Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On Meeting Your Heroes 2: The Heroing

Photo courtesy David Andrako. Follow him on the Twitters @daveinbrooklyn.

Generally, hero worship leads down a pretty bad path. Invariably someone young idolizes someone older whom they wish to emulate, then get in trouble for emulating that person in an inappropriate setting.
As far as Hollywood has informed me, this person will either meet this person immediately and then have their fragile perceptions dashed (The Incredibles, My Name Is Bruce, Fivel Goes West), or they will constantly have their faith tested, always enduring and, with perhaps a smidge of divine encouragement at their darkest moment, overcome and finally meet their hero, seeing it is just as awesome an experience as they'd imagine (Mallrats, Wayne's World 2, That kid who caught Mean Joe Fraiser's jersey in the Coke commercial).
However,the way it usually works out is this: you worship someone for one aspect of him/herself (say Morrissey), from afar, but at some point realize s/he is just a person (he actually does have sex sometimes). If you ever do meet your hero, it is likely in a very artificial environment and anything of intimate value you have to tell them is invariably awkward to say in public.
When I was maybe eleven I met Steve Sansweet. Sansweet was then and is still some kind of huge big shot in the world of Star Wars, not for doing anything important, but for essentially being the biggest fan in the world, to such an extent he was put in charge of fan relations and creative development of expanded series. The guy literally wrote the book on Star Wars, and by 'book' I mean 'encyclopedia,' by which I mean both the original and expanded volumes.

Dude's big. And I shook his hand when I was eleven. Honestly? The guy was just a guy, you know? Except he honestly thought he could pull off a brown trench coat.

When I was twelve I got to go to the very first officially sanctioned Star Wars Celebration. (Are we sensing the theme of my childhood yet?) Incredibly, in a room full of people, I got to ask Jake Lloyd something during a Q&A. You may remember Lloyd as the little boy who ruined Anakin Skywalker before Hayden Christensen.
The problem was I had nothing to ask him. I was so focused on trying to beat out hundreds of flailing adults for the chance at a microphone and an opportunity that I never considered the possibility of winning. Worse, I had never put any thought into what I would ask the soon-to-be washed-up actor. Being twelve, speaking to a ten year old, I think I fell back on, "Hey. So, uh, like, where do you go to school?"

Obviously inappropriate in retrospect. However, it shows how unaffected I was by the gradual, humbling shuffle of a mediocre life. I was a kid talking to a kid he was kind of impressed with. I didn't think smalltalk was inappropriate, even with 300 people in attendance and one party on stage as Anthony Daniels points a microphone in the other's face wondering how an incredibly effeminate British man got stuck playing Ryan Seacrest to a chipmunk-cheeked prepube.

Which brings me to a point: I met Chuck Klosterman tonight. (Or "Kloe-sterman," as is apparently the proper pronunciation. The first new upset to my worldview.)

I met my favorite non-fiction author and I shook his hand. I also learned that we share incredibly similar views of internet culture, Twitter and even MTV's The Jersey Shore, though thankfully my thoughts on the matter seem to go a bit farther than he was willing to let on about in a 90-minute interview/Q&A. (This bodes well for getting him to buy a copy of my book.)

I wondered what I should say to him when I got up to his desk. I read enough from internet artists to know basic autograph protocol, I know what they actually find endearing, I know how to be a decent human being and rise above the tide of accolades and blind worship to instill that deeper, personal note in even a brief encounter.
Except I froze up. I wish I could tell you otherwise. I'll obviously lie and say that I couldn't think of anything worthwhile to ask. This will be mostly true. "Did being in magazine and newspaper publishing for almost two decades play a big part in getting your first agent and book contract?" (Obviously.) "How often do people ask you how you feel about getting married in lieu of having once written that no woman will ever satisfy you and vice verse, adding that you would eventually be asked this and respond with a cheesy falsehood, just to see if you say the same thing?" ("Not nearly as often as people ask me that question," seems too obvious. I'm going with, "Never, because it was a fucking joke and everyone gets that, including you. Stop being cute.")
So, no. No, I couldn't think of anything to say to this man that was worth it. Every line of praise would be wasted in public. This man–and to a lesser extent his friend and associate of the evening, Rob Sheffield–not only shaped how I write, but are the very reason I am writing the book I am writing. I can't tell them that; they deserve better than run-of-the-mill "dick riding."

With the girl ahead of me focusing her attention on Mr. Sheffield and Chuck starring at me as I hold up the line behind her, I caved. I passed on telling Sheffield I enjoyed his first book, even though I'm sorry his wife had to die for him to write it and I'm not buying his new book either, but he did teach me what an empire waist is in omen's fashion and that gave this very blog a joke last week. I forked over my old, dogeared copy of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs for Klosterman to sign, to the title page as instructed despite my desire for a big "C.K." Sharpie'd on my book's cover and was able only to eek out a soft, "Thanks," as I left. Again, I wish I could say my silence and quiet gratitude stemmed from a dearth of anything valuable to say and an inset desire to make his life a little bit smoother and easier.

But sometimes you meet your heroes and they are just as awesome as you've always imagined and you can do nothing but remain steadily awestruck.

Even if they sound eerily like Professor Bunsen Honeydew.

Seriously, North Dakotans must train their kids to talk in a higher pitch or something.

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