Friday, March 30, 2012

All Muppets Fans Are Not Created Equal

Since Muppet Freak had been on what had seemed at the time like a permanent hiatus during the latter half of 2011, i've got a lot of catching up to do - not just in terms of getting all the archives from the old server back online, but also topics having to do with "The Muppets".  This of course was The Big One We've Been Waiting For - the Muppets' glorious return back on top of popular culture where they belonged!  Most of us will never forget our experiences seeing it for the first time...maybe you saw it along with a group of fellow fans or maybe you even managed to see it in Los Angeles at the official premiere.  Here's my story.

2011 wasn't a very good year for me.  For that matter, the whole decade basically sucked.  I had lost so much and hit rock bottom with very little money, no car, no hope of being able to escape my rut, nothing left to live for, no chance of any dreams i may have had once upon a time to ever come true.  Nothing in my life was right, every day was a living nightmare i just wanted to wake up from and the only source of joy or happiness left came only from my objects of fandom.

I knew pretty much since the beginning of the year - since most of 2010 actually - that 2011 would be the year i finally felt my release.  A decade prior as i was approaching my 30th birthday, i made a pact with myself that if there didn't seem to be any real indication that my then-already-quite-unfabulous life wasn't going to be any better, i would end it all before suffering the indignity of turning 30.  Looking back, it was really only one thing that kept me from going through with it:  it just so happened that the day of my 30th birthday just ended up happening to be the same weekend as the first (and to date only) official Muppet Fan Convention, MuppetFest.  MuppetFest literally saved my life.

...Though it turns out, it wasn't worth saving.  Essentially the entire next decade would be one of tragedy after loss after crushing blow...capped off with being thrown out of my family's house for being gay along with the loss of a longtime job also due to being gay.  A healthy savings account would end up depleted as expensive car repairs mounted, jobs came and went - companies closed (in one case owing employees three months of backpay).  My singing ability was ruined by chronic bronchitis.  I developed a theory that i was actually already dead and in Hell.  Everything that could go wrong did; if any kind of slight blessing looked to be coming up, it was either a false alarm or a prelude to something worse.  If i had any way of knowing what 2002-2011 held in store, there's no way i would have chosen beforehand to experience it; i would have ended it all after MuppetFest and died happy.

So after ten very long torturous years, here i was now in 2011 completely beaten up by life, continually amazed at how there were maybe only about two good days out of the entire decade and how there never seemed to be any break in the storm...ten years straight of rain and curses.  My 40th birthday would be at the end of the year and just like a decade earlier, i knew the time had come to admit defeat and bring my life to an end before that date.  I'd done lots more research during the past decade as to methods and knew precisely what i would do when the time was right.  Unlike ten years ago, i had nothing left to hope for - everything good in my life had been lost, all dreams and chances at happiness destroyed so "To Be or Not to Be" wasn't even a question; the choice was obvious.  I made peace with the idea and was fully ready to finally escape the eternal torment once and for all.  It was time and i was at complete acceptance of that fact.

But there was one other thing that was to define the year 2011:  it was The Year of the Muppet.  On Thanksgiving Day, the first Muppet theatrical film in 12 years would hit theatres with the full marketing muscle and financial support of Disney behind it.  The new Muppet film was to be the one we had all awaited for so long.  If nothing else, i had to suffer through each day for no other reason to at least get to that point.  It wasn't at all easy and there was many a time i didn't think i'd make it but all the personal hell was going to finally be worth it once that day arrived.  I'd have my Happy Ending - my one day of total bliss and limitless joy before bowing out.  Seeing "The Muppets" was the thing i held onto when all else was unbearable darkness.

Now before i go on, let me tell you something about being a Muppet fan in Phoenix Arizona.  It's lonely.  There aren't a lot of Muppet Freaks in my neck of civilization.  I would constantly be in envy of places like the Northeast where so many Muppet Freaks knew each other and frequently got together for Muppet-lovin' activities.  Actually, that's pretty much what it's like to be a fan of ANYTHING in matter what kind of stuff i loved, i could connect with other likeminded fans online all over the world but finding anyone local would usually prove fruitless.  Maybe it's the geography of the city - for one of the nation's largest cities, it's very spread out, everything's walled in and the heat keeps people indoors and away from others.

But even if people were staying inside their respective habitats in the comfort of their air conditioning, surely fans of (whatever) would go online and join the respective fan communities, right?  Apparently not.  Whether it be Muppets/Henson, Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys, Shakespears Sister, One Life to Live, or any of my other major areas of fandom, i never seemed to ever find local fans of my favorite things in any of the online fan communities.  So if there were local Muppet (or other) fellow fans here, they're not active online.

So this was one thing in particular i was especially excited about concerning the release of "The Muppets":  seeing it in a theatre with fellow fans!  It would be the time where these "hidden fans" would come out of hiding and be at the same place at the same time just waiting for us all to discover each other...the debut showing of the movie would be where i'd be able to experience the excitement and joy of being surrounded by fellow Muppet Freaks - maybe i'd make a whole bunch of cool new friends!  I knew immediately that i would be attending the first screening of the film here - even if i had to miss work...hopefully there would be a midnight showing so that wouldn't be an issue - my job doesn't have sick hours/vacation time and missing any time is very hard on the wallet since i can barely get by as it is with my normal hours.

I can't even count the number of times i'd go to bed after yet another hard day filled with hours of wishing-i-were-dead and just dream about what it would finally be like seeing the film...and seeing it with other fans!  Given my financial status, even if another MuppetFest were to ever happen, i wouldn't be able to attend - there would be no way i could afford the ticket, the travel, or the time off work.  If i was going to experience anything again resembling a Muppet fan event, the debut showing of "The Muppets" was going to be it.

I got to thinking about how other Muppet Freaks all over the world were in similar situations:  desperate to connect with other local fans and anxiously awaiting the chance to meet them as they went into their local theatres to see "The Muppets".  I got to thinking, "Hey, wouldn't it be great if we could come up with a way for the most hardcore of the fans to recognize each other?"  Maybe if one of the fans with artistic talent were to design an awesome shirt and sold them on the major fansites and/or made the design available for download to put on a shirt yourself?  When someone would go in a theatre (especially if it wasn't the debut showing) and see someone else in this special shirt, they'd instantly know they were in the presence of a Major Muppet Freak and they would have to introduce themselves. 

I had already closed up the original Muppet Freak and said my goodbyes at that point so i started to throw out the idea on fan forums...though it turned out some other people were also thinking heavily about Muppet t-shirts...if not necessarily for the specific purposes of Muppet Freak Identifiers.  Not one, but TWO online companies held contests for Muppet T-shirt designs.  I won't comment too much on The Great Muppet T Shirt Contest Explosion of 2011 since that's a whole other entry for another time, but suffice to say Muppet Freaks had a lot of great T-shirts available to choose from for movie-goin'-wearin'!  I had some favorites of my own i would have loved to buy and wear ... but the whole struggling-financially-to-get-by thing got in the way and i just didn't have the chance to afford ordering any of these before the movie (still don't own that should be a note to jot down in your "holiday gift shopping gift for a Muppet freak ideas" notebook)  An already existing Muppet shirt in my closet would have to suffice.

Of course, confronted with the first dose of reality in the form of not being able to afford a new Muppet shirt, the concepts of "Ideal vs Reality" was starting to sink in.  "Oh no - what if after all this time of holding on waiting for this precise moment, it doesn't happen?  What if i can't even afford a ticket?"  (Which was likely.)  "What if there's not a debut showing i can get to by bus or foot close enough to me?"  Panic started to set in because this was exactly the way my life has worked for the last decade...the promise of anything slightly good being ruined.

Even though i already was living very leanly and got used to such nutritional habits such as the 39 cent Del Taco and the loaf of bread and all the free condiment packages i could grab at Circle K making up my weekly diet plan, i cut back even more in the weeks leading up to the film - starving myself so i could at least be able to have a ticket!  I obsessively scanned several online listings sites for information on where there would be local midnight debut screenings...hoping that the one at Metrocenter would be included since getting there and home would be no problem since it's close and in walking distance if i couldn't get a ride.  Of course, given the curse my life tends to be under, day after day it still wasn't showing up and time was running out!

Of the theatres being announced, there were a few i may be able to get to on time by bus after i got off work...but no way to get back home.  (Phoenix bus service is the pits.)  There was no way i could even think of being able to afford a taxi.  Time was running out and desperation sinking in so i started posting like mad on fan forums for any Phoenix fans who've been in lurkdom to come out and placing "Obsessed Muppet fan needs ride to debut screening" ads on Craigslist and Backpage.

For a brief moment it looked like i might have a ride with a fan from Tuscon, but that fell through.  The occasional response from Craigslist would come in...and be from some illiterate creep who somehow managed to interpret needing a ride to a Muppet movie as being a sex invite.  At least one response seemed legit and we started making arrangements...until all of a sudden the emails started taking on a scarier homophobic tone signalling this wasn't going to work either.

The last possible moment i could check for updates of screenings or email responses for rides came...and - big surprise - still no luck.  Of course.  All i ever wanted was just one day out of a freakin' DECADE where i could be happy and have a good time for just a few hours and of course it wasn't looking good.  So out of time and options limited, i devised my emergency plan of action...i'd take the bus from work to the nearest theatre doing a midnight showing and wear a sign on my back saying "Need ride home (19th Ave/Cactus)"  Sure, it would be very humiliating and all that would be missing would be a giant L tattooed on my forehead, but that's what it had come down to.  As for my shirt, i had been thinking of wearing my Kermit head tan shirt since it was extremely similar to the one Walter wears in the movie, but at the last minute decided to go with an Electric Mayhem shirt since it was slightly cooler and more unique - i needed the strength of any possible conversation pieces to more easily get a ride home.  My walkman tape player was loaded up with Muppet tracks for the bus ride!  This was it - by hook or crook i was seeing the debut screening with local fans and who knew what might come out of it?!

All day i was very worried and unable to concentrate at work...i was so scared i'd end up being the only one at the theatre which would be really horrible on so many levels:  (a) if no one else was there, i'd have no way home (b) there really would be NO Muppet fans at all where i live (c) how horrible would that be for The Muppets - no one going to see the film?!  I thought such a scenario might actually play out since the newspaper didn't have any info on the midnight showings - one would only know about them if they sought out the info online...and maybe Phoenix wasn't that much of a "checking for online movie screening info" kind of place...after all, Phoenix online Muppet fans sure weren't making their presence known after a decade and a half of being online.

Thankfully, it looked like the turnout would be a good one - the people kept coming through the door and the seats were getting filled!  The bulk of the attendees seemed to be late teens/early twenties - a good demographic signal of the film's opening week success!  Not very many people seemed to be there on their own; it seemed like a lot of the people there were part of some large group of friends or another.  Even though i'd hear the occasional conversation snatch of "I've been waiting soooo long to see this movie", i wasn't seeing very many people dressed Muppety.  In fact the only person i spotted wearing any "Muppet" articles of clothing was someone wearing a SESAME STREET (Oscar) shirt.

The crowd was lively and into it even before the film started...with the place going wild when the Muppet AMC theatre etiquette promo ran!  Although there were a few minor flaws with editing/story construction, the movie itself was almost everything i could want from a Muppet movie (a movie review would be a whole other article so i won't expand on that here.)  It was very heartwarming to see the audience laughing along and loving it.  I still didn't have a ride home lined up but it would surely come after the movie - after all this was not only a healthy sized crowd, but a crowd of MUPPET FANS - people who had the whole Henson/Muppet mentality and values.  People who believed in sharing, making sure people in need were helped, valuing each and every fellow man and doing the right thing.

Guess again.

The walk home was five hours.  Five painful hours.  Five tears-wouldn't-stop-gushing hours.  Even the tape full of Muppet music in my Walkman couldn't keep my spirits up as i kept flipping it over and over again to listen to the same 45 minutes per side YET AGAIN.  I was very thankful that after not really eating the week beforehand that i at least had enough for a popcorn and soda for the movie because i needed some kind of food in my system to endure it (and also thankful i remembered to use the bathroom before starting the trek.)

I continued to wear my "Need ride home" sign on my back for about the first half hour up until i was starting to see how most of the traffic was turning out to be police cars, so i didn't need something else ruining the night even more.

When you're forced to walk home late at night for who knows how long it will end up being, fearing for your life of being mugged and raped, having to walk over bridges when you have a fear of heights and a slight spell of dizziness when you're on one, a lot of thoughts go through your head.  For at least the first hour, most of the thoughts are still with the movie; remembering the best parts, further analyzing the weaknesses and how it could have been improved.  But soon that buzz wears off and the reality of the situation sinks in.  All you ever wanted - all you kept holding onto each day you wanted to die was just ONE night where you could be happy and things could go right.  And once again, you were robbed.  Someone up there REALLY REALLY hates you.

I couldn't think of which was worse; the fact that once again i was the most pathetic loser who never should have been born, the idea that what was supposed to be the happiest night of my decade...was yet another living nightmare come true and that all this time when i wanted with every fiber of my being to not live anymore i kept myself going on just to go through this, or the thought that not one person in a good sized crowd of what was supposed to be MUPPET FANS  could be bothered to give an obviously pathetic guy who humiliated himself wearing a sign on his back a ride home...even just partway.

That last thought disturbed me the most.  What kind of Muppet Fan is that?  That went completely against any image i had of a Muppet Fan.  Did none of these people know about Jim Henson?  Did they learn nothing from the examples he set in all his works and visions?  This just seemed like the worst kind of betrayal; the thought of being let down by not only Muppet Fans, but a big group of them.  I kept telling myself, they COULDN'T have been real Muppet Fans.  Maybe people who liked the Muppets a little bit or more likely just full-of-themselves college kids who were only just interested in the latest "It" thing moment to moment - but these certainly couldn't have been actual full-fledged MUPPET FANS.  And CERTAINLY not Muppet Freaks.  They wore Sesame shirts to a Classic Muppet movie for frog's sake.  I'll bet not one of them could correctly name over 50% of the Muppets in the poster.  (At least i did get a free poster...but it's not easy for a poster to stay in good condition when being handheld for a five hour walk home.)

I think this is what i cried at the most.  Jim failed.  All his teachings; all the examples he modeled - the people who should mirror his ethics and values are just as shallow and selfcentered and uncaring and unfeeling as everybody else.  It just didn't compute!  Muppet Fans aren't supposed to be anything like that.  But apparently they were.

So not only did i fail to find or connect with any REAL local Muppet fans and discovered that i am indeed truly alone out here but i was betrayed and fed to the wolves by people merely posing as Muppet Fans.  I thought back to the "I've waited so long to see this movie" comments i'd hear before the movie.  Did they really wait months, years to see it or since they left the theatre to see the last fad film?

If any of these posers were indeed really truly "Muppet Fans", it became dishearteningly clear that night that All Muppet Fans Aren't Created Equal.  Some "get" everything the Muppets stood for for half a century and others just think it's cool to sing Mahna Mahna as they vote Tea Party, bully gays, and drive their gas-guzzlers (not bothering to give a fellow fan in desperate need a ride home.)

But there's other ways All Muppet Fans Aren't Created Equal.  Some can love the Muppets like nothing else, absorb everything they can about them, practically eat, sleep, breathe Muppets and they still end up alone, abandoned, unloved, tossed aside to the wolves, blister upon blister on their feet unable to move another step but with no other choice but to keep going if i'm going to make it home in time to shower and change (sleep is already out of the question by now) before work - and others can hob nob in Hollywood with Muppeteers or yuk it up with a huge group of friends and have the whole Muppet Silver Platter fed to them with no worries of how much money they're spending for the rare autographed collectible or owning every teeny tiny little thing with a Muppet on it while others starve themselves just to see a movie they can't even afford a ride home from.  The message was loud and clear and practically flashing from the stars above as if they were neon billboards:  i was nothing but a pathetic Loser and failure as a human being and not even on a Muppet Night like this one, would that change.

Finally there was a point i couldn't take it any more between the physical and mental/emotional pain.  I stopped walking.  Put the things i was holding on the ground.  Went onto the street and just laid down waiting for something to run me over then and there.  The moment i held onto came and went and it ended up being another slap in the face and there was nothing left to keep me going so why wait one more moment?  Why worry about getting to work on time - i won't have any rent or bills to pay that i have to go to work for.  I even had a "last meal" of sorts (movie popcorn).  Not even what was supposed to be a heavenly evening could turn out to be anything other than Hellish so this had to be it.  No more indignity, no more failure, no more pain, just no more!!

Since i wasn't exactly timing myself i don't know exactly how long i was lieing in the street - it was definitely over a minute and probably no more than five but i eventually collected myself and figured i couldn't end it this way.  Too much left to chance...and good fortune wasn't exactly a trademark of my life.  I was depending too much on unplanned random elements instead of the methods i had researched and planned for years on using when the time was right.  Instead of being in control, i was gambling on fate and fate hadn't proven itself to be friendly towards me since the mid 90's.  Too much of a chance, i may get hit but it wouldn't be fatal, or the next vehicle to come by would be a police car or something.

So i got back up, got back on the sidewalk, picked up my belongings, and continued the painful walk.  My time to leave this hell would come soon enough but just not this night this way.

Flashback to ten years ago:  End of MuppetFest.  I had said my goodbyes to everyone i had met before retiring to my hotel room and going to sleep before taking the bus back home tomorrow.  Mental breakdown.  Tears started to well up and kept gushing out.  I made it; i held on, i was now 30 - and MuppetFest was over and i was back to being regular failure-at-everything (except being a Muppet Fan) me again.  Soaking in the bathtub deep in thought contemplating a razor blade.  Not a method i had previously thought or considered but there it was. 

... And then i lost time...

That's NEVER happened to me before or since.  One moment i'm in the bathtub just thinking "this can end right now" and the next moment i'm in bed unharmed.  I know it wasn't a dream - it was real - but i had no recollection or idea how i got from Point A to Point B.  To this day, i still don't.  But just the idea that i had some kind of blackout and had no memory of a significant amount of time just before was probably the most frightening thing that had ever happened to me.

Ten years later.  Still same deathwish.  Still total nervous breakdown where i almost took my life on pure impulse rather than by my longtime well-laid plans.  But this time there was no blackout or lost time.  Too bad in a way - that would have been a moment in time i'd like to not be able to remember.

My 40th birthday wasn't too far away so my window of time left was short if i did indeed follow the plan to take my life before turning 40.  I had been wrestling with the decision to maybe go a little bit beyond it and even a little into 2012 only because there was another (non Muppet) fandom thing i was holding onto that i was thinking of at least waiting to experience.  The rest of the way home, in addition to the "What kind of Muppet Fans WERE these?!" thoughts dominating my head, my other main thread of thought was that however long the rest of my life would end up being, the memory of this horrible night would be linked to this movie.  Every time i saw it again, anytime i heard the soundtrack, anytime i saw the poster, anytime i talked about it with other fans (real ones, online) - i'd involuntarily recall this experience. 

...I already have a severe allergy to Life's a Happy Song.  I can't listen to it without melting down as it's a total lie.  It only works within the context of a Muppet movie; any real world applications are completely false advertising...
So the only way to possibly manage to counter that would be to have a new experience centered around this movie that had good memories attached to it.  Hey, maybe if i managed to hold on long enough to see the dvd release of the movie, that might be the turnaround.  The dvd, after all, should be even MORE awesome.  There was obviously a lot that didn't survive the final cut of the film and even before the movie started filming, it was clear the Muppets were gearing up for the dvd release since they had filmed the first script read through as possible bonus material.  Maybe that might be something worth holding on for and things would be just a little bit more okay again.


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