I'm one of those idiots who doesn't
buy any more saline solution until the bottle is completely out, and that
usually means that on the night this happens, I can't take out my contacts
and go to sleep until I go to the store. You can curse
Wal-mart all you want, but at least they're open 24 hours. On my
way to the pharmacy section one night like this, I passed the toy department
and couldn't resist a detour. This was maybe a year or so after The
Phantom Menace had been released, so they were still putting out fresh
Star Wars toys all the time.
I happened to walk past an end-cap display
and said to some other Gen-X guy digging through the toys, "Hey, look!
They finally made a lightsaber for Obi-wan!" Up to this point, they
only had the green one and the red doubled-bladed one for Darth Maul...
and every kid on the block was fighting in their front yard with these.
Now there was a blue one on the shelves!
"Yeah, I know. Cool," the guy said.
He asked if I was going to the sci-fi convention the next day. I
was like, "Uh..." I really hadn't thought about it. I've always
been a sci-fi geek, and yet I never paid any attention sci-fi conventions.
I did know that there was going to be one at a small convention center
near my place at the time, but I didn't know anyone else going and didn't
know if there was any point in going to one, so I asked him who/what all
was going to be there. Just what were these things all about anyway?
He said there would be lots of booths for
toy dealers, etc., and he listed some of the "celebrities" that would attend.
I forgot who all they were now, but in general these tended to be C-list
actors who had a few lines in old Star Trek episodes or in sci-fi movies
from the '80s. Somewhere in this list the guy said Chewbacca would
be there. I was like, "No way. I would have heard about this."
He said, "No, Chewbacca's always there." I'm thinking to myself,
Awww, this guy is pulling my leg, but he looked completely serious.
I asked him what he meant by "always."
He proceeded to tell me that Peter Mayhew,
who plays Chewbacca, lives in a town [that I won't mention] not too far
from where we were at the time. I'm like, "Come on, how do you know
this?" He then went into this story about how he worked for a place
that did blood work. You know how they draw blood in those not-so-little
vials and then ship it off? Well, he was one of the guys who takes
care of those. He didn't work at the doctor's office, just where
they ship these to. Apparently, one day the delivery guy for them
came back with a batch of these samples from the doctor's office(s) and
says, "I have Chewbacca's blood." Since the delivery guy was obviously
not a bounty hunter, the guy at the blood work place was like, "Yeah, right,"
which is pretty much what I was saying at the start of this story.
His co-worker goes on to explain that Mayhew
has to get regular check-ups because of the medical issues that caused
and/or resulted from his tremendous height. He was a regular customer,
so to speak, and it was no secret that he did this regularly. How
he, a native of England, ended up in Texas is beyond me. Maybe his
hyperdrive broke down or he's got a price on his head or something.
Regardless, he still lives here in Texas now, so he's always at the local
conventions selling autographed photos.
Random Wal-mart guy had me psyched up,
and I went to the convention the next day, probably by myself as I'm sure
my ex didn't want to go (which was kind of weird because she actually used
to read way more sci-fi than I did and was socially awkward to the point
of falling under the same headings in the DSM-IV as the majority of the
attendees). Because or in spite of this, it turned out to be one
coolest days for any fanboy.
Granted, I'm not an autograph collector
and don't really get much out of seeing celebrities just to say I saw them,
so I didn't bother to get the VIP ticket or hear any presentations.
I just walked the floor and looked at booths. It was like a museum
of my childhood. There were vintage toys that I remembered and missed
and plenty more that I had forgotten about and now realized I missed.
And sure enough, Chewbacca was there. You couldn't miss him.
I mean, the guy had (and still has) long curly black hair and stood a full
two feet above the rest of the crowd.
There was more to see than just actors
and action figures. A lot of fans showed up in their custom costumes,
including Storm Troopers, Boba Fett, etc. If you grow up with these
characters exclusively on one side of the screen, it's just kind of cool
to be standing there looking at them in the flesh, even if they're being
portrayed by guys with Asperger's syndrome. I'm sure these folks
work all year long perfecting what Dani and I try to cram into the week
leading up to Halloween.
As I wandered the floor some more, I happened
across a guy showing the Star Wars Holiday Special on a tv at his
booth of bootleg sci-fi video curiosities. Now, if you've never seen
this video, you will believe someone has put something in your drink on
your first viewing of it. It is just like watching David Lynch's
Eraserhead for the first time and then trying to explain what you
just saw to someone. You're going to hurt yourself. It's a
given. If you've seen it, you know just what I'm talking about.
Of course, I had seen it back when
it first aired. In 1978. And I was still in shock from it.
It really is just too bizarre for words. I won't attempt a synopsis
because, well, you wouldn't believe me anyway, but I get to this one scene
where Bea Arthur (yes, the Golden Girl) is playing a bar maid at the Star
Wars cantina and she's singing a song to all the other patrons there (I
swear I am not making this up) about how great it is that they have one
another for company. It's during this scene that I hear a voice behind
me say, "Maude? What is Maude doing in Star Wars?!" I turn
around and it's this older guy who looks kind of familiar. I can't
place the guy for anything, but I would swear I knew him. At any
rate, I went back to watching the show for a bit more then checking out
the convention for the rest of the day.
I had completely forgotten about that encounter
until about a year or so later when I was flipping through the channels
and the last episode of Star Trek: Voyager comes on. (Actually,
I wasn't a viewer and I didn't know it was the last episode until later.)
The ship just destroyed a bunch of Borg and traveled through a worm hole
or something to finally return home after having spent the last couple
seasons on the other side of the galaxy (Forgive any errors. Seriously,
this one episode constitutes about 80% of the footage I've seen of the
show. Everything else I know about it came from my cousin who actually
is a Trekkie and an engineer. But I repeat myself). Well, the
first people to pop up on the monitor on the bridge of the Voyager are
the supreme commander of the Federation (whatever he's called) and a couple
of subbordinates. That was the guy! It turns out I was watching
the "Star Wars Holiday Special" with the head of the Federation!
And I didn't even know it. Wow. What a day.
In the years since then I have been to
several more conventions and enjoyed myself. Carrie Fisher was at
one and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) was at another one. And I actually
ran into Kenny Baker (R2-D2) and his wife (the only person there shorter
than he is). And when I say I ran into him, I mean that I looked
over my shoulder to see if anyone was behind me, didn't see anyone, and
backed into him on the convention floor. I didn't knock him down
or anything, but it was embarrassing. Then again, I guess going to
sci-fi conventions should be embarrassing, but I don't care or I wouldn't
be telling you this.