Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My biggest audience in Illinois

On 9/14-15/16, I had the pleasure of speaking at three schools in District 300 in Illinois, less than an hour outside of Chicago: 

  • Westfield Community School in Algonquin
  • Carpentersville Middle School in Carpentersville
  • Dundee Highlands Elementary School in West Dundee

I loved all three.

Westfield welcomed me with a trio of trumpeteers who played the theme from Superman: The Movie.



This has happened before but it's so special that it felt like the first time again. I was especially impressed that the three student musicians all volunteered. It can be intimidating to perform in front of your peers, particularly in the social upheaval that can be middle school. Thanks again, guys!

Some Westfielders also gave me (but really Bill Finger) a standing ovation, which speaks highly of these kids. I give their empathy a standing ovation right back.



Carpentersville…the student body is divided into groups named for superheroes. I have encountered countless capes on my school visits but this was a first.

Another first, or perhaps more accurately, a record: the assembly included the whole school…1,250 kids.


 That's not a tubular ghost. 
That's the glare of the LCD projector.

I am fairly sure that is the largest crowd I've spoken to. So of course this was the one day in recent memory on which I had a ragged throat, but a bit of mind-over-matter and a steady supply of Ricola kept my voice workable throughout.

Dundee Highlands was such a sweet capper to the trip. The kids were impeccably behaved and engaged and one of the staff told me a wacky story afterward that I hope to cover here soon…pending photos she provides.


Thank you again to all three schools. Hope to be back before long!

I consider speaking in schools a perk of the author life, and a perk-within-the-perk of hitting the road is discovering what history is nearby. Earlier that week, I spoke in Pennsylvania and learned only once there that I was less than 30 minutes from both the location of the Johnstown flood (which I wrote about light-years ago) and the field where United 93 crashed. (The day of my talk happened to be the day after the 15th anniversary of 9/11.) Unfortunately, I did not have time to visit either memorial site.

However, in IL, I discovered I was a picturesque 20-minute drive from a town called Woodstock, which boasts an eclectic threesome of pop culture attractions:


  • the 1993 Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day was filmed there
  • Dick Tracy creator Chester Gould lived there
  • an orchard constructed a Batman-themed corn maze (which was closed for the day by the time I got there)

I had a blast hunting the idyllic town square for the various commemorative Groundhog Day plates.



 Toward the bottom of this photo, on the sidewalk,
you can see a small plaque. The next two photos
get you closer.







 Squint and you can see a sign on the building in this and 
the next picture, then close-up in the picture after that.




Oh, speaking of Groundhog Day

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Bill Finger's official credit: the one-year anniversary

Yesterday was Batman Day (third annual). Today is Bill Finger Dayone year since he got official credit. To paraphrase Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, this Bill is no longer past due.

It has been an exhilarating and sometimes bewildering 365 days.


Thank you to Ross Pearsall at Super-Team Family: The Lost Issues for helping me mark this first anniversary in such a memorable way

9/19/16 addendum from Ross: "The cover has been up only a day and stats indicate it is already the second-most-clicked [behind a Justice League of America/Spider-Man cover that was used in a YouTube video] in the blog's history."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Interview: Jennifer Runyon (Venkman's test subject in "Ghostbusters")


What were you doing professionally prior to Ghostbusters?

I was working as an actress. I had done a horror movie, To All a Goodnight [1980], and worked a few years on Another World, a soap in New York, playing Sally Frame. I had just finished Up the Creek [1984 film] and the Charles in Charge pilot prior to Ghostbusters.

How old were you when you were cast in the movie?

23.

How did you get the role?

I auditioned for it and was put on tape. I went back in and met with Ivan and the producers. I just played it straight. I guess they liked it.

Any funny anecdotes about your
Ghostbusters experience?

Steven Tash and I were in New York for weeks waiting to film. We were [under] the cover set in case it rained [NOTE: a cover set is just as it sounds, a cover over a set in case of bad weather]…it didn't rain. LOL. I remember production inviting us to come watch the street scenes where the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man comes. It was crazy—until I saw the scene on film, I had no idea what the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was going to look like…



While working on it, did it seem like just another script to you, or did it feel like something special?

I really thought the script was fun, but I had no idea how big this movie was going to be. I loved this part. I really wanted it...I wanted to work with Bill Murray.

What was your impression of Bill Murray?

I adore Bill Murray. He was so fun to work with. He took me to dinner once, as friends, after the movie came out. We ended up driving an Amtrak train at Union Station in L.A. Bill asked the conductor if we could drive it…only Bill Murray could make that happen.

How far did you drive the train?

A few feet. LOL.

Impression of Dan Aykroyd?

I remember Dan being very kind and very funny.

Do you remember what you earned?

I have no idea. That was a long time ago…

How often were you recognized on the street? Any funny stories about that?

I still get recognized from
Ghostbusters...it's pretty sweet.

Did you attend the premiere?

I didn't attend the premiere, but was at the wrap party, which was really fun.

Did your opinion of the movie change after it opened?

My opinion of the movie changed greatly after seeing it. I had no idea it would be as good as it was. It was so good I had to see it several times.

Have you been interviewed before about this specifically, and if so, do you have those clippings (particularly from back then)?

I have done several interviews about
Ghostbusters, but they have all been in the last five years. I have no clippings from back then.

Do you have any photos from the set, wrap party, etc.?

I have a Polaroid of Bill and myself on set. I need to look for that. [she did, couldn't find it]

What was your favorite acting gig?

I have a lot of favorites,
Ghostbusters being definitely at the top. I would love to find a little movie I did with Karen Black, Jack Kehoe, and Dennis Christopher called Flight of the Spruce Goose [1986]. That would be amazing. I also love a character I played in a little movie called A Man Called Sarge—FiFi LaRue was so much fun.

What are you doing these days?

I am busier today than I ever thought I'd be. I work with teenagers in a program called Tilly's Life Center (TLC). Our program gives teens the tools to get through those confusing years and helps to build positive, happy lives.



Any interest in acting again?

I did a little low-budget movie (Silent Night, Bloody Night 2: Revival) in Nebraska a couple of years ago. I had a great time. I'm doing one this December. I love acting, and if I can keep my toe in the water I would love it.

Where do you live?

Southern California, near Dana Point.

If you have children, how many and ages?

I am the proud mom of Wyatt, 23, and Bayley, 20. They are the best thing I've ever done.

Are you still in touch with anyone from the cast?

I'm in touch with Steven Tash. We lost contact for many years but we are reunited. I will be doing a convention with Steven in October in Bangor, Maine called Bangorefest.



I'm good friends with Robin Shelby (Slimer in Ghostbusters 2). A few months back I saw her for dinner with her husband Sean Spence. I was with Annie Potts for two days at a convention.


I did two documentaries about Ghostbusters. The first one is called Cleanin' Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters, by brother and sister producing team Claire and Anthony Bueno out of the U.K. I'm not sure when the release of that is. The other is Ghostheads—very fun documentary about diehard fans who are actual Ghostbusters. These franchises are all over the world and they do amazing work with charities visiting sick kids in hospitals. They are awesome.

When was the last time you watched the movie?

I don't remember the last time I saw it all the way through, but if I'm surfing channels and it's on, I have to stop and watch no matter where it is in the movie. When my kids were young [but] old enough to watch, I think the funniest experience was them watching for the first time when my scene came on and one of their little friends says "Hey, she looks like your mom!" My kids didn't have any idea I was in the movie. They kept looking back and forth from me to the screen. So cute.

Did you see the 2016
Ghostbusters?

I'm sure I will see the new movie at some point. I haven't yet [as of mid-August 2016].

Do you have any mementos from the shoot, such as the script or anything from the set?

I think I have a few; I believe I have my script and my earrings from the shoot.

How do you look back on your
Ghostbusters experience?

I look back with awe. I am so proud to be a small part of this classic. It's amazing the amount of love and respect that is shown in so many ways all over the world, as strong today as the day this movie premiered.

Anything you'd like to add?

I would like to thank all the fans. I'm always so humbled by your kindness and love. I have the best fans.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Interview: Mimi Broadhead (Ren's younger cousin in "Footloose")


NOTES: 

  • Mimi's last name is now Hanson.
  • Meghan Broadhead, who played Mimi's older sister in the movie, is her sister in real life; she did not respond to my interview request.
  • Photos courtesy of Mimi.

How old were you when you were cast in Footloose?

If I remember correctly, I was eight years old during the audition process and the filming; I was in the third grade. The most exciting part of the whole thing for me was I missed the last part of my second grade year for filming. I was unaware they had a teacher on the set, so that was quickly dashed.



How did you get the role?

Actually, I had been acting since the age of four. My parents were both performers. My father was a stage actor and my mother was an opera singer; they were both commercial actors. I had been in quite a few commercials and some print ads at that point. Utah was really starting to pick up as a filming location, so there was quite a bit of film work that came through.

When we went on the first audition, my mother told me not to get too excited because it was a "cattle call." Initially I learned the lines for the younger sister, the part I finally played in the movie. When we got to the audition, I was told I had to read for the older sister. My mom scrambled to teach me those lines. It meant my older sister [in real life] and I would be reading for the same part. When it was my turn to go back, I had no qualms about expressing to the casting director [that] I was really upset because I liked the other part better and I was told I couldn't try out for it. The casting director shrugged and said "Well, I don't see why not." I read for the younger sister. The next callback, my older sister and I read together as sisters, and I think there was one more callback where we read for Herbert Ross (director) and Lew Rachmil (producer), though that might have been the same audition.

In the end, my older sister and I were cast together to play sisters in the movie.



What other members of your family were in the movie?

Aside from my older sister, my father was cast in the role of Mayor Dooley, my mother and my little brothers were extras in some of the large town scenes, and my 14-year-old brother was not in the film but got a job working for the company that catered the set.

Any funny anecdotes about your
Footloose experience?

My funniest memory was the day we filmed the scene where the brick went through our bedroom window. Herbert Ross was a great director, but he had a bit of trouble evoking a performance out of me that day. I was so distracted by the movie glass on the floor once somebody told me it was made of sugar. I was also distracted with the fact that we were filming a nighttime scene in the middle of the day. I kept bringing what I perceived to be a huge mistake to the attention of someone on set (I don't remember who) and they kept assuring me it would look like night when the movie was done.

I want to preface this by saying I didn't have a single bad experience working on this film and Herbert Ross was one of the kindest men that I ever met. That being said, to try and direct a performance of a child who is scared, I remember him stomping around, raising his voice, slamming things to make loud noises, slamming around stuffed animals…but the problem was I was not the least bit scared of this man. I quite liked him and I found his tirade as an attempt to be humorous. My sister was doing a great job, pulling out all of the stops. I just couldn't get into it. Finally, they broke out the glycerin tears and did the best they could. I think I still didn't realize what was going on. It was one of those situations that clicked much later in life.

For the two dinner scenes that were shot, they asked my sister and me what we liked and didn't like to eat and constructed the final set food accordingly. When the day came to shoot the first dinner scene, a plate of food was put in front of me and I was getting ready to devour it; after all, they made everything that I liked. Whatever set member put this plate in front of me grabbed my hand and said "Oh no, you can't eat it." I was really confused. I was instructed to take bites only while the camera was rolling [and] only during certain shots. I was, of course, not allowed to eat the food when I had lines to deliver. The idea was that I wasn't supposed to fill up too fast because the filming was slated to take a while. I didn't understand all of the rules; what I did understand is that there was food in front of me that smelled really good, so the game became to shovel as many bites as I could into my mouth while the crew member who told me I couldn't eat wasn't looking. The inhaling of massive amounts of air with my purloined bites of food gave me a massive case of very loud hiccups. Suddenly the focus of everyone became curing my hiccups. All the stops were pulled out. It wasn't until I was grown and I realized how much a movie costs to film why curing my hiccups in this scene that had the bulk of my lines in the movie was so important.

I found strange [some] little details that Herbert Ross put into the movie. The actress who played my mother was made to wear a pregnancy pillow, though no pregnancy was ever referred to in the film. My sister was fitted for a retainer, though her teeth were perfectly straight…he just thought it looked better. We were also given roller skates and told to learn how to skate well, yet nowhere in the film were we ever on roller skates—I'm not sure if that was something that was cut.

What do you remember about your impression of Kevin Bacon?

I remember Kevin Bacon as being very nice. We did do quite a few scenes with him. I formed a pretty big crush on him. In fact, shortly after filming, I got a puppy; I named him Bacon. I remember him doing yoga between takes. One day he showed my sister and me a few yoga moves. He had a stunt double, but he actually did some of the gymnastics in the film (so I heard). When we had to film the little dance sequence where he is teaching Chris Penn how to dance, I didn't want to touch his hands as they were covered in blisters from the gymnastics.



John Lithgow?

He was very nice, but in my memories I have a fear association. John Lithgow is pretty tall. I remember him as towering over everyone. I really didn't interact with him much.  I'm trying to remember if I knew he was in The Twilight Zone [1982 movie]. I was very scared of
The Twilight Zone as a child, mostly because of the theme song. I remember certain images from the television commercial, one of which was John Lithgow in the plane. I would scramble and hide when that commercial came on. I was surprised and kind of delighted when he came out with a children's album. It softened my memory of him.

Lori Singer?

Really very few memories. There were some scenes we were in together that were lost in rewrites before they were filmed. I met her during the rehearsal period, but that's about all I remember.

Dianne Wiest?

I had minimal interaction with her. I don't really remember her at all.

Sarah Jessica Parker and Chris Penn?

I had to put these two together when I answered; in addition, I have to add Francis Lee McCain and John Laughlin. These are the cast members I remember most. All four treated my sister and me wonderfully and I can't see talking about Footloose without mentioning that.

The motel that the production put us at had a swimming pool. The only stipulation was that my sister and I could not go swimming until after dark as they did not want us to get any sun. Chris Penn, John Laughlin, and Sarah Jessica Parker were always in the pool when we went down. They took time and they played with us. Over the course of filming, SJP taught me how to swim. I remember Chris Penn as being quite a clown. He was always making us laugh. It speaks a lot about him that he would take the time to interact with us. I cried off and on for a week when I heard he died. Seriously. I know that sounds dramatic, but he made that big of an impression on my life.

Sarah Jessica Parker was, and I bet she still is, amazing! I'm sure that you know that Tracy Nelson was originally slated to play Rusty. My favorite show at that time was Square Pegs. I was so excited to meet Tracy Nelson. I don't remember how the timeline worked, but I clearly remember being at a rehearsal and Tracy Nelson was there. I was so excited to meet her, but it was quick and it was disappointing.

After I was told that she was replaced by SJP, I was even more excited! I liked her better on the show. Again, I had to psych myself up to introduce myself. The difference was she was so sweet and so warm. She hung out with us, ate lunch with us many times, and genuinely listened to us. My sister and I found out she was in Annie. We loved that movie! She answered every single one of our questions about it. In retrospect, I think a lot of that care came from the fact that she was a child actress and she truly understood what it was like. I remember her so well; I am so sorry we didn't stay in touch with her.



Francis Lee McCain was also often with my sister, my mother, and myself in between takes. Most of the pictures I am providing you with were taken by her. She was very nice and took a lot of care in how she treated us. When, as a child, you feel like an adult has your full attention—I think [those] kinds of interactions go a long way. 


Did you attend the premiere, and if so, what was that like?

My sister and didn't attend the Hollywood premiere, but I remember there was a premiere party in Salt Lake City with a lot of the local actors in the film. We got ride in a limo, so it was really fun for us.

How often were you recognized on the street? Any funny stories about that?

Elementary school actually turned into quite a nightmare. When the move was a hit, kids were coming out of the woodworks to meet us; when the movie started to slip, the same kids would come up to me and say "
Footloose sucks, you suck…" And so on. At the end of that school year, we moved to a new home. My sister and I decided we were not going to tell anyone about Footloose, but we were very quickly recognized.

When the movie was at the height of its popularity, a rumor started that Kevin Bacon was staying at our house. A car full of teenage girls pulled over by me on the way home from school one day and asked if I was the girl from the movie. After I confirmed, the same group followed me home for about a week. They stayed parked in front of our house, hoping to see Kevin Bacon. It was kind of scary for me. My father finally had to take care of it. He stormed out to their car and I was ordered into the house. I don't know what he said to them, but I never saw them again.

Do you remember what you earned for the movie, and do you still earn residuals?

Not at the time. I remember seeing the approximate amount on my social security report a few years ago. It was in the thousands.  I still get four checks a year. It pans out to be about $200-400 annually, small enough that I forget about them. Recently I found about eight uncashed
Footloose checks while moving. I took them into the bank and they could cash only a few of them because [more than] 180 days had passed. The teller, who was maybe in his early twenties, called over his supervisor, who was maybe in her late twenties, to see if there was anything she could do about depositing the older checks. The supervisor started grilling me about why I had so many checks from Paramount Pictures. After trying to steer away from the subject, I finally told her it was because I was in a movie when I was a child. The supervisor, the original teller, and another young teller started pressing me for what movie it was. Finally, I said Footloose. *silence* The supervisor says "But wasn't that movie [only] a few years ago?" I told her I was in the original movie from the eighties. *silence* The teller asks "There was an original?!" That was the first day I felt really old.

What are you doing these days?

I'm finishing up my degree in economics with an emphasis on professional and strategic communications. I am also researching and slowly working on a book on wage inequality and the poverty trap in America. I don't work at the moment. I spend most of my free time with my six-year-old; some days that can definitely be counted as work.

It took me a long time to get where I am at. I continued to act until I was about fifteen, when I formed horrible social anxiety. I was so focused on eventually having a career in the entertainment industry that I tried many different things, looking for something that clicked. I worked on writing screenplays for a while. I submitted a different screenplay to Sundance Feature Film Lab every year for about six years. Twice, I made it to the final round, but I never got a lab spot. I bought camera gear and worked on filming a documentary, but that was too slow of a process. I tried my hand at short films. I actually shot a short film with some friends of mine in Austin, but I never finished it. I came to the hard realization that being in entertainment was not for me.

I took a job at a coffee shop to be free enough to work on some of these other things I was doing. Before I knew it, I had been working there for twelve years. At the same time, I had been slowly chipping away at my B.S. I took so long, mainly, because I had no idea what to do. When I finally really got back into school, I made a discovery: I love math. Not only do I love math, but I am really good at it. This was major for me because all of my life I considered myself more on the English side of the fence, so I never tried to like math. I always assumed I was not good at it.

I made the decision that I was going to major in math and take the actuarial exams. I decided to minor in business because I wanted to take some finance classes and the only way I could do it was to be accepted to the business school. Through taking microeconomics as a business prerequisite, I discovered that even more than I love math, I love economics. That is the first time, as strange as it sounds, that I have truly felt fulfilled.



Any interest in acting again?

I really have no interest in acting again. As I mentioned earlier, I have battled horrible social anxiety for many years. Around 2008, my little brother was on a reality television show. Though the show was [only] marginally successful, the network really latched on to my brother to do a lot of the promotional work. A segment was booked on The Today Show where he would show how he has integrated his new healthy lifestyle into his family. It was around my birthday and my brother worked it out so the network would fly me out to New York with him; the rub was I had to appear with him on Today and in an Associated Press interview. "You have to be on national television" is about the worst sentence you can speak to someone with social anxiety issues. I was mortified, but I knew it was so important to my brother and he worked so hard to make this happen so we could go to New York for my birthday. I had to keep reminding myself that I was in a blockbuster film. I have been seen by most of America, whether I like it or not.
Footloose is what pulled me through.

Mimi is on the right.

In school, more recently, I have had the chance to work with two spectacular and inspiring professors who have really cultivated my love of public speaking, and I am forever grateful. It has exposed another side of myself that I really love. I love crafting talks and connecting with an audience, but 100% as myself. Acting…? No…! I am less about Hollywood and more about Ted Talks.

Where do you live?

Salt Lake City.

If you have children, how many and ages?

I have two children, both boys. My older, Christian, is 21. My younger, Leo, is six.  Yes…quite a spread. It's like having two only children.

If they have seen you in
Footloose, what do they think about it?

They have both seen it. My oldest really didn't think much of it. My six-year-old was not interested in the movie, but was interested that I was in it. He has the acting bug and had been telling me long before he knew I was a child actor that he wanted to be in movies. I really don't want him involved in professional acting so young. My experiences were not bad, per se, but the aftermath was really pretty bad (in school and such). I would rather he be a kid. I let him do a YouTube channel with his father. They do toy reviews and they have a lot of fun with it, but that is about as far as I want it to go.

Have you ever participated in a
Footloose-related event (reunion, convention, documentary, etc.)? If not, would you be open to meeting fans and signing autographs?

I haven't, no. I suppose I would be open to it.

When was the last time you saw a member of the cast, and was it on purpose or by chance?

None of the heavy hitters. The man who played the cop that pulled Kevin Bacon over was once a substitute teacher at my junior high school.

When was the last time you watched
Footloose? How did you think it held up?

I have watched my parts with my son, but I don't think I have watched the full movie for about ten years. I mean, no getting around it, it is quintessential cheeseball eighties. I think it has held up in the sense that it is still talked about, still quoted, still spoofed in pop culture. For being an iconic movie of the eighties, it stands with a select few. Many people think
Footloose when they think of eighties entertainment.

Do you have any mementos from the experience such as set photos, a script, or anything from the set?

I do have a few things. I have a script, pictures. It was really fun to pull them out. I actually used my
Footloose script to teach myself to write in screenplay format. At the time I was not aware of the differences between a script and a shooting script.

Do you have clippings from 1980s magazine/newspaper interviews/profiles?

I don't.

What did you think when you first heard from me?

It was really out of the blue. My brother called me. I think you had sent him an email in February. He had forwarded it to an email I hadn't used since 2003. I'm happy to answer questions about the experience [but] was surprised that anyone had any interest in it.

How do you look back on your
Footloose experience?

Very fondly. It was a great experience. It is magical to know that you were a part of something that blew up the way that that movie did.

If the experience changed your life in any way, how?

It could have changed my life. When the movie was a hit, my parents were contacted by one of the bigger talent agencies in Hollywood. My mother had planned to drive my sister and me down to L.A. to meet with them. At the last minute, my parents decided that they didn't want Hollywood kids, they just wanted kids. We continued to act locally, but never anything big. I am actually so thankful for that decision. I hear a lot of scary stories about child actors from that particular generation and it makes me so glad I was never subjected to that. My father passed away suddenly in 1989. I feel I got a lot of time with him that I couldn't have gotten if we had traveled down that road. So I guess my answer is no, but it was for the best.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"Boy on the Curb," a 1990 short story that inspired a 14-minute song

During my first month of college (26 years ago today, in fact), I wrote a short story inspired by the feel of walking the New England campus at night. It's about two boys, Oliver and the mysterious James.

I forced my new friends to read it. One of them was named Adam Gelles.

At 6 p.m. on 9/16/90, the day after he read the story, he entered my dorm room, handed me a cassette, and said "I wrote a song about it."

He'd gone into the music building, sat at a piano, and recorded the song in one take—spinning out the words as he went along. I was the one who wrote them down...and named the song, too, since he didn't. Pulling from his lyrics, I called it "James's Song: Sacred Light."

I was floored that his (largely rhyming) lyrics had unspooled spontaneously and, of course, humbled that anyone would write a song based on anything I wrote. And I did not like the song only because of its genesis. I thought it was genuinely beautiful.

The story and (with Adam's permission) song are below. This is as I wrote it at age 18, aside from minor edits. For example, I did delete "James said" after James says "I'm James" but resisted the urge to weed out the distracting parade of synonyms for "said" (replied, revealed, confessed).

Back then, the story inspired the song, but now, for me, the song must come first.


"Boy on the Curb"

9/13/90

How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?
BOB DYLAN

Some things have to be believed to be seen.
RALPH HODGSON

Sometime during my youth I came across a saying that I have since tried to uphold religiously. I remember it as reading, "To think about doing something for too long becomes its undoing." When I repeat it to myself I think of all the times I wanted to call up a given girl but managed to convince myself not to because she probably wasn't home. I also recall planning on auditioning for a play or two but deciding against it because I didn't feel that it would fit into my schedule. Of course, I desperately desired to go through with these and many other similar tasks, but came to the conclusion that saving myself the possible humiliation of rejection far outweighed the chance that my risk-taking could have positive results.

Of all the stories I have from my college days, there is one that definitely stands out above the rest. Putting it into words is already proving to be difficult, but not impossible. If there's one thing I learned from the story I am about to tell, it is that nothing is impossible. I have kept it to myself for many years, and it wasn't until now that I decided to undo what I undid some twenty years ago. In other words, after this incident happened, I deliberated long and hard for many weeks whether or not I should tell anyone about it. As the saying goes, I ended up sharing my story with no one but myself and an occasional listening wall. But in this day and age, people are conditioned to believe just about anything, so the time for this story to surface has arrived.

ONE

The most appealing New England weather to me has always been the blustery day—not cold, but pleasantly cool. In the early nineteen-sixties, my nicest article of clothing was my fall jacket, perfect for days like those. New on the college scene, I tried to be as fashionable as I could. Looking back, it seems funny that I went out of my way to dress nicely in the clothes that are laughed at by my children's generation.

Maybe it was because I was so conscious about people's appearances that I noticed him. I remember it so clearly: it was one of those blustery days, and I was walking to class. Naturally, I was wearing my jacket. I also wore a black cap and a comfortable pair of jeans. My book bag was over my shoulder. I hurried along a brick path between two rows of trees and bushes that dotted the lawns of two buildings. There was a walkway that led to the building on my left, and at the end of the walkway was a curb. On the curb sat a boy.

He was rather unusually dressed. It was unlike any style I had seen recently, so I figured it wasn't current. His hair looked strange, too. Maybe he was from Europe or something, or maybe I just didn't know what was hip. But nonetheless, I passed right by him and pretty much put him out of my mind. That was until I saw him the following day sitting in the exact same place. He hadn't changed clothes, and he still sat by himself. He didn't even say hello to anyone who walked by, although I saw him make eye contact with several students. Unlike the previous day, he was reading a book. For some reason, a word came out of my mouth.

"Hey," I said, in my rather profound way of introducing myself. The boy looked up and I saw his face clearly. He was probably my age. But he had a very unsettling look on his face, as if he wasn't used to people talking to him.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt your reading..."

"You didn't interrupt anything," he replied, putting his book down beside him on the curb. "In fact, I'm glad you did—this book was getting boring anyway."

"What book is it?"

"What's your name?"

"I'm Oliver. Oliver Eisenhower. No relation to Dwight D.," I joked. He didn't laugh, much less smile.

"Nice to meet you, Oliver. I'm James." He never took his eyes off me as he added, "I'm the one who should apologize. You see, I'm not really..." It looked as if he didn't intend to finish his statement.

"...used to this," he concluded, disproving my thought.

"Yeah, college is new to me, too."

James didn't give me the impression of being a wild conversationalist, and I was late enough to class as it was, so I conveniently looked at my watch and rather insincerely said, "I really gotta go...it was nice meeting you!" I smiled; he smiled back.

As I started to head off, I heard him respond, "I have to go, too." I turned to tell him not to forget his book, but both the book and its owner were nowhere in sight.

TWO

James was back on Monday. He was reading again, and I really hoped he went to a laundromat because he was wearing the same clothes as before. I was almost going to ignore him, but he looked up from his book just as I neared.

"Hi, Oliver. How are you?"

"Not bad," I said, stopping. "And yourself? I see you're still into that book."

When I first asked what book he was reading the week before, I really didn't care; I was just making conversation. I decided to bring it up again because James seemed to have a short attention span.

He said, "Yeah, but it hasn't gotten any better."

"Well, listen, I'll see you later," I muttered, trying to appear in some kind of a hurry. He spooked me; every time he talked to me, he looked me right in the eye. I wasn't sure if he did it because that's the way people were in college or just because he was a weirdo. Either way, I wasn't used to that. I slowly started walking on by, wondering why I ever said anything to him to begin with.

"Do you have a class now?" he said. His question acted as a magnet, forcing me to walk back to him.

"Yeah, I do. I have chemistry. And I guarantee that's ten times more boring than anything in your book."

"I have no choice but to read my book, and you probably have no choice but to take that course." I found that to be an odd statement, but as I was about to nod politely and walk away, he asked, "What did you do this weekend?"

I assessed that to be a harmless inquiry, so I proceeded to answer him.

"I went to the football game Friday night, did nothing Saturday night, and studied somewhere in between. As you can tell I definitely live the fast-paced life it appears I do..."

Without even a chuckle, James said, "So you're a big football fan."

"On campus it's kind of hard not to be. It's such an integral part of the social life, not to mention the excitement, around here."

"I know what you mean."

"I hate to be rude, James, but I have to get to class. But listen, do you live around here? Maybe I'll see you around. Hey, maybe you can tag along when we go to the next game."

"I'd really love to. We'll have to see—"

At that point a rather large, and apparently clumsy, boy bumped into me.

"What the hell is your problem?" he snapped. He walked away bitter, and I heard him mumble, "Stupid idiot, standing in the middle of the way, babbling..."

"Friend of yours?" James said. Even though it was cliché, I appreciated his comment because it showed that maybe he did have a sense of humor.

"Not yet," I mused. "James, again, it's been a pleasure, but I must go. I'm sure our paths will cross yet again." He nodded, and I said, "Bye."

I walked about sixty more feet down the way when I had a mysterious feeling that I should look back. But I didn't.

THREE

It must have been two weeks since I first encountered James, and every day that I walked that way to class, I would see him. And I would stop and talk to him. Our discussions were never very interesting, and due to the circumstances under which we had them, never lasted very long. I always had somewhere to go; he always seemed to be waiting for someone or something. I felt that he might be offended if I were to ask just what that may have been, so I didn't.

He often seemed distracted, having the tendency to ignore or simply disregard many of my questions and comments. No one else ever stopped to talk to him, nor did he ever stop anyone. In fact, many people looked at me as if I were crazy when I was talking to him. I guessed he didn't have many friends yet. The funny thing was that he didn't seem to care.

"What, do you have a class in this building?" I asked. "You sit out here every day."

"Actually, I used to have a class here. I don't anymore," he revealed.

It was his usual generic answer, but I didn't press it because I was lucky even to get an answer at all.

I prepared myself to ask him something he probably didn't want me to know. After moments of hesitation, I asked, "Where did you say you lived?"

"I live on campus," James confessed.

"James, I know that. I meant where, specifically."

Another passer-by asked me who I was talking to. Ever since I began talking to James, a lot of people would ask me that. Jesus, I thought, doesn't anybody know this guy?

James's face displayed a feeling of insecurity. It apparently took a lot for him to finally say, "In Penville Hall."

I had never heard of Penville. Either it was off campus, or I really didn't know anything about my new home.

"Is that far from Logue? That's my dorm."

I really couldn't explain to myself why I was making such an effort with this guy. He never made an attempt to be friendly. Everything he said was either one of his trademark pointless statements or a random question.

To further dig his own grave with me, he asked, "How's your chemistry class?"

"Uh, James, I'm on my way to lunch. My friends have probably already finished—I should get going."

I walked away, this time without even saying good bye.

FOUR

I soon began to realize that James seldom manifested himself elsewhere on campus. Come to think of it, the only time I had ever seen him was on that path. James never told me his last name, so I couldn't find him in the student directory, and I wasn't about to check every James on the list. Whenever I asked people where Penville was, I would get answers like, "What, are you kidding?," "Where do you think?" or "I don't know." It was like everyone was hiding something from me, as if I were the butt of some campus-wide practical joke. But it didn't make me laugh. Actually, it scared me.

I decided to go to one of my closest friends there.

Her name was Eleanor Willoughs, and if I ever had a problem, she was there for me. We had known each other, if only casually, before college, but when we arrived we hit it off instantly. It was good to have someone you feel close to in a place far from home, especially during the first few weeks and months. I wondered if James had someone like that.

Sitting in her pleasantly decorated dorm room somehow eased the tension that had developed within me because of this rather minor scenario, which, for some reason, bothered the hell out of me. I told her all about our talks, and how he was always there but never seemed to give the time of day to anyone but me. She asked me a slew of philosophical questions such as "Were you the first to strike up a conversation?" and "Does he sound like he could be dangerous?" All I could say was, "He's just weird."

"Weird how? In what way?" Eleanor asked.

"Well don't you think it's odd that I never see him around campus—not at meals, not walking around? And no one seems to know where he lives, including himself. This Penville he named isn't on the current map, and you want to hear this? I went to the archives in the library...I looked on old maps. Penville hasn't been on a map here for thirty years."

"This is all very interesting, Oliver. But what do you want me to say? That he's a ghost or something? I'd have to meet him to see what you're talking about, to see how he is."

"No...I don't expect you to meet him. It's just that, every time I walk away from him I get the most uncomfortable feeling. I don't know if I feel sorry for him, or if I'm scared of him...I'm probably just making a big deal out of absolutely nothing."

Eleanor smiled and ruffled my hair. "You definitely are. If it bothers you, just go another way to class. It's a big campus—you might never see him again." After getting no response from me, she added, "Don't let one person get to you, especially one you don't even know."

She was right, and very understanding, and I knew I should take her advice.

FIVE

That night, I couldn't sleep. It must have been close to three in the morning when I got up and went outside. I felt the chill immediately, seeing as I was wearing only a T-shirt and a pair of sweat pants. The steady breeze swayed the trees, and the sound was like a thousand whispers lifting from a forest floor. I walked, basically oblivious of my direction, for several minutes. When I stopped walking I found myself on a small flat area of campus that was surrounded by several dormitories. The trees that grew in random spots throughout the confined plot further added to the slight feeling of enclosure. I felt the pine needles, both underfoot and as they gently fell from the branches. The brisk air kept my senses sharp. The area was relatively well-lit, and I could see my breath. I noticed a few dorm lights were still on, a few more pages still being studied.

As I stood there, I imagined what the view of the scene would look like from above. I thought a lot about solitude. I thought about how strange it was to be outside in the middle of the night by yourself. I wondered what someone would think if he or she were to look out his or her window right then and see me standing there. I wondered what I would think if I were the one who looked out my window and saw someone.

I closed my eyes for a second to test my exhaustion level. If they were heavy, I would have known that I was tired and that I could fall asleep if I went back to my dorm. There was no resistance at all when I reopened them. I wasn't tired. I don't know why. I also don't know why I picked up a rock and threw it right through a nearby window. Why I ran back to my dorm as fast as I could, however, should be self-evident.

They never caught me. And I never turned myself in.

SIX

The paths less travelled were travelled by me in the weeks that followed. I went the long way to my classes to avoid James. Fall was in full glory by then, it being sometime around the second week in October. Many afternoons compelled me to take solitary walks, often off the beaten path. One day I decided to go into the woods behind my dorm.

I felt as if I was becoming more and more of a loner. I hadn't spoken to Eleanor about James since our first talk, and I really hadn't been able to concentrate on much of anything. Up until that point, I accused the enigma of James of being the cause for my desolation. But my radical change in character started to feel like a condition a lot more serious than anything one person could incite.

The late afternoon sunlight created a much more soothing image of trees than the ones I had recently encountered. Leaves, not pine needles, were dropping gracefully from all around. Serenity took on a whole new meaning to me.

"Hello, Oliver. I didn't think I'd see anybody else out here."

I didn't even have to turn to know it was James.

"Hi, James," I said, turning. "What are you doing in the woods?"

It was the most gorgeous time of day to be outside.

The air was not too cold, not too warm. The sunlight was in its most stunning form. Shadows were long.

James smiled and began to walk further into the woods. Actually, it wasn't a very deep woods; a clearing lay within sight from where I stood. I could see boys playing ball.

"We still on for that football game?" he asked.

"You name the day," I graciously responded. My glance once again shifted to the game on that nearby field. I longed to be there, not here in the woods alone with this rather maddening individual.

James suddenly started to head for the clearing. Maybe he did have friends. I got excited because, for a moment, I thought I would get to see him interact with someone other than myself.

I tried to speak, but found my throat to be inexplicably dry. I managed to squeeze out the words: "Are you going to play?"

"No," James stated, "I'm going to my room."

"What room?" I demanded.

"My dorm room. In Penville."

"James, there's no dorm here. And there's no dorm Penville on this campus. Hasn't been for thirty years." I stopped myself, then as calmly as possible, asked, "Where are you going?"

He lifted his arm mechanically and pointed. We looked each other straight in the eye, then my head slowly turned to follow his outstretched arm. He was pointing towards the clearing.

I suddenly recalled from seeing old maps of campus that the clearing was the former sight of Penville Hall.

SEVEN

Before I had a chance to say anything, something happened that distracted both of us. We were pretty close to the edge where the woods met the field, and the shouts of the boys playing were very distinct. In particular I am referring to a rather exuberant outburst of "Incoming!" by someone who had apparently thrown the ball a little too hard. It was heading in our general direction.

James raised his arms to a cradling position. I looked up and saw the pigskin spiraling down. James was right underneath it; there was no way he could fumble this. But the ball went right through his arms...and his entire body. It landed on a soft, damp bed of leaves. Looking at the ground behind where James stood it became clear that he cast no shadow.

EIGHT

James looked me right in the eye. I looked at him for a moment, then quickly focused my attention on several boys who were running towards us to retrieve their ball. James looked at them, too, then back at me. He had an apologetic look on his face, as if he was about to say, "I'm sorry." I didn't understand that, but with James, that was nothing new.

Two boys entered the woods. I recognized one; it was Eli, from my chemistry class. The other I did not know.

"Hey, Ollie, how ya doing?“ Eli yelled. "You see our ball come in here?"

I didn't really listen to his question; in fact, I'm amazed that I can remember it at all.

I pointed at James and said very weakly, "Do you see him?"

Eli and his friend both looked. James looked back with an expressionless face. The two football players exchanged puzzled shrugs, then turned to me.

"Who?" they said together.

I cast a helpless glance towards James and replied, "Sorry. I thought I saw someone running through the woods."

They looked at each other again, then at me. Eli's friend saw the ball on the ground, and went to get it. He had to walk right through James. James remained unaffected.

Eli offered, "Hey, you wanna play? We still need guys..."

"No, I...I should be getting back...," I stammered.

"Thanks anyway."

"Yeah, sure," he responded. The duo walked back onto the field. As they started running back to the game, Eli called out, "See ya later!"

I turned back to James. He had wandered off in another direction. I called out to him.

"Hey, James! James! You gonna answer my questions now?"

He stopped and turned around.

I guessed that meant yes.

"Wh-what happened...to you?"

"I was playing football. On the path you take to your chemistry class. We were just throwing the ball around on a Saturday. I was backing up to catch it, and I got to the curb before I got to the ball. I tripped and hit my head, and..."

"When did this happen?"

"Oh...," he pondered. "Nineteen twenty-eight."

"My God..."

"I guess I died instantly."

"And Penville?"

"It burned down, about five years later. It was a great place to live, though—new, clean. It was named after a kid who went here, although it didn't last long enough for anyone to remember."

"James, I don't understand. I don't understand all this. I mean, why can I see you? Why am I the only one who can? Why are you here? Why didn't you just tell me all this when you first realized I could see you? I remember the surprised look on your face. I'll never forget it..."

I don't know what responses I expected to hear for these celestial questions, but I guess I couldn't have asked for any answer but the one I got.

"I don't know, Oliver."

My mind started wandering, and I casually said, "By the way, Eisenhower was a president."

"Oh," he said.

To try to swallow this whole thing was an overwhelming task. It was ironic because even though Eleanor didn't know how right she was about James, I knew I couldn't tell her about it. For the time being, it would remain sacred, just between James and me. And now, I would be able to sleep.

"So what's next?" I asked. "What do you do, stay on campus? Maybe you'll be happy there. Maybe you can still watch one of the games..."

"I can't. I think I have to go somewhere else now. I didn't catch the football just now, and I didn't catch it back then. I guess I'll never catch a football again. It's time I learned that."

"I don't get it..."

"I know it's hard, Oliver. You see something for a period of time and you are unsure, maybe even afraid of it. So you look away, tell yourself nothing's wrong. Then, once you discover what it is, you want more of it. Now you no longer want to ignore me, but now it is time for me to go."

"James..."

"It's the way of the world. Let me just tell you I wish more than anything that I could go to that game with you. I wish you all the luck in the world. What I wouldn't give to be you..."

Although a tear fell from my cheek like the leaves that had been falling all around us, I was able to say, "Thank you…"

James began walking away. I was going to call out to him again, but I hesitated. I let him walk. But when he reached the edge of the woods, he stopped. I felt like I had to say something, so I shouted, "What's your real name?"

He answered quite honestly, with a tone implying that I had no reason to doubt him in the first place.

"It's James. James Penville."

He walked away, and I did, too. I looked back this time, and he was gone.

*    *    *

So that is the story. I went on to graduate from college, and I attended graduate school. I ran a successful business, got married and had a son. I am a perfectly sane, happy individual. I have no proof that this story happened; the best I can say is that I hope you believe it. There WAS a James Penville; that can be proved through many records. That day in the woods was the last I saw of him, but I have an old photo of him. He's wearing a football uniform. I took it from the school library. I taught my son how to catch a ball in that clearing. This year, at my twentieth reunion, I finally confessed to the dean that I threw that rock. He retires this year, and I can't blame him for not even remembering the incident. And sometimes, when I happen to be on campus, I'll go and sit on that curb. And I no longer see James, but I know that he is there.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Bethesda" Magazine covers my Bill Finger journey

The kind, meticulous, accomplished Dina ElBoghdady covered my Bill Finger quest for Bethesda Magazine (September/October 2016), which involved a fun and marginally precarious rooftop twilight photo shoot.




Thursday, September 1, 2016

The welcomes I get because people love superheroes

I've had the privilege of being invited to speak at schools, libraries, festivals, and other venues around the world. On top of that, I've had the thrill of being welcomed by an inventive array of displays (from both staff and students), costumes, cakes, and more. A gallery of some of my favorites from the past few years:

 Batman made from Post-it notes!





















 My bodyguard for the day.


 Note the Bat-Signal behind us.



 Posing with the students wearing Batman-related shirts.

 Kids in capes.




 Credit line in a graphic novel adjusted by a student.

 Design for a Bill Finger memorial drawn by a student.

 Which name on the list doesn't belong?

 Drawn by a conference attendee during the conference.


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