There’s an old Saturday Night Live skit with William Shatner, in which the former Captain Kirk appears at a Star Trek convention and the fanatics who worship the show ask him insanely detailed questions about the episodes in which he starred.
I couldn’t help but think of that bit as I stood in line at the Albuquerque Comic Expo, watching the various Wonder Women, Captain Americas and freakazoids from across the galaxy nerdwork in front of me. The line I was standing in wasn’t for entry to the expo; I was waiting for a chance to win the chance to stand in another line for the signature of my son London’s hero, Stan Lee, the nerdeity who helped create Spider-Man, The Hulk and other leading men who have taken over American cinema.
While London was off thumbing through the racks of comic books and rows of action figures with his friend Dylan and Dylan’s father, David, I was standing in front of a 20-something comicaze with a wool cap over his face, and behind a woman with fake breasts, in blue body paint with green contacts glued to her eyes.
“The 12 o’clock raffle has just ended,” a volunteer screamed at us. “Next raffle’s at 1. You are free to stay in line or go enjoy the expo.”
No one even blinked. We hadn’t budged from our spots in the last 30 minutes and knew the line would only grow. The masked man behind me showed his comicred by rattling off characters and episodes like a loud and nerdy carnival barker, complimenting the fawn from Pan’s Labyrinth on his stilt work and the sexy ensign from Star Trek on the classic logo attached to her uniform. From what circle of comic book hell did he originate, I asked?
“I’m an OC,” he said, speaking to me as if I had been maimed by Thor’s hammer. “You know, an original character?”
Toward the end of the SNL sketch, Shatner admonishes the crowd to “Get a life!” That tough love now applied to me more than those waiting to get LeVar Burton’s autograph or a photo with Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters. This cross-dressing spectacle had become my son’s life, and now it was mine.
David and I took turns standing in that raffle line until each of us had pulled out a red ticket, earning London and Dylan red-and-white-striped wristbands and the right to move over to another group of stationary people. Even though he didn’t burst into song like Charlie does when he finds the golden ticket, London hugged me and said his love for his dad was mightier than Hellboy’s affectation for beer.
As instructed, London and Dylan slipped their comics from plastic sleeves and tried to act calm. It seemed that countless rules were necessary when meeting a 90-year-old man who had made a life (and a lot of money) writing about human insects and large doses of radiation. There were so many restrictions that London almost reconsidered giving Mr. Lee a set of superhero postcards he had drawn.
“We could try,” I said, patting the cards in my breast pocket. The line was finally moving, probably due to the embargo on chatting, handshakes and photos (except when flashless and taken from a distance).
London shook his head, worried that trying to give his hero a gift would jeopardize his quest. But I had spent most of my day in what Doctor Who would call a bloody queue, starting at the parking garage light-years before. So when it was our turn to hand the comic to Lee’s handler, I also slid him the pack of cards, London’s version of The Hulk growling on top.
“Are these for me?” Lee asked when the cards landed in his signing area.
“Thank you,” he said and smiled. “They’re great.”
And so were we, true believers. So were we.
Robert Wilder’s most recent book is Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Daddy Needs a Drink appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter.