I have to admit I’m tickled when one of you reveals to me your relating to a category I’ve described when you were a wee worshipper of the webbed wonder. See if any of these spark memories…
Occasionally, I’d encounter a child without a hint of trepidation. Case in point: This little boy threw himself into my arms, giddy at meeting his hero; a marked contrast to the wee lass in the background, who stares worriedly at our meeting while clutching onto her mom.
THE QUIET STORM
Patient, careful—but not hesitant—Quiet Storms were determined to show no fear before their peers. Most often, they’d appear accompanied. I’d easily envision Quiet Storms urgently telling attendant parent that they didn’t want Mom or Dad standing by them during their Spider-Man encounter; that would be far too embarrassing. Not that the Quiet Storms wanted said parent to leave the area entirely. The savvy Mom or Dad would save their independent offspring the ignominy of their having to ask their parent to stick around with a “I’ll just be waiting over here,” as they indicated the exit area.
A far cry from any of the children described here, this young lad could not tell me enough about his day, and queried me in great length about why I was in town, where my eyes were, and who I had been battling recently.
A Quiet Storm’s steps were measured as they neared. They'd never offer conversation, or elaborate with their responses. The internal conflict betwixt their fear at approaching Spidey and the pressure to appear unafraid before their peers didn’t allow for extraneous activity. They’d answer quietly and succinctly, even though their insides were flip-flopping in terror.
“Would you like an autographed comic?” I’d ask, the book before me, Sharpie already poised.
“Yes, sir.” they’d most often politely reply. From the corner of my eye, the parent would reveal themselves with a more-than-casual-observer smile.
“What is your name?”
“Trey Daniel Phillips.”
“I’ll just put it to ‘Trey.’ Is that okay?”
“And how do you spell that?”
“T-R-E-Y…” Each letter carefully articulated, as if a code that would diffuse a bomb were being conveyed over a walkie-talkie.
Most often, the moment they had completed their task—must… overcome… fear… get… autograph—they’d scamper back to their parents, doing an emotional one-eighty—beaming, showing off their comic and talking a mean streak.
Like Clint Eastwood in a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western, The Loner would appear. Unfettered by parents, guardians, siblings or friends, they’d dutifully wait in line to get a comic book and go. Like the Quiet Storms, they were not talkative, just economic in their use of words, usually saying no more than a “Hello, Spider-Man” at the start, stating their name when asked, and ending the encounter with a “Thank you, Spider-Man,” before disappearing by themselves into the crowd. The Loner was never frightened, just independent. Yet, unlike The Exuberant, who were also carefree, The Loner was unemotional and never shared his experience with others.
The Loner bothered me. I always wondered what caused them to be so independent and alone at such a young age.
From the crowd of onlookers, waist-level sets of eyes stare intently at the proceedings: The Watchers! These were children—oftentimes brethren of others in line—who were scared to death to confront Spider-Man personally, yet fascinated enough to observe the proceedings from the safety outside the barriers. Sometimes they’d whimper for their brother or sister when their turn came up—certain their siblings were walking toward their doom. Of course, once their loved one escaped unscathed The Watcher couldn’t wait to grab the signed comic out from their hands for a peek.
I’d always offer the parents of Watchers an autographed comic from my perch, handing it to their brother or sister for delivery. Sometimes, depending on the reaction, I'd get up and give the comic to The Watcher myself, stretching as far as I could muster. The Watcher, too, would extend to their wee limits, just grabbing the corner of the comic with tremulous fingers. The scene was like that in many an adventure movie with the hero saving the heroine from a perilous fall with an impossibly outstretched hand at the last possible instant.
A lot of very small children, who didn’t know me from Elmo, were simply fascinated with the primary colors of the suit. Gotta love that red-and-blue!
Some children became Watchers when confronted with the moment of truth, after spending hours in line… much to the parent’s chagrin, I might add. Literally faced with their hero for the first time they’d stop short of the signing table and park themselves at the outskirts of the autograph zone, just out of range of whatever danger they considered might befall them if they got any closer.
Oblivious to their parents’ goading to either meet Spider-Man or concede defeat, the newbie Watchers remained stock-still in their parking spot, observing each successive child in line.
I had parents—overcome with impatience—literally leave their children by my table while they went shopping. They’d return an hour later to find their offspring still transfixed, frozen in the spot they’d left them, trapped between meeting their hero or fleeing. Oftentimes it was a sibling of The Watcher, who would return and drag their brother or sister off with a “C’mon, Mom’s leaving!”
Traveling in small packs or duos, the You-Go-Firsts would huddle together and shuffle warily toward the signing table, directing one another to be the first to meet Spider-Man. Much like a medieval jester—who would sample the king’s repast before His Highness to ensure the food wasn’t poisoned—The You-Go-Firsts or rather the Go-First would wriggle forward, to make sure the way was safe for the rest of his or her tribe.
You-Go-Firsts shared giggle-fits as they neared, the result of mutually-shared fraught nerves. Occasionally, the Stay-Behinds would have the audacity to push forward the volunteer of their group. Of course, once their tribe mate succeeded, they’d hurry forward en masse to claim their prize, forgetting the fear they held moments before. Sometimes duos would never come to a decision between themselves as to who would go first. So they sheepishly approached like conjoined twins attached at the hip.
It was always endearing to me to see wee You-Go-Firsts step forward who were BFFs. The tell-tale signs could be matching temporary tattoos on their forearms or identical barrettes in their similarly-styled hair; they might be clutching the purse or dressed in the same color schemes. Sometimes even they sported matching outfits. Meeting Spider-Man, with its high-risk level, was something that couldn’t not be done together. They’d depart, still arm-in-arm, clutching their autographed comics, already gabbing about the experience.
I’d like to think these encounters with me are retained with fondness, periodically brought up with a “Remember when we met Spider-Man…?”