I felt like so much cargo. And once again I was freezing. Goodness knows how cold I’d be when I reached Newfoundland. A dubious beginning, to say the least, in what would be the first in a series of trips that would take me across Canada and back again over the next few years. Newfoundland, I discovered, is north—northeast of NYC, to be more precise. Had I not learned that fact before take-off, my frozen toes and shivering body would have given me a good clue to figuring it out. It’s capital and my destination, St. John’s, is an hour and a half ahead of Eastern Standard Time. That’s an hour and a half! What Bizarro World was I flying into? It only seemed fitting that I was traveling... on a cargo plane!
My original flight, which I can only imagine would have been of the normal passenger variety with people, flight attendants, drinks and snacks... and heat, was canceled. Gee, what about all the other passengers eager to visit St. John’s, you may be wondering? What about all the other passengers! I was the only one heading out on a Friday night to Canada’s remote northeastern rock... er... I mean city. I guess my desperate look told the gate counter agent that I needed to get to St. John’s that night. I had an early morning meeting with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. I had no idea who or what the CACP was, but the “Chiefs of Police” part didn’t sound like something you wanted to disappoint.
“I can put you on another flight” was all I heard as I raced to the alternate gate. I missed the part about it being a cargo flight, not that I had any choice. If hitching a ride with Santa Claus was my only option... “On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen!” Fortunately, given that it was fall and already chilly in New York, and taking into account a previous experience in Edmonton, wherein it hailed in July, I came prepared for the cold. Or so I thought. I didn’t know I’d be flying in an icebox.
There were only two seats. Surprisingly, the one abutting mine was unoccupied. Apparently, they couldn’t get the other sucker bounced from his flight to join me. The rest of the cabin was filled with huge steel crates. These were tenuously strapped down with thin canvas cords. I eyed them constantly during the flight as it shook and heaved in the Arctic wind, causing the crates to shift to and fro. There was light, but no heat. I could see my breath as we took off. By the time we made our approach, I could touch it.
There was a restroom; not that it mattered. I don’t think I could have urinated if my bladder depended on it. My penis had contracted so far inward from the cold, I don’t think an all-nude version of the Victoria’s Secret catalog could have coaxed it out of hiding. As for Number 2, I wasn’t about to risk my ass on a toilet seat. They’d need an ice scraper to get me off.
On the plus side, I had plenty of room to move freely about the cabin when the “Buckle your seat belt” light wasn’t on. Also, I didn’t have to put up with the incessant yammering of the pilot, who figured he wasn’t going to waste his flight-path spiel on a lone passenger. Who knows? Maybe they didn’t know they even had a passenger. Or maybe their teeth were chattering as badly as mine and they couldn’t speak. Naw, they had to have heat. They had to fly the plane after all, didn’t they? I’m glad that thought didn’t creep into my mind. I was worried enough as it was trying to stave off frostbite, pneumonia or both!
Come to think of it, the pilot might very well have made any number of announcements, during the flight. Without the usual insulation and soundproofing found on passenger flights, the cabin was aroar with the noise of the turbine engines. I didn’t know whether I should try to protect my eardrums or yell, “Freebird!”
I lumbered from the plane like Master P on Dancing with the Stars, my skin a lovely shade of purple, most of the enamel on my teeth chattered away and my hearing no better than Pete Townsend’s. The weather outside was balmy in comparison as I hopped into a cab, which took me to the thankfully modern hotel in which I’d be staying.
By the next morning and only after a hot shower, I could feel my toes.
I met my host Eric Conroy after breakfast. He was a tall, stocky man with dark, thinning hair and a generous smile. He also had a mischievous glint in his eyes, the type found on good salesmen. He wasn’t unctuous, though. He was warm, and I liked him instantly. As is standard procedure in these circumstances, he asked how my flight was. “Fine,” I simply and generously replied. Bitching and complaining is the best way to make a bad first impression. Besides, my boss at Marvel had hinted that more work could come from this appearance if I impressed the client, i.e. Eric. I knew once I put the suit on and did my thing I had a more than even chance. No sense in jeopardizing those chances before I donned the red-and-blue.
Eric informed me that I’d be appearing at a conference of the CACP, being held in the hotel. The reason: I was the dancing poodle, as it were, that would help influence the CACP to seal the deal on getting their support, i.e. financial backing—and by extension, the support of the entire Canadian police force—for a custom comic book to teach children across Canada about the evils of drugs. It would be, of course, a Spider-Man comic. I would then be sent cross-country to help promote the program. From what I learned at Marvel, before I left, and from Eric, once I’d arrived, was that the CACP had an initial conference on the West Coast in Vancouver not long before. It was well received and now it was time to get the go-ahead from the East Coast membership. It would not be the first time I would be hired to add color to help sway a business transaction.
A Spider-Man actor out of L.A. had performed at the Vancouver conference and had done a successful job. Still, I didn’t feel pressured. East Coast Spideys rarely got West Coast gigs and vice versa. The exceptions came from appearance sponsors who insisted on using a particular actor they had worked with previously. Even then, the Sponsor would have to pony up the additional money to get their Spider-Man. There also was a Chicago office that handled the Midwest.
We had time before the conference, so Eric took me up to his room to meet his wife. Apparently, he hadn’t told her. I walked in to find Fiona Conroy in nothing but a black bra, panties, thigh-highs and garter belt, in the midst of getting ready. Eric chuckled and apologized to his wife, who apologized to me before she retreated to the bathroom to put some clothes on. I remained calm, but wary. I never believed your letters before . . . was the first thing to pop into my head, but far from jokingly. Was I led into a ménage à trois? Was Fiona going to re-emerge with even less clothing on? Shouldn’t bad 70’s stock music start playing? I should be sporting a moustache like the one I had during my trip to Houston for the NATPE Convention, at least (see photo on right). I was quickly put at ease as Eric told Fiona we’d meet her downstairs at the pub. I later learned that Fiona was a model when the two met, which helped explain her nonchalant attitude about meeting someone in skimpy lingerie.
With the threat of sexual manipulation dispensed, my mind latched onto Eric’s “pub” comment. It was 10:00 a.m. in the morning. Surely, he meant to tell Fiona to meet us in the restaurant. I mean, it was obvious from her apparel that she hadn’t had breakfast. The pub probably wasn’t open, yet. I was proven wrong on all accounts, when Eric led the way into the hotel restaurant… and breakfast wasn’t on his menu. He intended on having a beer and buying Spider-Man one as well. I hadn’t had a beer this early in the morning since college and that was only technically morning, because I hadn’t gone to bed yet from partying the night before. All I wanted was a cup of coffee. But I was in the minority. In fact, the look the waitress gave me when I asked her for one was equal to the one I gave Eric when he asked me if I wanted a beer. “Are you daft?” her expression suggested? “It’s ten o’clock already!”
“It’ll take a minute,” she patiently replied as she quickly regained her composure. “I’ll have to make a pot.”
Make a pot?!! I thought incredulously. It’s ten o’clock in the morning and you haven’t got coffee brewing?!! As I surveyed the pub, a busy pub at that, not a single patron was drinking coffee. They all had hearty pints of ale before them. I felt like a vegan at a steakhouse, having just ordered the mixed greens salad without the bacon bits. I didn’t want to insult my host, either, so I explained that I didn’t drink before putting on the costume. Like I would normally have a beer at this hour. Actually, I was jealous that I couldn’t have a beer.
Eric wasn’t offended. He chalked it up to my being a stereotypical, coffee-addicted New Yorker. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but believe that all the stories I’d heard about Canadians and beer were true, and that knowledge came from the Bob and Doug McKenzie skits on SCTV. All I needed was a Mountie riding a moose through the door, crooning “Oh, Canada,” and my Canadian experience would be complete.
True to her word, Fiona joined us not too long thereafter. She, too, gave me a questioning look when she saw my cup of coffee. I almost started getting offended. New Yorkers don’t apologize on their humblest day, never mind feeling guilty about coffee before noon.
Fiona turned out to be a charming Scottish woman with a lovely smile. The accent and smile were lost on me during our first meeting for some strange reason. A true mom, she pulled out photos of her two sons, the youngest of which, Peter, came up with the idea to use a Spider-Man comic book to talk to kids about the dangers of drugs. When the time came, I excused myself to prepare and agreed to meet Eric back in the lobby.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of being Spider-Man was the reaction I got when accompanying people in an elevator. Most feigned ignorance, though they couldn’t completely hide the smiles on their faces. And try as they might to look straight ahead or at the lighted numbers above the door, they couldn’t help but sneak glimpses at me. Occasionally, I’d encounter a smart-ass.
“I didn’t think Spider-Man took the elevator,” they’d snidely remark. Or “Shouldn’t you be in New York?
“My irradiated blood only keeps me so warm,” was my usual reply for the former question in the case of Newfoundland and other chilly locales. The latter elicited, “I always try to visit my fans in other parts of the world whenever I get a break from battling Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus.” Sometimes I’d combine the two with, “It’s because people expect to see me only in New York that I’m taking the elevator. I certainly don’t want to cause a disturbance by climbing up the outside of the building.”
I bounded from the elevator into the lobby of the hotel. Although I saw Eric, conversing with someone, I made a beeline, or should I say “webline”, for the reception counter. Without breaking stride, I leapt up into a dead squat. The woman behind the desk jumped back.
“VIP suite, last name of ‘Man’… ‘Spider-Man,’ checking in,” I teased.
From across the room, Eric pointing me out to his colleagues in the CACP like a proud father. Little did I know, but that move nailed my audition. I wasn’t even thinking of impressing the client. I was just being Spider-Man, having fun. My display also gave Eric the perfect presentation for his case. Seeing the reaction I was getting—the impact I was making—every member of the CACP had to be imagining how the media would eat this up across Canada and the amount of publicity and goodwill their campaign would generate.
The conference was an all-day affair. I was a mere blip on the agenda, the starting point of the items that would be covered after the lunch break. Eric was seated at a table before the audience, while I awaited my cue outside the rear entrance to the hall. At the appropriate time during the discussion about the specialized comic book, I burst into the hall.
“Did someone say ‘Spider-Man,’” I asked? “Sorry I’m late, but as soon as I got out of New York, I ran out of things to swing from.”
As I meandered toward the dais, I teased and cajoled the audience.
“Hey, you’ve got hair like mine,” I pointed out to one bald gentleman, while I patted his bare pate.
“Nice tie,” I commented to another, who wore a particularly vulgar tie.
I also made sure to target the obvious mucky mucks in the room. This move always garnered an exuberant and appreciative response from the hoi polloi, similar to the way students react when a visitor teases their teacher.
These antics served to dispel any doubters in the room about the efficacy of Spider-Man to gain attention, as well as re-enforcing this belief in those who already suspected as much. A final leap onto the table at the head of the room and my entrance was complete. Nothing more needed to be said. A gracious round of applause followed and we were done... done with the conference portion that is. My Newfoundland adventure had only just begun...
(Spidey takes on drunk Canadian police, the perils of Trapper John’s and confronts a fan braver than he will ever be, in tomorrow’s exciting conclusion!)