Friday, June 19, 2009

Worth the Trip: Maui’s Road to Kahakuloa

The isle of Maui in the Hawaiian Island chain resembles a head with its hair done up in a bun. All the rental car agencies advise customers not to venture past Kapalua—a resort area on the bun’s northwest side, past famous Lahaina and Ka’anapali—warning of treacherous driving conditions. One would almost expect the maps these companies hand out to display a big black line just past Kapulua with the words “Beware: Here there be dragons!” or “Stop: End of the world!” their trepidatious rantings are that pronounced. I’m not going to tell you that the road to Kahakuloa compares to Route 66—although I understand that venerable U.S. highway is in a severe state of disrepair in parts—but it isn’t quite the road to Hell either. Any of the thoroughfares that connect the boroughs of New York City are in worse shape. Then again the chances of driving off a cliff whilst puttering around NYC are minimal, but there are positives and negatives to anything.

Route 30, which becomes county road 340, to Kahakuloa is most certainly paved; it’s surface smooth without a pothole or crack in sight. But it does twist with concave and convex switchbacks, steep climbs and deep drops, which precipitously skirt the coastline along cliffs sometimes hundreds of feet above sea level. And because the road is dug out along the cliff side, there is the danger of falling rocks—which often drivers have to dodge—and the route’s width can get tight for a single car to pass never mind two traveling in opposite directions. Still, if you are a steely-nerved driver who isn’t afraid of heights and has an excellent sense of where your front passenger-side headlight is, the trip is worth the effort.

(Ahh... Maui...)

First, there are the views, which are spectacular. If you do nothing else but soak in the seascape, you won’t regret the heart palpitations or gray hairs from the drive. Just remember, if you are the driver, to take your time and watch the road when in motion. Route 30/Road 340 is not busy and one can safely stop their vehicle to take a picture or two before proceeding. Plus, there are vista points—areas designed for drivers to pull over to enjoy the view. Besides, most of the other drivers will be tourists themselves and driving accordingly. If you notice a car racing up behind you, pull over at the first opportunity and let them by. They are most likely a local who is well past the stage of being enamored by the scenery and just want to get where they’re going. Either that or they’re New Yorkers whose idea of a relaxing drive is still crazier than that of the rest of the country.

As you make your way toward Kahakuloa, approximately half a mile past mile marker #38 you’ll see what appears to be a makeshift dirt parking area on your right. Find a spot, grab your valuables and head toward the sea. Do not lock the doors. You may notice broken glass from shattered car-door windows; the result of unfortunates who locked their doors before leaving their vehicles. No one’s going to steal the car. After all, Maui’s an island—where would the culprits go? But they will break in so as to pop the trunk and abscond with any valuables stored therein.

(The blowhole claims another victim... Bwah, hah, hah!)

Cresting the trail, you’ll see far below a flat rocky shelf just before the outcropping meets the ocean, probably with several other adventurers milling about. If the tide and surf are right, a tremendous geyser of water will periodically shoot from a natural blowhole in the shelf. Seeing as this is a product of Mother Nature and not a Disney World theme attraction (Blowholes of the Caribbean, anyone?), the blowhole is a fickle beast. Some days the action is awesome, other days not so much, and still on occasional it’s kaput. The trail down to the hole is steep and rocky. You won’t need rope and pitons to descend, just decent hiking shoes—I’ve done it in Rafters—but it can be a drag to discover it’s one of the blowhole’s off days once you get down there. So observe the temperamental wonder from the head of the declivity before you begin your descent. If she’s working, you’ll know it and then can proceed accordingly.

Next stop: the Olivine Pools. Pull into the gravel parking area just prior to mile marker #16 (Mile marker #16?! We just left #38 and the numbers were ascending… What gives?). Shortly after the blowhole, Route 30 becomes County Road 340 and the mile markers begin anew (That’s what gives.).

(That little blue puddle in the center of the rocky outcropping may not look like much from here, but...)

The Olivine Pools are named after the semi-precious gems encrusted in the lava rocks that surround the area. As with the blowhole, there is a steep and rocky descent to get to the pools; a far more treacherous one, so take your time and don’t be shy about bending down to use your hands when needed. Also, look ahead as you go. Sometimes a path that begins easily enough becomes impossible to navigate so you’ll have to backtrack. It helps to make your way in tandem with another. The hazardous trip is rewarded a thousandfold. The pools are chilling in their majesty. They sit in a rocky outcropping, the power of the ocean crashing against the rocks just out of reach. Set in hues of blue-green, the pools are breathtaking and deep enough to dive into from high atop the lava walls that skirt its edge. Wear well-built reef shoes, like Tevas or Rafters, because this is lava and subsequently sharp. There are shallow basins of water leading up to the main pools that are slick with algae and all manner of tiny aquatic creatures, so be careful and enjoy. You won’t want to leave.

(Hm... maybe I shouldn't've had those burritos for lunch.)

Fortunately the siren call of Lorraine Shave Ice beckons.

Nearing the quaint village of Kahakuloa, a towering hill of Brobdingnagian proportions comes into view. Kahakuloa Head is a 636-foot high hill that looks a gigantic Chia-Pet version of the heads on Easter Island. I often imagine it suddenly coming to life, bursting from the ocean to reveal a giant stone body beneath, a dormant alien from another galaxy that had been biding its time until the moment was right to reveal itself and take over the planet. Did I mention I spent a lot of time alone as a child? Anyway, Kahakuloa Head is an awesome natural sight, making the pink school bus on the side of the road all the more repulsive/fascinating. Contrary to the “Last Stop” sign the proprietors so inconsiderately placed by the vehicle, the Smoothie Bus, as it is called, is the unofficial gateway to the village of Kahakuloa, which lies nestled at the foot of the valley below. I’ve never gotten a smoothie at the bus, preferring to save my calories for Lorraine’s delectable delights.

(Kahakuloa Head looms over the author... waiting...)

There is a Maui travel guide, entitled Maui Revealed, that despite my disagreeing with some of its observations on restaurants and such, is exemplary. One such bone of contention is their naming Julia’s as having the “Best Banana Bread” on Maui. Julia’s is a small stand on the left of County Road 340 shortly past Lorraine’s. You cannot miss it. If you fail to notice the myriad parked cars around the stand, like snake-oil salesmen the proprietors obnoxiously hawk their wares at every vehicle that approaches. “Julia’s… Voted ‘Best Banana Bread on Maui!’…” Signs featuring cheap color printouts of the pertinent pages from Maui Revealed flank the stand. I don’t mind the signage, prominently displaying positive reviews outside one’s establishment is de rigeur in the food concession biz, whether a four-star French bistro showcasing its Michelin stars in its window or a falafel cart with a glowing review from CitySearch on its side. But the carny huckstering is tacky and anathema to the spirit of Aloha for which Hawaii is famous.

I’ve had Julia’s banana bread. Lorraine’s is better. I’m willing to bet the author of Maui Revealed didn’t even try Lorraine’s. Going by the sign alone—Lorraine Shave Ice—one would think she only offered shaved ice. Not only does Lorraine feature scrumptious shaved ice in a multitude of flavors—up to three per cone with optional vanilla ice cream on the bottom—but also she offers coconut and banana cream pie; frozen chocolate-dipped bananas and pineapple spears; jarred passion-fruit jam; shaved toasted coconut and beef jerky, all lovingly made by Lorraine from fruit picked from her own backyard, with the exception of the beef jerky which she makes from store-bought meat.

(Lorraine Shave Ice)

The pies are sublime; you’ll swear you hear angels singing as you savor them. The shaved toasted coconut is perfect as a snack, but it can be used in pancakes, yogurt, sprinkled on desserts or included when baking cookies. When asked how long the bagged shavings last, Lorraine answers, “That depends on whether you open the bags or not. Once you open them, they disappear.” I’ve kept bags of her coconut in the refrigerator for more than a year without there being any ill effects.

The location of Lorraine Shave Ice is also a plus. As mentioned, both the Smoothie Bus and Julia’s stand on the side of the road. The former does provide a spectacular view as it sits on a high vista point overlooking the ocean. Julia’s has all the ambiance of a bus stop. Lorraine runs her business from her home, nestled amongst the Hawaiian flora with a lovely view of the Pacific. And since visitors park on her property, there is no fear of causing traffic tie-ups or accidents. Visitors can spend a relaxing few hours enjoying Lorraine’s gastronomic goodies, savoring the ocean breeze and beauty of the island.

But even these prodigious predications stand in the shadow of this Maui original’s greatest feature: Lorraine herself. Lorraine opens her home and her heart to every guest. She is the living embodiment of the aloha spirit. Depending on business, she’ll gladly take you on a tour of the grounds. She’ll point out her pet alligator and elephant, introduce you to her “sensitive” plants and provide interesting facts on all the fruits she nurtures for her treats. Did you know that banana plants only produce one bunch of bananas, then die? That passion fruit plants have two cycles of fruit growth a year? Or that pineapples grow straight up from the ground on long stalks like artichokes? And sweet and friendly though Lorraine is, she is no pushover and has a whip-smart attitude that makes this New Yorker wonder if she hasn’t spent time in the Big Apple. When asked if she feels her banana bread bests Julia’s, she humbly replies—understanding the subjective nature of superlatives when it comes to taste buds—“I don’t know. Who am I to say? It’s not the best banana bread… It’s damn good, but the best…?”

(Can you guess which is the pineapple? Hint: the pineapple isn't wearing sunglasses.)

One wall of a room off the main area is covered with letters and pictures from fans from around the world. She points out various ones at random, telling the story of each missive’s author, like a beloved grandparent showing off photos and cards of her grandchildren.

(Lorraine... Maui's best!)

When traveling anywhere, it’s nice to explore that area’s unique qualities: the historical sights, natural wonders, local cuisine. But I prefer a more personal taste. Give me the warmth and charm of a local hangout. Lorraine’s is all that… plus pie!

And receives the full five spiders!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Around the Web: PlaidStallions

Any child/victim of the 70s or fan thereof should get thee to PlaidStallions, which will have your head bursting with OMGs before you can say "Shields and Yarnell." Web Host Brick Mantooth (if that be his real name), like many of us, was a collector as a child. His collectible of choice: catalogs. Mantooth's site is loaded with fashion faux pas photos from the catalogs of J.C. Penny's and Sears, vintage toys pics from Toys R Us and Mego, even lingerie photos from a 70's brochure that'll prove a more effective birth control method than your babe in Birkenstocks. Remember Duncan Yo-yos? Stretch Armstrong? Beauty Secrets Barbie and Sport & Shave Ken? You'll find 'em here. He also pays homage to character appearances with a gallery of shots of children of the 70s with Spider-Man, Hulk, Batman, various Shogun Warriors, Cornelius from Planet of the Apes and more!

And Brick is not above sharing the love. In a blog post this week he gave props to More exciting: the item on HIMC shares the spotlight with The Monster Squad, a personal favorite 70s Saturday morning show about Dracula, Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster teaming up to fight crime under the leadership of a young Fred Grandy (Gopher from The Love Boat). Ahh . . . those were the days . . .

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green

My first Spider-Man gig, being a Halloween appearance, occurred at the tail end of 1986. As far as I knew, that was it. Pfft! Done! It was nothing more than desperation on the part of Marvel’s Personal Appearance head, Barbara, that landed me the job. Not that Barbara would have hired anyone with which she didn’t feel comfortable assuming the role of the company’s figurehead and world-renowned icon; I was still representing Marvel, after all. But I knew going in that my audition wasn’t for a permanent spot on the roster, just a temporary one.

The Rutland gig wasn’t exactly on the same level as throwing the first pitch for a Major League Baseball game, either (that would come later). It wasn’t even a meet-and-greet at the Grand Opening of a Hill’s Department Store in Chilicothe, Ohio (that also would come later). From what I could glean from speaking with my hosts in Rutland, they were either getting a special rate or a gratis appearance. The comic store I visited while I was there may have helped sponsor the event—I later learned comic shops got a special rate on appearances—and the appearance itself afforded little access to the public. I was to be on a float, waving to the crowds along the parade route. That’s it. In Barbara’s eyes, it was a safe gamble to send a novice. To me, though, it was an E-ticket ride at Disney World. Upon my return, it was back to the mundane world of the restaurant business.

It wasn’t until a few months later that Barbara called me again. And again, she was desperate for an actor for a big event that was going down in the city a few days later. It was now 1987 and the 25th Anniversary year of the creation of Spider-Man in 1962. To celebrate, Peter Parker, the Web-Slinger’s alter ego, was going to get married in the Spider-Man titles to his girlfriend Mary-Jane Watson. As part of the marketing for this event, Marvel was staging a live “bachelor Party” for Spider-Man. In attendance—beside Marvel’s hierarchy and the press—would be a pantheon of superheroes. Actually, whatever ones they had costumes for at the time, which were Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and X-Men members Iceman and the superheroine Firestar.

With the large number of heroes in use, Barbara needed me once again, but not to portray everyone’s favorite neighborhood Wall-Crawler. Hell, no! This event was far too important to throw a mere rookie into the suit. Major Mucky-Mucks and Nabobs from eminent corporations would be in attendance, not to mention the press. I was needed to be Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis The Green Goblin who, in a rare show of respect, was putting away his pumpkin bombs to congratulate Spidey on his impending nuptials. If I screwed my lines up or the appearance in general, it was no big whoop. I was a super-villain. Jeremy would portray everyone’s favorite Web-Slinger. The warhorse and veteran of Marvel’s Personal Appearance Program, Jeremy had been portraying Spidey since the Carter Administration. At the time I began, Reagan was finishing up his second term. He’d be playing Spidey at the forthcoming “wedding” as well as the press junket leading up to it.

Part of my role concerned my entering the festivities by jumping out of a cake that would be wheeled out as everyone sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” Upon the song’s completion, I would burst from the cake and deliver my lines. I wasn’t worried about the lines. I once memorized an entire role in a Christopher Fry play overnight in college when the actor originally cast in the role broke his kneecap that afternoon in Movement Class (Yes, Movement Class). My script for this event ran approximately three lines, hastily written by the publicity department that afternoon. Not exactly Shakespeare... or Christopher Fry for that matter.

My biggest concern was the jumping-out-of-the-cake. The giant tiered confection would never have won any awards, nor struck fear in Entenmann’s stockholders. It was constructed of pressed wood—not very well either, if the splinters that covered my body afterwards were any indication—and the shoddy paint job was chipping. It was purchased that day, probably from a prop warehouse and probably after a desperate search, when the marketing wizard, who thought of the idea, got the thumbs-up from upper management. The top tier was hinged onto the base, which had no bottom, and the whole cake was put on a large, wheeled dolly.

The Green Goblin costume was made of similar, if not the same, stretch material as the Spider-Man costume—at least the two-piece under-layer was—and dyed a “cartoony” green, covered with black, silk-screened scales. Over that, was worn a fluorescent fuchsia tunic with matching shorts, gloves and saddlebag, in which the character kept such nefarious weapons as pumpkin bombs and razor-edged, bat-shaped boomerangs. I had none of these. My bag was empty, and I hoped my performance wouldn’t stimulate the need for any. The boots were not so much boots as gaiters that covered my sneakers. They shared the same fuchsia coloring normally reserved for the sort of upholstery only found in strip clubs. And the toes curled up, so they gave the appearance of elvin boots. Unfortunately, they weren’t stretchable and obviously were not made with a size twelve foot in mind. They had a feeble elastic swatch on the bottom that barely kept them in place. My Converse All-Star High-Tops were plainly in view underneath.

But the “boots” were a dream compared to the mask, a hard latex iron maiden for one’s noggin. On the plus side, it looked great and had a long cap—more fluorescent fuchsia—attached to it. On closer inspection, it looked like someone used a case of rubber cement to glue the topper in place.

The eyes were mesh, like Spider-Man’s costume, but hard plastic (or equivalent), not fabric, also cemented into place… dangerously so. No attempt was made to smooth the edges inside, which fit perilously close to the wearer’s eyes. And, as with the cap, no rubber cement was wasted in applying the eyes to the inside of the headpiece. The abundance of hardened glue in the mask produced a potent, malodorous aroma that made one’s eyes water. It also produced the same psychedelic mind-warping that sniffing glue effected. The increased heat and sweat of the wearer only exacerbated the problem. Do I even have to tell you how poor the vision was? The evening was shaping up to be a catastrophe just waiting to happen.

I would much rather have been out mingling with the guests, like the superheroes. Improvisation, I can do, even with VIPs and celebs. Besides, wearing a mask makes interacting with anyone a breeze. Too much can go wrong with scripts and props, especially anything mechanical. So, like any good evil doer, I was left alone to resent the good guys. That and worry about my entrance. At least, the room I was secreted in was just off the ballroom, so I wouldn’t have far to be dragged.

I spent the time working the cake, as it were, climbing in and out while reciting my lines. The cake only rose to approximately four feet from the floor on the dolly, which was about a foot more than my inseam, so I couldn’t just swing a leg out onto the floor. Not that getting a leg out at all was going to be easy. The hole I was to clamber out of was slightly tighter than my shoulder width. I’d have to collapse by shoulders in when “popping” out of the cake. Then, a few quick yoga moves to lift my leg up and over the lip of the cake and “voila” instant villain. I hoped my bag didn’t catch.

Then, I got word that Stan Lee—creator of Spider-Man and a slue of other famous comic book characters, including The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil and The Fantastic Four—was in the house. I don’t know what bothered me more. The fact that one of my childhood heroes was just on the other side of the wall or I was moments away from making a complete idiot of myself in front of him whilst besmirching one of his creations. And of course, in my mind, all the superheroes were kibbitzing and having a grand ole time with Stan, and they couldn’t care less. I was the comic-book geek! If I didn’t know what my motivation was before, I certainly did now. That’s it, Stephen, “use it in your acting,” the ubiquitous mantra of hopeless actors everywhere.

After what seemed like hours, while at the same time seeming a mere couple of minutes, it was time. Captain America came to get me. Cap would be the lucky one to pull the cake into the ballroom, using a thick cord of fraying rope attached to the dolly. Besides being one of the most recognized of the superheroes present after Spidey, his suit was the only one that allowed the maneuverability to do the deed. The cumbersome Muppet-like costume of The Hulk made him ideal for one thing only: walking into things. I shimmied into the cake, the top was secured and I waited for the guests to begin singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”

Whoever was speechifying before the song was taking their sweet time. I wasn’t exactly in a state of bliss. This had to be akin to being in a clown car. At least I wasn’t sharing the space with a dozen Krustys. Maybe the speaker was Stan. He was garrulous at the most economic of times. I wouldn’t have minded as much if I could hear him. Then I had a momentary panic that I wouldn’t hear my cue. That quickly passed when I heard the singing begin and the cake lurched forward.

Patience isn’t one of my strongest traits. Still, though I was itching to burst from my cramped confines, I was more afraid of jumping the gun. There wasn’t going to be any Jan Brady yelling “Who goes there?” before her brother Peter shouted, “Hark!” If I was going to ruin the evening’s festivities, I was going to be on time about it. As the guests wound up the third refrain of the song—my cue—I exploded from the top of the cake. I remember my shoulders getting stuck for a moment and the entire cake lifting off the dolly, before it clunked back into place. But I don’t think anyone noticed or heard over my maniacal laugh, a high-pitched, villainous cackle backed by an evening of edgy nerves and discomfort.

I hoped my entrance shocked the room enough that the unfolding of my body and leap-of-faith out of the cake would go unnoticed. It reminded me of the Yogi Kudu painstakingly removing himself from the foot-square clear plastic box on the seventies’ TV series That’s Incredible! or, for the younger of you readers, the alien dislodging itself from the machinery in the final moments of Alien. I slithered out in what I hoped would appear to be a villainous manner, made trickier with my aforementioned size-twelve sneaks. As I extended my leg out the side to reach the floor, the height was greater than my inseam by a couple of inches. I had to brace myself on the cake and hop as a shifted my weight to the outside leg, while clearing the lip of the cake lid with my privates. One slip and my high-pitched cackle would have climbed to even greater heights. Fortunately, it didn’t, and I made it out with my privates intact.

The crack Marvel marketing team’s script was corny, yet dramatic. Stan was most assuredly green with envy. From the bits and pieces that I can remember, the scene went something like this:

(Singing while Captain America enters, pulling the giant cake from the room
behind the podium)
For he’s a jolly good fellow. For he’s a jolly good fellow.
For he’s a jolly good fello-o-o-o-o-o-o-ow . . .

Green Goblin’s villainous cackle cuts the audience off as he bursts from the cake.

Gasp! (Okay, maybe not a gasp, and maybe more than a few chuckles and “Oh, brothers,” but work with me, here)

The heroes in attendance tense for action.

I should have known you’d try something like this Goblin!

Don’t get your webs in a bunch, Spider-Man (Okay, I made that part up, but it’s a lot more interesting than “Relax, Spider-Man,” which is more likely to have been my line). I’ve come merely to congratulate you on your impending nuptials.

Spider-Man hesitates, but finally decides to trust his arch-nemesis (I guess his Spidey Senses weren’t tingling), and the two shake hands.

Like I mentioned, it wasn’t Shakespeare, but given the hokey context, the script worked. And it was blessedly short.

The skit accomplished, I was free to mingle with the guests (read: find Stan Lee) or so I thought. I didn’t realize that my appearance was the Grand Finale to the ballroom festivities. The room emptied faster than a pensioner’s change purse at a slot machine. The only people to greet me as I exited from the dressing area were the wait staff deeply involved in stacking chairs and breaking down tables to clear the room so they too could go home.

Monday, June 8, 2009

June Is Bustin' Out All Over!

I had never heard of the annual National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) convention before being offered the job to play Spider-Man at the New World Entertainment booth at the show in Houston, Texas, where it was being held in February 1988. According to the NATPE website: This affordable three-day convention and marketplace is recognized throughout the world as a key media event. If you buy, sell, develop, finance, advertise, market or license content; implement technology; exploit rights; or leverage media assets, the annual Conference & Exhibition is the best place to be for success today and growth tomorrow. In other words, it’s a yard sale for new shows looking to get picked up in syndication or established programs hunting for additional affiliates.

New World, which had recently purchased Marvel from Cadence Industries two years earlier, was shopping its movie properties, including the recently released, racially insulting Soul Man with C. Thomas Howell playing a white teenager taking advantage of Affirmative Action laws by wearing blackface to get accepted into Harvard, where he falls for Rae Dawn Chong who never suspects the subterfuge; and its animated shows—which it acquired with its purchase of Marvel—such as Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. The company was also touting a new RoboCop cartoon which is planned to release later in the year. Given the in-your-face, extreme violence of the classic Paul Verhoeven political satire—the scene of Officer Murphy death is particularly acute—I found an animated interpretation to be an odd choice. New World went so far as to borrow a RoboCop outfit from Orion Films, which made the original movie, so they could feature the character at their booth along with Spider-Man. A fellow Marvel Personal Appearance actor, Dave, was chosen for the assignment. He, too, made Spidey appearances, as well as Captain America when the need arose.

The RoboCop suit came in a crate the size of a small East-European country and looked like a DIY automobile kit. One actually needed a socket wrench to put it on! Needless, to say, Dave wasn’t drinking much coffee at the show. Once on, the costume remained bolted to his body until the end of the day. Fortunately, the helmet was easily removable. Dave swore it was comfortable to wear, but when he removed the helmet after wearing the suit, it looked as if he’d just been water-boarded. Whatever unpleasantness the RoboCop outfit caused, it was never apparent in Dave’s portrayal of the character which was spot-on.

Still a relative virgin to convention-booth etiquette, I roamed the show like a Bedouin, bounding along the show aisles and in and out of booths with impunity. Little did I realize that mascots were verboten to move from their respective booths. And visiting a foreign booth was considered a severe faux pas. Staying in the booth may have crossed my mind before my initial jaunt, but the New World Entertainment booth was dead and the execs therein gave RoboCop and Spider-Man all the consideration of a bicycle at a car show. It was as if the characters were foisted upon them without their blessing. Instead of harnessing the power and attention that come from life-sized, animated representations of pop cultural icons to sell the product, the booth bigwigs escorted prospective clients past Dave and I without so much as a “Hi, Spidey!” regardless of the excited reactions of the clients they led. We were lucky to get an “Excuse me,” if we were blocking their route to the meeting area. Dave and I figured we’d would do more good as Pied Pipers, spreading the company’s word on the byways of the show floor, and leading potential buyers back.

Oh, who am I kidding? The NATPE convention is a celebrity candy store, albeit a B-list celebrity candy store with the occasional truffle, but one nonetheless. Studios go to great expense shipping in the so-called stars of the shows they are selling to schmooze with buyers. Most even provided Polaroids with them. My most exciting celebrity moment up to that point—barring meeting the creator of Spider-Man Stan Lee the year before—was meeting Bozo the Clown when I was a handful of years old, and that experience went pear-shaped when in response to his approach I screamed and fled like a Catholic at a mohel nudist colony. So when I saw celebs wandering the show floor like the cast of a George Romero flick, I had to partake in the carnage.

All at once, Norm Crosby, a former stand-up comedian of the Borsht Belt known for malapropism, who can be seen in original reruns of the Hollywood Squares, was Paul Newman in my eyes. Such groaners of malapropism as “Good evening, ladies and germs!” and “I resemble that remark” for a fleeting moment were like unto Shakespeare and now I had the opportunity to get my picture taken with this genius of jargon.

Speaking of Hollywood Squares, isn’t that the John Davidson, host of the new version of the venerable game-show classic, with show regulars John J. Bullock and Shaddoe Stevens? John J. and Shaddoe who?! Exactly. These were celebs that wouldn’t even make the cut for the Surreal Life. Yet, I had to get my picture with them.

I also plied the floor when not in costume, but it was more fun and garnered greater reactions as Spidey, the mustache I had at the time that made me look like I’d walked off the set of a 70s porn flick notwithstanding. What was I thinking when I grew that upper-lip merkin?!! The only thing more ill-conceived was my decision to pose as Spider-Man with Jake of Body By Jake fame . . . in biceps-flexing mode no less! As frail and pathetic as I look next to him, I should be thankful my meager muscles were concealed behind the free T-shirt I scored at the time. Of course, Peter Parker was initially portrayed as frail in the comics, and Steve Ditko, the Web-Spinner’s debut delineator, kept him more wiry than muscular when in costume. But his successor, John Romita began packing some meat onto Parker’s feeble physique and, though never depicted in the same weight class as the Hulk or Thor, Spidey has yet to return to the scrawny nerd he once was. Still, with the tromp l’oeil effect the suit cast—which made its wearer appear one dimensional and subsequently less substantial—standing next to Jake’s massive frame made me look like a child trying on his father’s shirts.

At least the costume also hid the ’stache. I shamefully have to admit that this was not the first time I had grown such a hirsute facial eyesore. Less than a half-dozen years earlier, I grew one for a musical review in which I was performing, entitled Broadway in the Park, at a summer theater production in Manchester-By-The-Sea, Massachusetts. What began as my being lazy and not wanting to shave worked for my role as a womanizer whose lascivious ways were but a defensive front for a sensitive soul in search of true love (No, I haven’t lost the plot. Bear with me. I promise that this will lead back to Houston… eventually). In the show, clad as an angel complete with halo and wings, I sang “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease. The mustache looked especially off-putting against the beatific backdrop. It was a song which I was already familiar having sung it in the small group of my high school’s glee club a few years prior, only sans facial hair.

So imagine my excitement when I espied Frankie Avalon, the song’s titular crooner in the 1978 mega-successful Grease movie adaptation, offering pictures to passing fans (See, we’re back…). I haven’t the foggiest what he was promoting, but he sat in an oversized director’s chair which served as a tableau for the photos. I recall telling him that the picture was for my mom, as if I was embarrassed to have my photo taken with him. I should have been more ashamed by drawing attention to his antiquated celebrity status with my comment. When I showed my mom the photo months later, she couldn’t have cared less.

Though never a fan of Who’s the Boss? I consider Taxi and Soap to be two of the best sitcoms in television history, so I was stoked to get a photo with both Tony Danza and Katherine Helmond as the shit-eatin’ grin on my face can attest.

The knowledge that Harvey Korman was a pain-in-the-ass on the set of The Carol Burnett Show and could be even nastier offset was unbeknownst to me at the time and would come as a surprise years later when it was revealed in various televised retrospectives which aired after his death in 2008. With Spider-Man, he was cordial and willing to have his picture taken. Korman—attending to promote Carol Burnett and Friends—is known more for his starring role on Burnett’s show and hilarious role as Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. But in my eyes (or ears) Korman will first and foremost always be The Great Gazoo, the floating green alien that befriended Fred and Barney in the final season of The Flintstones, the series’ jump-the-shark moment. Had the series not ended that year, it surely would have the following one. It was as telling an indication that a show had outrun its course as the addition of Cousin Oliver to The Brady Bunch in its fifth and final season. The charm of The Flintstones was the zany predicaments the two leads found themselves in set against a prehistoric canvas. Though I loved The Great Gazoo as a stand-alone character, his ability to snap his fingers to ameliorate any problem coupled with his futuristic qualities was anathema to the series.

Oftentimes when gigging at a convention my badge would end up reading “Spider-Man,” which made for more than a few awkward moments to say nothing about blowing my cover when taking a break. But occasionally it worked in my favor. Such was the case when I met a young, eighteen-year-old Jason Bateman, who was at the show promoting The Hogan Family, the forgettable Valerie spin-off that changed its name after original star Valerie Harper left the show to be replaced with Sandy “Wheat Thins” Duncan. I never even watched Valerie never mind The Hogan Family, so how I recognized or gave a whit about taking a picture with Bateman baffles me. Again, the overpowering allure of NATPE held sway (Must… get… photo… with… celebrity…).

When Bateman saw “Spider-Man” on my badge, he was so excited he gushed over me like Carrie Bradshaw over a new pair of Manolo Blahniks. “You’re the guy in the Spider-Man suit? That is so cool. What’s it like to be Spider-Man? Do you know Stan Lee?” I barely had time for a few mono-syllabic grunts betwixt his excited queries. Meanwhile, Bateman held up the line of TV executives awaiting a picture with the young star for a good ten minutes. Finally, one of the suits at Bateman’s booth had to intervene. The picture was shot and we exchanged a heartfelt handshake before my departure. But I could overhear Bateman speaking with the next person stepping up for a photo as I left: “Do you know who that was? That was Spider-Man!”

Toward the end of the first day, I began to get the first inklings that perhaps my Spider-Man jaunts throughout the show were not acceptable. There were the occasional queries from other booth workers, unemployed actors, spokespeople and models dressed in various thematic dress, like the extras at the Body By Jake booth clad in workout gear and those in the Disney pavilion looking as if they’d just stepped off of Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. “Are you supposed to be in here?” “We were told that we couldn’t leave the booth.” Most were curious or didn’t care. Others were less accepting: “You know, you’re not supposed to be here?” But I was never approached by the show staff, nor admonished by the New World people, who were also not rebuked for their characters being out of line. So I was not deterred…

Spider-Man! C’mere!” A booming voice echoed above the din.

I froze. Uh, oh.

“I said Spider-Man! Get over here!”

I was in the main central aisle. Beneath the mask, my eyes darted about, as my actions belay any concern.

“Wall-Crawling webbed wonder of the weak…over here!”

Finally, his voice stayed on the line long enough for my senses to trace, so to speak. In the distance, a good fifty feet away, standing upon a dais stood my assailant. Had he not been beckoning me with exaggerated sweeps of his arms, I might have missed him with my limited vision. I approached cautiously. Slowly, features emerged: black suit, shiny purple tie, glasses, big toothy smile… the Heat Miser hairdo clinched it. Don King was grinning like the Cheshire Cat, orating my approach like he were introducing his latest boxing phenom. “Here he is, ladies and gentleman… that hero of heroes… the arachnid arbiter of the unrighteous… the blue-and-red ridder of the repugnant…”

The alliterative epithets came ceaselessly, and senselessly, the more he bellowed. I don’t even think King knew what he was saying by the time I reached him. And it didn’t matter. His larger-than-life persona was infectious. He may have been an unscrupulous, double-dealing, unethical boxing promoter, as the stories attest, But I didn’t care. I loved the man. And he loved Spider-Man. I think he had the photographer take a dozen pictures before he gave me one. He was gushing and giddy and shook my hand the entire time. I half-expected him to Snoopy-dance around me at any moment. When I finally departed his side, his boisterous pronouncements began anew, but this time they weren’t directed to me or anyone in particular. “Spider-Man! I got my picture with Spider-Man! Can you believe it? Spider-Man!

But my adventures at NATPE were about to take a disturbing turn…

Maybe it was the distance from the New World Entertainment booth, farther than I had gone to that point in the costume during the show. Maybe it was her booth’s proximity to Disney’s, which I was intending to visit to see if I could cop a shot with Mickey without their staff realizing it (A photo of Spider-Man and Mickey Mouse would have so upset Disney, but would have been ultimately cool in a Superman vs. Spider-Man sort of way). Perhaps I’d caught a wisp of a conversation about Bill Dailey signing autographs at her booth. Or maybe it was some pheromonal siren song she was secreting from her glands. But suddenly I found myself discovery the true meaning of Leave it to Beaver.

I was in the Telvan Productions booth, a syndications arm of Universal. I didn’t know this at the time. I just wanted a signed picture by Bill Dailey, Major Roger Healey on I Dream of Jeannie and Bob Newhart’s neighbor on his original eponymous TV series. I didn’t realize that Telvan also syndicated an update of Leave it to Beaver, called Still the Beaver (I guess Beaver Hunt was taken) until, as I kibitzed with the attendees in line, masking my intent on getting an autograph myself, I felt a hand slide down the back of my suit and heard a sultry, yet a vaguely familiar, voice say, “My, aren’t you nice.” I turned—shifting my body just before the hand crested my ass cheek—and found myself face-to-face with June Cleaver aka Barbara Billingsley.

Leave it to Beaver was a childhood love. It ran every morning before I had to leave for school and I never missed an episode, watching every moment from June seeing Ward off to work, and Wally and “The Beav” off to school during the opening credits to Beaver’s walk along the curb on his way home during the closing credits. I remember noticing the name of the hair stylist for the show one day, because she had the same first name as my mom, “Florence,” and a last name that appropriately fit her vocation, “Bush” (Come to think of it, it fit the title of the show as well, but I certainly didn’t realize that in elementary school.). Years later, while working for the media department as my work study while attending Boston University, I showed Psycho, and who do you suppose was the hair stylist for the Hitchcock classic? Florence Bush!

So there I was getting hit on by Theodore Cleaver’s mom. It would have been only marginally less disturbing had she just been a much older woman. I later discovered that Barbara Billingsley was born on December 22, 1915, which made her 71 years old at the time! I was a year out of college. But you wouldn’t know it. She looked amazing for her age. But she was only a few years younger than my grandmother!

She stood partially behind a counter with her back to a wall of the booth, so no one noticed her hand move along my arm when she ask me my name.

“S-s-spider-Man,” I heard myself stammer.

She pursed her lips and actually tsk-tsked me, before replying, “Oh-h-h, you know what I mean…”

Her hand started traveling down again, and I was in severe danger of my body putting me in a position where I couldn’t move from the booth even if I wanted to. Suddenly, the phrase, “Ward, haven’t you been a little hard on the Beaver?” had a whole new meaning.

With an agile hop backward, I a said, “I can’t tell you that. I have a secret identity to uphold,” then bound from the booth with my web-shooters still intact.

During my break, I came back to get Bill Dailey’s autograph. Billingsley was still there and it took all the self-control I could muster not to ask her for an autograph and, when asked who she should make it out to, answer “Spider-Man!” With my luck, she’d be even more excited. I understand that W.B. Mason look was all the rage in her time.