Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Believe It Or Not, It's Just Me

“Just like the light of a new day, it hit me from out of the blue…breaking me out of the spell I was in, making all of my wishes come true……..

   I like those inspiring billboards. You know, “Inspiration: Pass it On.”   “Courage: Pass it On.” The first one I ever saw was of Kermit the Frog. “Eats Flies. Dates a Pig. Hollywood Star. Live your Dreams: Pass it On.” I seriously almost crashed on the highway over the pure genius of this. Of course, there are many others, and I get teary-eyed over many of them.  Cheesy, I know. I’m not really sure why they get to me so much, like those goddamned Nestle commercials with grandma baking cookies with her cute little granddaughter. Totally makes me wanna go buy chocolate chips and bake some cookies. Perhaps it’s just me getting older, being mushy due to life’s experiences. Or maybe it’s my love of everyday heroes and real, inspiring people who make a difference in the world. It’s probably a little of both, and it may sound lame to some, but I love those damn billboards.
    Last year, one struck me hard. It was a photo of a man, smiling and speaking.  It read, “Wrote a Book On Living While Dying. Motivation: Pass It On.” I immediately choked back tears and was rendered absolutely speechless. I couldn’t shake it.  It hit me right down, deep into my soul. I knew it was cancer or some sad topic that I wanted to avoid like the Plague, (ya know, sorta like how I've successfully managed to avoid watching Jersey Shore.). It took me months to muster up the courage to Google it.  The man’s name was Randy Pausch, and he wrote a book entitled, “The Last Lecture”. He was a college professor at Carnegie Mellon, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Rather than the hypothetical “last lecture” given by a college professor, Randy Pausch found himself in the position of being terminally ill and literally giving his last lecture in front of a standing room only crowd. He didn’t know it at the time, but that lecture would be his legacy to not only his wife and three young children, but would inspire millions of people around the world, long after his time here ended.
    I read the book this past spring. I watched the lecture on Youtube.  The Last Lecture is a book about living your childhood dreams, and the often humorous and inspirational story of Randy’s life and how so many of his childhood dreams came to fruition, (and big dreams, too) even though his life ended, sadly, way too soon .  He was an amazing dude, with a lot of motivation, a sense of humor, and some really great quirks. His story truly changed my life, and sent me on my own quest to rediscover my own childhood dreams. I found that I had forgotten them, and quite honestly, wasn’t even too sure what my adulthood dreams were.
    During my weeks reading the Last Lecture, I saw another billboard. “Superman. Strength: Pass It On.” I can’t explain what happened in that moment. I’m not even sure how to without getting all dramatic and blubbery. I thought about Chris Reeves & his wife. I remembered her passing and how sad I felt, as we all thought she’d beat lung cancer. We hoped and prayed she would. I remembered watching the news the day he had his accident, and of course, his sad passing years later. They were beloved in NJ, and did so much for their own community and sick kids. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m pretty goofy, rarely serious. But, I believe in signs, and this one was literal.  I had spent the past few years immersed in motherhood and just being grateful to be alive and feeling so blessed over all of the little, beautiful moments in life that I never fully dealt with any of my emotions let alone given much thought to my dreams. “Dreams? What are those?” I avoided cancer talk. I made a lot of jokes. Humor was always my defense as a child and just grew to be part of who I became as an adult and the way I dealt with life’s experiences. This moment was serious and real, and it came back to me. At that moment, seeing Superman glistening in the sun with bold letters so blatantly exposed right before my eyes, I remembered. My childhood superhero was Ralph Hinkley, a.k.a: “The Greatest American Hero”, and I wanted to find his manual and be his little sidekick. And the strength part, well, that hit home hard.
    The Greatest American Hero was a 1980’s television show about a L.A. school teacher, Ralph Hinkley, (played by the amazing William Katt), who is given a super suit by aliens. He loses the instruction manual in the desert, partners up with a sarcastic Fed, Bill Maxwell, (played by the late Robert Culp), and alongside his D.A. girlfriend, Pam Davidson, (the lovely Connie Sellecca), comically fought bad guys each episode. Ralph had visions and fumbled with the super suit, which was ruining his personal life. Bill was always quick with the one-liners and ready to jack someone up, while Pam, frustrated by the strain on her relationship with Ralph because of the suit, was the brains and beauty behind the outfit. The Greatest American hero was my first everyday hero, and I remembered my childhood dreams.
    The Greatest American Hero was a theme that referenced itself throughout parts of my life, (sometimes when I really needed it to.) It was one of those dorky things Chris and I had in common when we met, and even his parents loved the show. In 2002, at age 24, a week after giving birth to my first child, I found myself alone on the cancer ward in Morristown, NJ. I cried a lot. I had daily visitation with my newborn daughter and family, tubes sticking out of my emaciated body.  No flowers or balloons allowed on the cancer unit. It was awful. One day, I asked a nurse for meds, and got the runaround. I wasn’t in the mood. She snidely said, “well, who was your nurse last shift?” I replied, sarcastically, “I dunno…the guy who looks like the Greatest American Hero.” She snickered, and returned within minutes to put me back into my drug-induced state of “shut-the-f***-up”. The whole scenario sucked far beyond words. The following day, lo and behold, who strolls in? Why, the Greatest American Hero nurse, of course, and he was whistling the “Believe it or Not” theme song! He looked at me, still whistling, takes my blood pressure, etc, drops some pills for me, and strolls out, still whistling.
Holy sh*t. For real. I laughed so hard…..sooooooo hard over that. There he was, my childhood hero, right when I needed him, in the form of a cute, blonde, male, whistling nurse, with, quite obviously, a pretty wicked, sick sense of humor.
    The theme continued in 2008 when our son, Paden, was born, a blonde, curly-topped cutie pie, eyes as blue as the sea. Chris would fly him in the air, singing the GAH theme song. He even set the song as his cell phone ring tone, which made all the guys at the supply house and on the jobsite chuckle. “Dude! I remember that show! Hahaha!” We made tons of jokes about it, especially once we finally cut Paden’s hair, which ended in two separate, group outbursts of us all singing the theme song, in public, with anyone who didn’t know us joining in. People remember the show. They still connect with it. Then, last year, we saw a marathon of the show on the Sci Fi channel. We taped it. My inlaws taped it. When we all got together, the first thing we said to one another was, “Holy sh*t! You'll never believe it!”, followed by the in-unison, “the Greatest American Hero was on last weekend!” Chris bought the DVD’s shortly after, and just like that, a new generation of GAH fans was born in our household.
    Being the huge dork that I am, I came to the realization that William Katt simply must have a Facebook page. Oh, yes he does, (and run by the lovely Marci Beaucoux.) He looks great these days, has long hair and the occasional goatee/soul patch. Completely badass, of course. He connects with his many fans at occasional conventions, while still working on creative film projects. He also gives stuff away on the Facebook fan page in the form of contests. How cool, right? Yeah, I thought so, too. He has a P.O. box for fan mail, which he often responds to, if possible. (Yes, I have my own autographed photo that he sent us after we mailed him a Christmas card. He is one badass mo fo.)
     Sometime around May, Marci asked what the next contest should be. I happened to see the post, and stated the very obvious, “an art contest”, of course, as it’s the only thing I have any shot at winning. Would you believe that they actually picked my idea? There were really cool entries, too, awesome comic book stuff, full color pieces, the kind of stuff I had no time to produce. My heart sunk a little, but at the eleventh hour, I pumped out a sepia-ish, Wild West-themed pencil drawing tribute to the show and the late and brilliant Robert Culp, scanned it, and submitted it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to compete with full color, but I was in, and I knew in my heart that maybe he’d atleast autograph it or chuckle or something. I felt pretty embarrassed by my dorkdom, actually, as I hadn’t done any fan art since…like…um… age 12. Well, two winners were chosen, and believe it or not, (pun totally intended), little ‘ol me was one of them. The prize? A phone call from the man himself, William Katt.
    It didn’t quite sink in. I didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t even sure if it would ever happen. I’m really busy. He’s really busy. Then, of course, it happened.  On July 31st, 2011, at 7:51pm, E.S.T, he Skyped me. Yes he did. Did I make myself into a bumbling dork? Yes, I did. Did I forget to ask him what it was like to meet the Lone Ranger or Andre the Giant? Yes, I surely did. Did I forget to introduce my husband? Yep. And, worst of all, shoulda gotten a picture of all of us, not just me. I choked, didn't know what to say, fumbled the whole thing, and it was incredible.
    In the Last Lecture, Randy Pausch talks about his childhood dream of  being Captain Kirk from Star Trek. Of course, that wasn’t really possible, but his dream came true when William Shatner came to him over a virtual reality project that he and his students had created. He spoke about the power of that dream, and how amazing it was for his childhood hero to come to him over something he did. My phone call from William Katt was that moment, and truly a childhood dream fulfilled and then some.
    We were thrilled to get the call, and I thanked him profusely for it. He sat outside on his crisp, white, peaceful Californian patio, while we were inside my little, funky, Pennsyltuckian art room/office. The first thing he commented on was the “way cool” art on our walls, and told me that my art was “frickin’ amazing!” Seriously…he said “frickin’ amazing.”  (My life is f***ing complete now.) It wasn’t just that he said it, my childhood hero, that my art was frickin’ amazing, but his eyes said it, and I’ll cherish it forever.
    We went on to discuss his role of the GAH, of course, and I told him that never, in my wildest dreams, as a little kid back in the land known as the 1980’s, did I ever, and I mean EVER, think that I’d one day talk to him, and through a computer screen, no less. The whole concept would have been so futuristic and Dick Tracy to me at the time. He said he loves Skype, and uses it to talk to his sons, friends overseas, etc. I asked him if he ever thought, thirty years ago, that people would still be into the show and if he had any clue, at the time he was working on it, the impact it would have on pop culture. He said that he absolutely didn’t have any idea. He thought it was just a pilot. He didn’t even know that it would become a series let alone span such a cult fanbase so many years later. We talked about some of his projects, and the big question, a possible movie scenario, which apparently, was in the works but has been on hiatus since Stephen Cannell, (creator and producer), passed away. He told us it had a great script & cast,  and sounded really fantastic. Hopefully that will come to be at some point. Otherwise, it was like catching up with any old friend. He’s that easy to talk to. “How are your kids?” “Good. How are yours?” My two little ones were pretty shy, but my oldest knew it was him, and understood that he’s a real-life guy who played a character we all loved in a show from three decades ago. She said that he looks the same, just longer hair, and was very thrilled to show him her kitten, Shadow, and our dog, Capone. We got to meet his dog, Cooper, as well, who we all think is pretty awesome.  He asked us about our family and what we’re up to, and was incredibly supportive and kind. It all went by so fast, but was actually about a twenty minute conversation. My only regret is that my in-laws weren’t here for the call, too. It was a very personal, real, candid conversation, and it will take a very long time for the high to wear off. He’s very mellow and friendly, the coolest guy, who you’d love to be neighbors with or just hang out with. (and our birthdays are a day apart, which makes me even more of a rock star).
    Randy Pausch wrote about not only living your childhood dreams, but enabling the dreams of others, a concept that seems so foreign anymore in a modern-day society with a very “me…me…me” mentality.  People don’t help others like they should. We no longer connect on a human level, and our heroes seem so Godly and so far out of our grasp. I felt that connection with William Katt, though, my whole family did, a very personal, face-to-face moment with my childhood hero, who enabled my dream with a simple Skype call, and I will never forget it. It's something that I'll hold on to for the rest of my days.
    It’s amazing when our heroes come through for us, even moreso when they turn out to be even more awesome in real life. We live in rural northern Pennsylvania now, (where I grew up.) Not a whole lot happens here, hence its appeal. We’re the oddballs, and people don’t really know how to take us.  My daughter’s friends aren’t used to being around a funky, artsy mom and a bandana-clad, jolly dad, and they think an award, newspaper clipping, or brief T.V. clip makes one famous. When our William Katt call ended, I put my apron back on, went back into the kitchen to clean up, and my daughter followed me. She said, “Mama”... then paused. I said, “yeah, baby.” She asked, “are you famous?” I replied, “No, honey. Just frickin’ amazing.” 
    Believe it or not, it's just me.
   “ It's not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”- Randy Pausch, (the Last Lecture)