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?
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
Of course since
2002 I have been living with the crushing disappointment
of a botched attempt to meet Hulk Hogan at Toys
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.
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
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
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
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.
to Radio City Music Hall," I said. "Would
you like to come?"
A moment passed
before he looked up at me, perplexed.
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
Then he replied,
"Uhhhh…" and immediately continued
signing books while I was ushered off of the stage.
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.