limited edition giveaway products available only on Preview Night, and even panel events started being held upstairs Wednesday night.  Comic-Con is now four-and-a-halfish days long.

There was some confusion downstairs where Tim and I waited at a doorway that was being guarded by two security people (one of whom was a really cute girl that I started falling madly in love with as time passed).  Soon we heard them saying that no one was going to be let in those doors - that people were being routed up the escalators to go in through the entrance upstairs (where I'm sure there was already a ridiculous line).  The problem was that behind Tim and me, a mob many dozens of people (if not hundreds) thick had formed, waiting to get in.  Many of these people were collectors looking to rush in and get those limited edition items, and had been told to come to this door.  Now word got out that they were in the wrong spot.  People started getting PISSED.  And they were taking it out, verbally, on the security guards, who were waiting for a supervisor to show up and clarify things.  Tim and I, while this was going on, decided to try to play the professional/wheelchair card and get in when the floor opened there - we had no interest in collectibles, we just didn't want to have to go all the way upstairs when we were mere feet from the convention floor where we were at.  The supervisor came, a very frazzled woman who told the crowd that they'd have to move upstairs, and a near-riot began.  Luckily, in the confusion, we managed to talk our way through and slip in.  You know, before the tear gas and the fire hoses.

So we started moving up and down the aisles, marveling at how empty they were (if only for another few minutes), when we're used to seeing them crammed with thousands of people.  We went around one corner, and unfortunately, it ended up being near where the upstairs people were coming down.  This was a collectors' mob.  Know how you could tell?  STAMPEDE.  They all suddenly broke into runs - headed right for us - as someone from (I assume) security was yelling "no running!".  We managed to get out of the way in time.  Collectors frighten me.  The idea that I could be killed Pamplona-style by a herd of people racing to get into a line that would allow them to get a ticket that would get them into a drawing which would maybe then allow them to purchase a limited edition Pokemon figure made me think that maybe I'd go back to skipping Preview Night like I used to.

We headed over to Artists' Alley.  We know some of these folks and wanted to say hello if they were in town yet.  I managed to find artist Jim Mahfood, an amazing artist/cartoonist/muralist out of L.A. that I know from both his work and a message board we're both on.  We'd never actually gotten to meet.  Now we had.  Jim does these awesome auto-bio journal comic strips he called "L.A. Ink Stains" that let you get inside the life of a hard-working, hard-partying, world-traveling artist.  Great finally getting to meet him.  Awesome guy.

I also tracked down a fellow Sacramento comic creator named Dan Cooney, a pal of Tim's and mine.  We've done a lot of autograph signings and such together.  Dan's a great guy who's been at this for years, self-publishing his action/espionage series called "Valentine".  Well, the work's finally paid off, and Dan's going Hollywood.  "Valentine" got the has a director.  Hopefully you'll be seeing it on the big screen soon.  Couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.

Tim and I each wandered and hooked back up upstairs, where I grabbed a cigar at my usual favorite smoking spot overlooking the harbor.  Eventually we got the text from Tony, who had just landed and was headed downtown (the airport in San Diego is very close to downtown).  He was returning from a business trip and had a couple of co-workers with him (both of whom would be doing Comic-Con that week as well, because most EVERYbody in San Diego does for at least one of the days), and they were craving sushi and cocktails.  We agreed on "Ra", a fancy sushi joint in the Gaslamp, and Tim and I decided to hoof it over.  LOVE heading through the Gaslamp the night before the Con starts.  It's packed with Con folk from out of town/out of state/out of country, and everyone's feeling the excitement and just in a great mood.  Every bar and restaurant is packed, the bicycle taxis are working overtime, and Comic-Con signs and banners are posted all over.

We met up with Tony and pals and had a great time chatting away and knocking back Japanese beers.  The only downer was that I had slept for maybe three hours the night before and had had a very long day, and the beer finally ignited all that - which meant after a while I was fighting to stay awake.  We eventually finished up, got our rental, and followed Tony home, where we got to say hey to his wife Wendy (our kind hostess) and chat for a little bit.  But sleep was the priority.  Tony always converts his office downstairs into a bedroom for me when I'm in town (which is awesome, because it has its own attached bathroom with shower), and I dumped my stuff in there and zonked the hell OUT.

And I would need the sleep that I got, because there were a whole lot of adventures, surprises, milestones and memories still ahead of me on this journey.  As well as one really spectacular kiss.


The Second Coming (that never came).

For those of you who missed this story back in the late 90s, here's a little nerd history for you.  At that time, nothing had been done with the much-loved 1978 TV series Battlestar Galactica since the show's (and its follow-up show's) end.  Universal held the rights to it, but still wasn't developing anything.  Richard Hatch, who played Apollo in the original series, decided he wanted to make a sequel series, one called Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming.  On a very low budget with lots of free time and resources donated from industry connections and fans, he created a 30-minute "pilot film" to show Universal how the series would look.  He even got some original cast members to come back and reprise their roles.

From this 30-minute film, he created a 4-minute-long trailer.  This was first shown to fans at DragonCon in Atlanta in 1999.  This was the first time any fans had seen any new Galactica since the ill-conceived Galactica 1980 was mercifully cancelled.  These fans went out of their minds, and reportedly the standing ovation after it ended lasted a full five minutes.

However, original Galactica producer Glen A. Larson had a grip on the rights as well, and he was concurrently pitching his own Galactica project to Universal, a feature film centered on the Battlestar Pegasus that, unlike Hatch's proposal which wisely only included material from the original series, based its continuity around both BSG and Galactica 1980.  A war began in the hearts of BSG fans, and most flocked to Hatch, who kept on the convention circuit and charged up crowds with both the trailer and his motivational speaking prowess...and passion for the project.

In the end, Universal decided not to go with either, and instead granted the rights to Ronald D. Moore's proposed re-imagining of BSG, which became, as you may know, one of the best science fiction shows ever created.  Though his version didn't see the light of day, Richard Hatch went on to play a major character in the Moore BSG series.

The Second Coming trailer was a sacred thing to fans, and they largely obeyed Hatch's wishes and did not film and post up the trailer on the internet (this would have caused legal problems).  Back then, the only way to see it was at a convention, as I did at Comic-Con in the summer of 2000.  I don't know that the ovation in that room made it to five minutes, but it lasted a long, long time.  Now, years later, the fabled trailer can finally be seen on YouTube.

Keep the context in mind as you watch this.  If you've watched the 2004 series, then this low-rent labor of love will be even more laughable to you, with its dated computer effects and dated hairstyles (nice ponytail, son of Apollo...).  But in 1999, fans had seen nothing more of their beloved show in twenty years (or "yahren", if you prefer), and to suddenly see it all come to life again, with the promise of a whole new show continuing the saga, was a near-religious experience (thank you, Lords of Kobol!).  Try to imagine their excitement and anticipation. Picture yourself in a convention center ballroom as the lights go down, surrounded by hundreds or thousands of other fans, with this mythical thing you've heard so much about finally coming to you.  Get into the excitement of it all!

A final note: Richard Hatch is writing novels based on his Second Coming vision, and continues to push for a TV series.  Having heard the man speak and having met him, I will officially follow him anywhere he leads.  We should all believe so strongly in something, and all keep fighting no matter the odds.  Launch all vipers, Mr. Hatch.  Launch all vipers.

Ladies and gentlemen...the Second Coming.

Monday, February 11, 2013

My One Great Entrance

“This is my one chance to make a great entrance! My whole life! I have never made a great entrance!” – George Costanza

I remember watching that Seinfeld episode when it first aired. As you may recall, George had a fancy ball to attend, and was planning to go with this woman who was to wear a backless evening gown. It was going to be his one great entrance; he’d never made one before in his life. Of course, then the woman was trying to break up with him, and George ended up trying to avoid her completely before the ball so she couldn’t break up with him and therefore would have to go to the ball, and then things end with a memorable Kramer bit, but I won’t ruin that for you, in case you’re one of the five to seven Americans who never watched Seinfeld.

But I do recall, when that episode ended, smiling a little and remembering that, unlike George, and unlike most men, I actually did have one great entrance in my life. And I had it my senior year in high school. And I had it with Jennifer Rau.

I went to a small Seventh-day Adventist school in the suburbs of Sacramento. Like a lot of church schools, this school included grades K-12, and as you moved along through the grades, you moved to different parts of the campus (elementary school was in the back, junior high in the center building, and the high school up front). I started in 5th grade. Once I got to junior high, a girl named Jennifer Rau started attending and joined our class. Jennifer was very cool, very energetic, also very book-smart, complete with thick glasses and all. As girls went?  Pretty, though a little on the nerdy side (by junior high standards), and while going to an Adventist school, she wasn't actually Adventist (but her parents wanted her there for some reason). We became friends, and after she left the school our freshman year, she and I stayed in touch, sporadically, though letters, phone calls, and getting together for the occasional movie.

One of the many things that sets Adventist schools apart from other schools (including the vegetarian hot lunches. Anyone who went to that school still shudders at the mention of the word “haystack”) is that there are no dances. Dancing, you see, is of the Devil. No homecoming dance, no Sadie Hawkins dance, nothing. But to give us some kind of school-controlled social activity to awkwardly try to gets dates to, the school instead provided “banquets”. You go, you get dressed up, you eat, there’s some kind of (wholesome) entertainment, you tell embellished stories and spread rumors the Monday after. I quote John Bender: “So it’s social. Demented and sad, but social.” The important thing is that there’s an opportunity, just like in the evil public schools, for the popular people to have great memories and the others to feel like outcasts and sit home lonely wondering “why not me?”.

My senior year, I was in the drama club. We were doing a couple of Christmas plays, performing them at other Adventist schools and such around the area. And we also got written in to be the entertainment at the Christmas Banquet at our own school that year. The Christmas Banquet is the social highlight of the year--the vegetarian, rhythmless version of what you heathens call “the prom”. So I would be there for that, performing on stage, but I hadn’t really thought about a date. Well, I’m sure I’d thought about it, but when your senior class has 27 people in it and the whole high school has about 250 students, the pickings are kind of slim to start with, and I wasn’t exactly on the football team (you caught the part above where I say "drama club", right?).

But very close to the banquet…as in, the night before it…I thought of Jennifer. I hadn’t seen her in a while (since taking her to go see “St. Elmos Fire”), and was overdue, and I thought, hey, what the heck. Couldn’t hurt to give her a call and see if she wanted to go. And it turns out she did. It’s so much easier asking someone out when you’re not actually asking them out. So that normally gut-wrenching part was quick and painless, and I had myself a date. Of course, the deadline to buy tickets to the thing had already passed. But I placed a call to the girl who was handling that and left a message in hopes that she could still sneak us in without a problem. I moved ahead on the assumption that she could.

So the next day came, and Jennifer showed up at my place (as she would have to drive, since I had neither a license nor a car. You can see why the ladies were just lining up).  And she looked…amazing. You see, something interesting had happened after Jennifer left our school. Somewhere between freshmen and senior year, she got gorgeous. She showed up in this stunning black dress, complete with pearls, and just blew my mind.

Now she showed up a bit early, so I still had to finish getting ready. Which meant putting on my tie. Understand, at this point in my life? I never wore ties. The opportunity almost never came up. So I didn’t know how to tie one. Well, to be clear, I thought I did. My father had shown me once, but then, you know if you don’t practice what you learn it doesn’t stick with you. I’d gotten a refresher from my stepfather (at the time), Larry, so I thought I was together. While Jennifer sat on the couch, talking with Larry, I was in the bathroom, in front of the mirror, trying, trying, trying to get this damned tie to work! And it was not. And I was in there forever, not only leaving this poor girl to carry on what was probably an awkward conversation with Larry, but as the minutes kept ticking by, we kept getting closer and closer to being late for this thing.

Finally, I had to come out and ask Larry if I could talk to him for a second (can only imagine what Jennifer must have been thinking), and quickly said HELP and got his assistance with the tie. With that, I was ready. Got my coat on, grabbed my roller skates (props for the play…my job was bringing the roller skates), and we got in her car and sped over to Carmichael Church, where the banquet would be held (at that point, was now already being held…) in the multi-purpose building on the property.

We got there and the first thing I had to do was meet up with the girl who handled the tickets. I recall her being a bit frazzled and not-too-pleased at this last-minute bit of anarchy being injected into what she thought was her completed and tightly-organized arrangement. But I got tickets. The seating schedule was already done, however, and the only place she would be able to fit us in was at a faculty table. Well, you plan late, you take what you can get.

And then, we went in.

We entered through the set of double-doors at the front of the large room. There were round tables throughout, in front of a curtained stage (where I’d be performing about halfway through the evening), and Christmas lights and elegant decorations everywhere. Everyone was decked out in (appropriate and non-offensive) formal wear, and the speakers pumped out low-volume non-lyrical classical Christmas music (as long as you don’t dance to it or sing along, it’s probably safe). And we were, I think, the very last pair to show up.

Which might explain why all eyes in the place were on us.

And it was then that it really hit me. Here I was, not a social champion by any means, and probably someone no one expected to see with a date. And I had just walked in with this gorgeous, mysterious girl at my side. I say mysterious because she’d been gone for three years, and many of the people attending had never met her. Those few that had probably didn’t recognize her, she’d changed so much (amazing what contacts and three years of puberty can do). And she was more than just mysterious. She was controversial. You see, as I mentioned, she was wearing pearls. Jewelry, not unlike hamburgers and Huey Lewis, is of the Devil, too. A no-no in Adventist schools (at least back then…it’s probably lightened up by now). And being bright like I was, that didn’t even occur to me...and she must have been away from Adventism long enough for that to slip her mind, too. So she looked amazing, she was wearing forbidden adornment that made her look even more exotic in a room filled with unjeweled Adventist girls, and--who’d have thought?--she was with me.

We stood there looking around for our table, and she, more than I, felt the eyes of everyone in the room. This was extra scary for her, because this was her first time back among these people in three years, and she was in unfamiliar territory.

“God, I’m so nervous,” she said to me, quietly.

And after a pause, she followed that up with the most perfect possible thing she could have said to me right at that moment.

“Hold my hand.”

And I did. Stood in the doorway, holding the hand of the scandalous, enigmatic beauty that was my date, while the whole student body watched.

A classmate of mine, Debbie, came up to us, a girl who’d known Jennifer from before. She said hi, and told Jennifer how great it was to see her. But then, with some embarrassment, she told us that our principal, Mr. Kier (God rest his soul. Was a wonderful (and scary) guy), had tactfully asked her to come over and ask Jennifer to remove her pearls. I felt terrible about this, first because I didn’t even think about it when she first showed up at my door (probably too busy tying Windsor knots in my head), and second because, though I didn’t understand much about women at that point in my life (yeah, so much has changed…), I understood enough to imagine how embarrassing that must have been. I was a little angry about it. But it wasn’t like it was Debbie’s choice, and the principal’s got to do what he’s got to do, so there wasn’t much to say (besides...Mr. Kier could have snapped my spine like a twig without spilling his virgin egg nog). So off came the pearls.

We took our table with some of the teachers, near the back of the room, and I introduced her to some of the ones she hadn’t known from freshman year. We ate, we chatted, and soon it was time for me to head backstage and meet up with the rest of the drama club to get ready for the performance. We did our two short plays (I was only in one of them.  I was “Mr. Wibble”, the North Pole mailman, in the moving and poignant “Santa Sees a Shrink”). And I felt bad about that, too, being up there in the play. I’d brought a date to this thing and then abandoned her for about an hour of the evening, left at a table full of teachers. Thinking ahead was never my strong suit back then.

The plays and the evening finally ended. We didn’t do a great deal of socializing due to our seating arrangement, but got to talk with some people, at least. Then Jennifer drove us back to my house. I remember standing there on my front lawn, rambling on cluelessly about something or other and fumbling with the roller skates I was trying to hold onto. And suddenly, Jennifer just smiled at me, leaned forward, and stopped my words with a soft, long kiss on the cheek. And though it was an evening that had her waiting on a living room couch talking to some bald guy and having no idea where I’d disappeared to, that had her late for the event and scolded (by association) for late ticket buying, that had her have to remove her jewelry right in the middle of the event as though she’d shown up in a “Satan kicks ass!” tee shirt, that had her sitting with a bunch of (Adventist) teachers instead of people her own age that she might have actually enjoyed talking to, and that had her forced to sit through my performance while being left without an escort with those same veggie educators…she still thanked me for inviting her, and for a wonderful time.

Jennifer and I lost touch, as friends from high school do as the years go by. We saw each other about a year after that, when she was home from college and invited me to a party at her house on New Year’s Eve (my memory stops at a certain point in the night, because I got really, really plowed). And then a couple of years later when our two groups of friends bumped into each other downtown on another New Year’s Eve. And then we had a phone call a few years later, and by then she was married and had become a schoolteacher (where students dumb enough to buy their tickets late hopefully have to now dread sitting with her). And then nothing in the ten-plus years since. As I said, it happens. I hope we’ll track each other down again at some point and get filled in on what’s been happening to us since, and all the twists and turns our lives have taken. But if that doesn’t come to pass, she’ll still always be a friend that I’ll remember very fondly. For our phone calls. For our gossiping. For our movies (and she was always great to see movies with, as she was an arm-grabber. You might not remember any particularly scary scenes in "St. Elmos Fire" or "Flashdance"? But apparently, there were some, and I had the nail marks to prove it).

And most of all, for giving me, such a very unexpected recipient, my one great entrance.

Eat your heart out, Costanza.

UPDATE:  That was originally written for my web page (in the world before blogging) back in 2004.  Not very long after, Jennifer stumbled across my site after finding the address for it in some alumni mailing, looked around it, found a picture of herself (to her shock), read the essay and tracked me down immediately.  We've been in touch ever since.  She's still married, now has two amazing and hysterical teens, and I've been fortunate enough to meet the whole family on more than one occasion (which would happen more if we didn't live on different sides of the state).  I assume she still wears pearls.  I, I'm happy to report, can now tie a tie.