Monday, October 19, 2009

Me and Major Houlihan

I wouldn't normally put up any posts "interrupting" a look at a season of M*A*S*H, but this story was too good for me to not post immediately. A more complete version is currently appearing on my Aquaman Shrine blog.

The fine folks at Wizard World granted The Aquaman Shrine a guest Press Pass for the Big Apple Comic Con that went on over the weekend. And even though I was only able to attend one of the three days (Friday, October 16th) I had what was possibly the single best con experience of my life--here's what went down!

First off, I must preface this post with an aside--frequently in my life there have been events or moments that, for whatever reason, I had plans to attend and then at the last minute reconsidered--I'm too tired, I don't have enough money, I'm too busy, blah blah blah. Its human nature to come up with all kinds of reasons why you can't do something.

But I've noticed--almost every single time I've pushed through those feelings and gone ahead anyway, it ended being an extremely rewarding experience. And this trip to the con was no exception--the morning of the show, I looked out the window and saw nothing but freezing rain, with nothing but that on the horizon. I also had a lot of illustration work to get done, and I briefly considered just scrapping the whole trip. Thankfully, I didn't...

As soon as I entered the hall, I made a bee line for the person I was there to see the most...actress Loretta Swit, who played Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan on my all-time favorite show, M*A*S*H. I didn't even know she was there until a few weeks ago, when my pal and Vince Bartilucci told me about it, and I simply couldn't let the opportunity to meet one of the actors from that show pass my by.

After a few minutes of wandering the autograph section (featuring various actors, wrestlers, and Playboy models), I saw Ms. Swit at her booth. I gulped, instantly becoming nervous--there she was, the woman I've watched on TV since as long as I could remember! I've met a number of famous people, even worked with some of them, and none of them gave me the same feeling of awe I had when seeing the Major Houlihan in the flesh.

I made my way over, and introduced myself. Babbling a bit, I told Ms. Swit how much it meant for me to meet her, and she was warm and friendly. I then told her how much the show affected me, how much of an influence it was in molding me into the person I am today. She asked me how so, and I told her the show's intelligence, humor, and kindness were things I aspired to be and to have. She took my hand and thanked me.

I asked her to sign my M*A*S*H "Hot Lips" action figure, which she cheerfully agreed to. In between signing it, she held the package up, putting it next to her face, and said "Does this really look like me?" I replied no, none of the figures did!
I thanked her again, and she shook my hand and said what a pleasure it was to meet me. I walked away, as happy as could be. I couldn't believe I met Loretta Swit, and she was so nice! The rest of the con could suck and it would still be a banner day!

As I made my way to the more comic-centric part of the hall, it dawned on me that in my fanboyish nervousness, I forgot to get a picture of her and I together. Normally I don't get pics of me with people at cons (I can't stand how I look in those things), but I really wanted one this time. I cursed at myself for being so absent-minded, and resolved that I had missed my chance.

About halfway through the show I realized that I had pretty much visited every dealer. And since I wasn't that interested in seeing any of the other autograph guests, and I had a lot of work waiting for me at home (which is still waiting, since I'm writing this first), I decided that my original plan to come back on Sunday was off--this would be the only day I'd attend, so I wanted to make it count.

I found another artist who was doing these little color sketches--mini-paintings, really--on trading card-sized boards so I commissioned him to do an Aquaman. He asked me to give him a half hour or so to do the piece, so I had some time on my hands.

I decided then and there that, even though I might feel silly, I would go back to Loretta Swit's booth and ask her for a photograph--when else am I going to have this chance?

I made my way back, and before I could ask her about the photo, she asked me if I knew the area. I said a little, why? She said that she and her friend (who was helping her man the booth) were starving, and the food available in the hall (mostly just pretzels and soda) wasn't really sufficient. She hoped she could ask a Wizard World volunteer to get them some food, to which I replied, "I'd be happy to do it for you."

Loretta lit up, asking me if I was sure, and I said absolutely. Using the back of one of my business cards, she wrote down what she wanted--a salad (we're both vegetarians, we discovered) and some fries, the same for her friend. I took her order and headed back outside.

While on my way to find a place to get the food, I called Darlin' Tracy in disbelief. "Trace", I exclaimed, "I'm on a food run for Loretta Swit!"

I was excited just to tell her, but also to have someone else on Planet Earth know I was doing this in case I got hit by a car and killed in the process. I wanted The Legend to live on.

I stopped in one place, but they didn't make Caesar Salads. The owner pointed me out the door, down the street, and told me of a place that would do it. Thanking him, I practically ran (in the still-freezing weather) to the next location, where the cook inside said he could make the salads, no problem.

While waiting, I saw they didn't have fries on the menu. Thinking I'd have to go find a third location, I asked the guy at the counter where I could go to get french fries. He said, "Oh, we can make them for you." They didn't have them on the menu, but they had them and could do it. I was thrilled at this one-stop shopping.

After grabbing the food, I stopped to take a pic of the place:
New York City has such a reputation for being an unfriendly place, but there was none of that now. Everything was coming up Millhouse!

I made my way back to the con, and delivered the food to Loretta. She was thrilled, thanking me for my efforts.

I said no problem, this was an amazingly strange and wonderful little experience, and it was the least I could do. Then before they dug in Loretta came around and posed with me for the picture:

I thanked her again, saying what an honor it was to meet her, concluding what might be the single best con experience of my life.

I've had some really memorable con experiences (I participated in one event in San Diego that became something of a legendary story that preceded me for months), but this might rank as the best time I've ever had at one of these things.

I got some cool Aqua-sketches, bought some cool Aqua-stuff, got the comics I was looking for...and got to meet one--and even do a favor for--of my all-time favorite people, and learned they were really, really nice. It'll be hard to top.

At a loss as to what to label this type of post, I decided to call it "Dear Internet...", in homage to the oft-used story conceit of the show. And who knows? If I'm really lucky, maybe I'll have other chances to use it...


Russell said...

COOL story, Rob!

And I like how you labelled it "Dear Internet." I hope you get to meet and/or interview several other MASHers. :-)

What the Parrot Saw said...

Really enjoyed reading about your encounter with the wonderful Ms. Swit, rob!

And you'll be glad that you had the photo taken in years to come. Little mementos like that just make the good memories better...

Dr. Eric said...

Wow, I'm olive drab with envy :-)! The only experience that I ever had like this was at a Trek con back in the '80s where I bumped into Gene Roddenberry in an elevator and got his autograph. Major congratulations!

Bill said...

What a sweet story! I'm so glad Loretta was so kind to you (and you to her, it's nice to be nice to the nice...)

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