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What's Up For Today?

New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy

New York Cool - New York Stories

I Spent the Night with William Shatner

(Well, 5 seconds anyway)


Written and Photographed
by Adam Ritter


 

What would it be like to meet a legend?

Or at least, walk robotically past a legend while a human conveyor system feeds your book purchase through an automated signature process?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008, I would find out.

Only a handful of entertainment-superstars have managed to change the world in their own time…Chief among them (as everyone knows); Mickey Mantle, Joe Louis, Burt Reynolds and William Shatner.

 

Mr. Shatner is currently on a book tour promoting his latest opus, an autobiography entitled, Up Till Now.

He was scheduled to speak (brief remarks and a Q&A) and then sign copies at the Barnes and Noble on East 17th Street (and ONLY copies...Do NOT bring your memorabilia…Do NOT hold seats…Do NOT take photos as you approach…Do NOT make eye contact. Alright, I made that last one up. But the DO NOT list was rather thorough).

Of course since 2002 I have been living with the crushing disappointment of a botched attempt to meet Hulk Hogan at Toys "R" Us.

In order to even approach the Hulkster one had to first purchase his doll (or if you were a boy, his "action figure"), but the Times Square megastore was a mad house of mob rule. In this pandemonium a few "collectors" wiped out the entire supply, hauling off armloads of dolls as though they were bread rations (most of which no doubt found their way onto eBay). In the end, no miniature Hogan doll - no meeting.

It was a terrible day for Hulkamania.

Thankfully, Barnes and Noble did not make the same mistake. There was a two-book limit per person and a strictly enforced policy which mandated that each signature be personalized ("To Susan, William Shatner") thus diminishing their appeal (and value) as collectibles.

I knew nothing of William Shatner's appearance until spotting a sign at the Union Square location the day before. Furtively I leaked this news only to a select few, as if my tight-lipped vigilance might somehow ensure that Barnes and Noble would not be filled with frantic trekkies whom Mr. Shatner might need to again admonish, "Get a life, will you people?"

Naturally on the morning of the book signing, his appearance was advertised on the front page of that free paper that carpets the sidewalk outside of every mass transit location in Manhattan.

He was also featured in the New York Post; a Page Six blurb described how upon Mr. Shatner's arrival to Gotham in the 1950s, a kindly gentleman approached him and asked, "I'm going to Radio City Music Hall, would you like to come?"

The quirky New York hospitality he thought he had discovered was of course NOT an act of magnanimity. This was more the homoerotic equivalent of a grab-and-dash; after twice being groped by his new friend - young William bolted out of Radio City.

What with the bright shining spotlight of the press threatening to ruin yet another of my dates with destiny, I launched a preemptive lunchtime recon mission to infiltrate and survey the B&N landscape. To my surprise, all was clear. Only two people had made it past the velvet ropes.

When I arrived later that day, two hours in advance of Mr. Shatner's scheduled speaking time, about 40 fans had accumulated. Not as much a melee as I had expected…but then again, easily more than the total number of Red Cross relief workers admitted thus far into post-cyclonic Myanmar.

Scanning the room for the telltale signs of a Shatner audience, I did not spot a single pair of Vulcan ears. One spectator was wearing a Star Trek T-Shirt, but for crying out loud, it was the wrong generation!

By the time our keynote speaker had arrived (slightly tardy at 7:13 PM), the audience had ballooned to approximately four hundred people crammed into every narrowing crook of space - not unlike having a dinner party in a Manhattan apartment.

Perhaps he would share an anecdote from the book. Maybe the time DeForest Kelly (Doctor McCoy on Star Trek) arrived to the set in tears; his beloved Chihuahua had died.

Mr. Shatner tried to console him; "I know the pain of losing a dog you love. How did it happen?"

When it was revealed the happy little dog ran top speed into a sprinkler head, Mr. Shatner naturally laughed. The good doctor did not speak to him for two years afterward.

On this night, the brief remarks and the Q&A lasted maybe ninety seconds and somehow managed to neglect the entire Q&A portion. The gentleman who announced the Do NOT list spoke longer.

There would be no rendition of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.:"

There would be no tremulous glance skyward while screaming, "Khannnnnn!!"

There would be no "Denny Crane. Denny…Crane."

Tonight the weary Mr. Shatner (where is Project Genesis when you really need it?) mentioned only these points:

* How young and refreshed Barack looks compared to the tired and worn out Hillary.
* How much he identifies with "her" at this moment.
* How much he would like to accommodate everyone here tonight, so when we are on our final approach he does not have time to "…dwell on all your hopes and dreams."

Then the highly regimented conveyor system began.

It took all of ten minutes to reach the stage and it was there that I was vexed by oddly overactive nerves. Damn childhood heroes. But the moment of truth had arrived and I braced for impact.

When it comes to book-signing banter, the cadence of the procession dictates that each person has an allotment of about 5 seconds…and the author's natural tendency is to speak to every other fan.

Thus I sensed trouble when he suddenly asked the woman in front of me "Who's Wahoo?"

"Wahoo" was her cat. She was having him sign a book for her cat and because of cuddly little Wahoo, my window for conveying drooling monosyllabic fan talk was slamming shut.

Go to Red Alert!

I had no choice but to act. The man is seventy-seven years old – there may never be another opportunity to spend 5 seconds with him.

Mr. Shatner began to sign my copy just moments before I had reached him. In this fleeting epoch, I decided that I would make an attempt at conversation.

"I'm going to Radio City Music Hall," I said. "Would you like to come?"

A moment passed before he looked up at me, perplexed.

"You're…what?"

I did not have a second line of dialogue prepared. So I stammered, "Radio City? Want to go?"

It's not clear if Mr. Shatner had any inclination of what I was referring to. He may have thought I was seriously inviting him to see the Rockettes with me.

Then he replied, "Uhhhh…" and immediately continued signing books while I was ushered off of the stage.

Certainly this was not as memorable an encounter as the time we ran into Wayne Knight ("Newman" from Seinfeld) and my friend excitedly shouted, "Norm!" as though George Wendt had just walked into Cheers.

Yet it's another debt owed to the sweet siren of this city. Where else does meeting an icon or childhood hero remain a daily possibility?

Well, this can mean only one thing; Mr. T, you're next.

 

 

 


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