How to Insult a Ferengi on $40 a DayThe Chiller Theater Toy, Model and Film Expo, May 2008
Parsippany, New Jersey
I didn't mean to insult him, but as one of my best friends constantly reminds me, I babble when I am nervous.
Anyway, we'll get to that. Recently I attended the Chiller Theater Toy, Model and Film Expo in Parsippany, New Jersey. Immediately upon arriving, I walked past the SciFi Ninja Theater Guy. Most of you probably don't know who he is, but if you are in New York City and you enjoy flipping through the cable access channels, the SciFi Ninja Theater Guy is the guy who hosts the SciFi Ninja Theater show (Duh!). His real name is Vinnie Vlado, and when he's not wearing a full ninja outfit and showing context-starved clips from Asian movies, his show often consists of home video footage he shoots at sci-fi and horror conventions. (It should be noted that he doesn't wear his ninja costume at these things). SFNT Guy loves filming the scantily clad women that often show up at these things (although I didn't see any, damn it) but because of the background ambiance, he sometimes has trouble actually capturing anything they may be saying. So he'll be filming some big-breasted goth type, and although she might be saying "Hello, SciFi Ninja Theater! Welcome to The Chiller Theater Expo", what you actually hear is tons of background noise, several inaudible conversations and, if you listen carefully, something vaguely resembling the sound of somebody saying something about something. Then it's off to the next big-breasted goth type. It's a fun show, though I admit I haven't caught it in several years. It may not be as goofy as my other favorite cable-access show of the time, The Gillis and Barry Show, but it has more heart, and more big-breasted women.
All right, I accidentally insulted actor Armin Shimerman. If you don't know who he is, then you probably don't watch any science fiction or fantasy on television. His most famous roles are that of Quark the Ferengi on several of the Star Trek series, and (closer to my heart) Principal Snyder, arch nemesis of that famous young vampire slayer, Buffy Summers. Shimerman has also been in such shows as Charmed, Boston Legal, Beauty and the Beast, Stargate SG-1 and has even appeared in an episode of Seinfeld. He is a naturally funny actor and a sci-fi demigod. I've liked him in everything I have ever seen him in. And I insulted him.
But we'll get to that. First, let me tell you - some of the stars of old do not look like they did back then. As one of my friends said of one former starlet whose name I will not mention: "She was hot in 1966. It's 2008. Do the math." The celebrities sit at tables, sometimes side by side with other celebrities, and on the wall behind them are old publicity shots of them when they were young and beautiful. So I am looking at the wall and I see "Janet Weaselberry - from Star Trek, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke and The Brady Bunch." (Fictional name to protect an actress who is just trying to make a living). The pictures show a thin, sexy woman in various outfits - cowgirl, alien, Nazi, what have you. And then I look down at the table and think "Well, there's her grandmother, but where is she?". It takes a minute to realize that the person I am looking at is the same person in the photos behind her, only it is 40 years later. Mortality issues suddenly cloud my mind. She's old. I'm getting older. Everybody I know is going to die one day. Then I see her burp while she is talking to a fan and my world is completely shattered, and I feel sad, ashamed and frightened of the future. Yep, these Sci-Fi conventions can be a whole bunch of fun!
Well, yeah, mortality issues aside, they are fun. You know that old question "If you could have dinner with any three people in history, who would it be?". ("Jesus Christ, Stan Laurel and Jennifer Garner!"). These conventions are the answer to a similar question: "Name a few dozen random living celebrities that would never be reported about on Entertainment Tonight". So you've got to think randomly and immediately write off Scarlett Johansson, Tom Cruise and so on. So, okay, here goes. One of the Monkees. ("Which one?"). I don't care. ("Pick one!"). Mickey Dolenz. ("Good answer!"). Ernest Borgnine ("Ooh, nice choice!"). The old TV horror movie host Zacherley. ("Who?"). Um... that fat kid from the Underwood Devil's Ham commercials way back when... what was his name...? ("Hurry, the clock is ticking!")... Mason Reese! .... ("Ewwwww!")... the guy who played Jaws in the Bond films... the holographic doctor from Star Trek Voyager.... ("You're running out of time!")... um... 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Strug!... ("Five seconds!")... Elvira, Mistress of the Dark! Some wrestlers! Buffy's principal! ("Three seconds!").... T'Pring from that Star Trek episode! ("One second!") Barry Bostwick! ("Times up!") Two of the Baldwin Brothers! ("I said 'Times up!'").
Every celebrity I mentioned above was at the Expo. Some were fun to see, some were just sad. Another friend who goes to these conventions frequently told me the story of a famous kiddie show host from the 1960s who was in such bad shape at a recent show, he had an assistant telling him what letters to write to spell the name of the person to whom he was autographing the picture. I didn't see anything that bad at this expo, but I have to say, in a country as rich and plentiful as this, there has got to be a better way for the 90-year-old Zacherley to make a living. Then again, Ernest Borgnine is roughly the same age and he looked fantastic. Kerri Strug is still cute as a button and I swear she hasn't grown or aged a year since winning that Olympic Gold Medal. Richard Kiel and Mason Reese? Helped make me realize that, you know, I'm not a bad looking guy at all.
Gregory Itzin? One cool dude. Itzin played President Logan in several seasons of the show 24. I was standing near one of the celebrity tables, looking at Robert Picardo (the aforementioned Doctor from Star Trek Voyager), Itzin and Armin Shimerman when it occurred to me that Mother's Day was exactly a week away and my mother not only loves 24 but also considers President Logan to be one of the series' greatest villains, and adores the actor to boot. So I stepped up to Mr. Itzin and introduced myself, and humbly inquired if he could sign a picture for my mother for Mother's Day. He seemed very glad to so so, and even asked if I wanted him to write "Happy Mother's Day" on the picture. He was friendly, talkative and seemed genuinely interested in the fans, and I think he was a little impressed that I was getting the autographed picture for my mother instead of myself. So he wrote some nice stuff for my Mom and handed me the picture. I thanked him and walked away. Like an idiot, I didn't ask to have my picture taken with him. Doy! This is what these celebrities do at these things - sign autographs and have their pictures taken with fans. If they didn't want to do that, they wouldn't be at the conventions to begin with. Even Mickey Dolenz, one of the bigger names there, went out of his way to make sure that a fan got a good picture. "Oh, no - I think he closed his eyes!' I heard Dolenz say. "Let's take another one to make sure." And I just walked away from the fictional President of the United States.
All right, let's get to it, damn it - Armin Shimerman. Like I said, I am a big fan. I had seen him on a few Star Trek episodes, but I will always think of him as Principal Snyder on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where he spent parts of three seasons desperately trying to expel Buffy from Sunnydale High School. Once described by one Buffy character as "having a bug up his ass the size of an emu", Principal Snyder was one of those characters you love to hate, and Shimerman played him perfectly. Just about every scene he was ever in was a classic Buffy moment. Since I had already paid 20 bucks to chat it up with Gregory Itzin, I figured I'd use the other 20 I had budgeted for the day to meet Shimerman, get an autograph and, yes, damn it, have my picture taken with him. And I immediately blew it. I said hello, told him my name, told him I enjoyed his work, especially on Buffy. And then came this exchange:
SHIMERMAN: "So are you here
just for today or for the whole three days?"
ME THE IDIOT: (Babbling, not knowing what to say) "Just for today. (Jerking my thumb in the direction of my two friends) These guys dragged me to this."
Niiiiiice, John. Mr. Shimerman, and all the others celebrities and non-celebs, are making themselves available for the public, giving back something to fans for a mere 20 bucks, and I make it sound like the Expo is the last place I want to be, as if I'm above such nonsense. I knew I had struck a nerve when he answered me in a tone of voice he usually reserved for Buffy and her friends: "So what time are they dragging you away from here?". He sounded precisely like Principal Snyder! He might have well just said "So, we think sci-fi conventions are stupid and celebrities are to be made fun of?" (Those who have seen the Buffy episode "The Puppet Show" two dozen times like I have will where all the vocal inflections should go.)
I could have just shrank down to a miniature size like Fred Flintstone in an old cartoon, but think I made a good recovery. I started babbling (again) about how much I had been enjoying myself, what a pleasure it was to meet him, and when I mentioned that I had just talked to Gregory Itzin (whom I called Gregory Itzak, or possibly Itzak Perlman, but at this point, whatever), Shimerman's face lit up. He started telling me that he and Itzin were old friends and had actually started in television together, in a pilot that was never picked up. I kept babbling and he mentioned how they were in the same acting group together. I figured the more I babbled, the bigger the chance I would wind up insulting him again, so I quickly picked out a picture of him as Principal Snyder and he signed it. Then he came out from behind the table and put his arm around me while our picture was taken. I thanked him again, mentioned what a pleasure it was to meet him and slinked away. So, Mr. Shimerman, if you are reading this, I'm sorry if I accidentally insulted you. It was completely unintentional. If I ever get dragged... er... go willingly to one of these events again, and you are there, I'll wear Spock ears so you won't know me. Or maybe I'll just dress up like a big-breasted goth type and get on Sci-Fi Ninja Theater.