Thursday, September 25, 2008

Incidence of Coincidence; or "The Misadventures of Cap'n Passed-out and Pity Mint in Amberbama"

Back in September of 2002, Rebel Monkey and I made plans to go to the 4th Annual Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in Birmingham, Alabama. Why make the 11 hour drive to Alabama for a film festival? Because that festival hosted the world premiere of the writing/directorial debut of Amber Benson in the film Chance, in which she also starred. Now, if you're not familiar with the name, it's not surprising, as her most notable role was that of long-time recurring character Tara on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Rebel Monkey and I, both being big film buffs who had never been to a film festival before as well as big Buffy fans, decided that this opportunity to not only attend a reasonably priced film festival but also possibly meet a Buffy/Angel cast member or two -- the film also featured James "Spike" Marsters, Andy "Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan" Hallet, and the then-wife of Nicholas "Xander" Brendon -- could not be passed up. So, the plan was for Rebel Monkey to drive from Stillwater to Denton after work that Friday; get a few hours of sleep; hit the road really early so we could get to Birmingham at a semi-decent hour and catch a few of the films playing on Saturday; get some actual sleep at the hotel and then get up in time to get in line for the theater where Amber's film would be premiering Sunday afternoon; and maybe possibly hopefully somehow actually meet Amber. All in all, things went according to plan, with a few twists along the way.

Coincidentally, the evening Rebel Monkey came down just happened to be the series premiere of the latest show from Buffy/Angel mastermind Joss Whedon, Firefly, so we two Whedonites were both able to experience that first episode together and share a mutual "What the heck? That couldn't really have been the first episode, could it? It's like we missed out on a whole two-hour pilot or something" feeling. After the show was over, the local news started playing and was running as background noise as we were comparing notes on the show. During a lull in our conversation, one of the newscasters -- I think it was the weatherman -- made a comment about an "incidence of coincidence." I couldn't begin to tell you what he was referring to, but the phrasing caught our attention, and was to be bandied about throughout most of that weekend, especially after the events of Saturday night.

We both tried to get some sleep, but I don't think either of us got more than a couple of hours before we got up and hit the road at 4 AM. The trip down just zipped by, and I never hit that wall of exhaustion and giddiness that usually accompanies my times of sleep deprivation, although I did run into some, um, gastrointestinal issues at our lunch stop. We got to Birmingham around 3:00, checked into our hotel, and then hit the festival, at which point we discovered that there was nothing open food-wise in downtown Birmingham during the weekend; kind of weird. Think we finally found a little sandwich place, but I still had a bit of an upset stomach so didn't eat much. We went to see some short films in a little bitty movie theater, which is when I saw Fits and Starts, and then moved on to our the next movie-watching venue, a little below-street-level cafe that had been set up with a screen and projector. We got there just in time to see the tail-end of Washington Heights, a movie notable mainly for the "Hey, isn't that Carla from Scrubs?" factor.

Next up was the documentary The Back Yard, which is all about these white-trash "backyard wrestlers" who mutilate each other weekly in home-made wrestling rings because they think it will help them get into the world of professional wrestling; I found it highly entertaining, in an American Movie, "let's laugh at the self-deluded" sort of way. The film is pretty graphic, since these guys are using bricks wrapped in barbed wire and flaming tables as weapons; seriously, check out this f-bomb laden clip. Craziness, no?

Suddenly, about halfway through the flick, I started feeling a bit nauseous, even though it wasn't at a particularly violent part; in fact, they were just showing the story of this one wrestler called Scar whose parents let him partake in the backyard wrestling scene because he had been so sick as a younger kid and had had so many horrible surgeries that they were happy that he was healthy enough to take part in something like this. Of course, this was accompanied by pictures of young Scar all cut up and mutilated after surgery which were much more disturbing to me at the time than the actual bloody violence. Then I started getting a blinding, needles-stabbing-behind-the-eyes headache, so I put my head down on the table . . . and the next thing I know, I'm on the ground, and these two guys are asking me if I'm all right, except they seem to be talking to me from the end of a long tunnel. Yes, that's right, I had passed out.*

After a minute or so, I came around enough to get up, and Rebel Monkey guided wobbly me towards the stairs and we headed outside for some fresh air. My head was sore from where I hit the floor (and possibly the table as well), and my ears were ringing, so as I sat down on the bench right outside of the theater, it took me a minute to understand what Rebel Monkey had been muttering to me for a couple of minutes: "Amber Benson is right over there." I turned my head, and not five feet away was a group of people all wearing official film-festival i.d. badges, and at the center is Amber "The reason we're in Alabama" Benson, who was being castigated by all of these folks for thinking The Backyard was funny. She defends herself by comparing it to another film: American Movie.

So, there I was, still light headed and not fully in my right mind yet, and this TV-star is standing near me -- the TV star who is the only reason I'm even in Alabama, mind you -- and was just in the same theater I was in watching the same movie I was and enjoying it like I was while comparing it to the same movie that I was, and the only reason I'm getting to see her now is because I just passed out, and it all feels like a dream or an episode of the Twilight Zone, a real life incidence of coincidence, and did I mention I was still light headed and so I, of course, start laughing hysterically from the sure weirdness of it all.

It just so happened that the instant I started to laugh coincided with Amber laughing, so she thought I was laughing at what she was laughing at, so she turns around and says to me "It was funny, wasn't it?" I replied that yes, it was funny, but that I was really laughing because I had just passed out downstairs and wasn't sure why, and so was a little giddy. She made a little "awww" sound and asked if I was all right. And then, as she started to return to her group, I -- and here is the part where you will go, "yup, Todd sure was out of it, because he'd never do this if he was in his right mind" -- proceeded to say -- much to Rebel Monkey's chagrin -- "Amber, just wanted to say we love you, we think you're great." So much for any chance of appearing cool; I was now relegated to "crazy fan-boy/possible stalker" status. But she was really nice, said that I was sweet, shook my hand and asked my name, then did the same to Rebel Monkey. We then talked about the movie for a couple of minutes, and she went back to her group.

Rebel Monkey and I sat there for a few more minutes as I tried to get up the strength to go back to the hotel, and Rebel Monkey tried to tear herself away from being so close to Amber. Then, as I glanced back towards Amber's group, I caught her looking at me, and she asked "Would you like a mint? Would that help?" To which I responded "Sure." So, Amber pulled out a package of Altoids, which elicited a chorus of groans from her companions who began to give her a hard time about being an "Altoid-pusher," and she gives me one, and then offered one to Rebel Monkey as well; this second offer would become known to us as "The Pity Mint."**

After partaking of the mint, I actually started to feel a lot better, whether due to the restorative properties of the wondrous Altoid or some placebo effect, I couldn't begin to tell you. But as I started to sit up straighter and stopped cradling my head in my hands, Rebel Monkey finally said in a resigned tone "Are you ready to go?" And, loathe as I was to cut our brush with a celebrity short, I was also pretty freaked out by the whole passing out experience and was ready to head back to the hotel and call my father the registered nurse to get his take on things. So, we both reluctantly got up and headed away from Amber and her friends, both certain that this incidence of coincidence would not repeat itself.

The rest of the festival was a lot of fun; while we were not the first people in line for the film the next day -- that honor belonged to MsKittyFantastico and company, a group of girls from Missouri who were wearing Amberbama t-shirts and video-taping interviews of people talking to their stuffed fish who had camped out front at 6:30 AM even though the doors didn't open until that afternoon

The Amberbama Girls and theSoul Fish

-- we were definitely in the first dozen or so. We got to visit with the Amberbama girls for quite a while, and they were the first to pose the "Did you eat the mint?" question; they then had me repeat the story for the fish interview, and asked Rebel Monkey questions about Amber's wardrobe since I was unhelpful on that front.*** Soon the line to get in was getting pretty long, since quite a few Amber fans had made the trek just to see the film,

The venue

Look, it's the back of my head! You can tell by the scar! And it looks like I was wearing my OSU hoodie that day.

and it was pretty obvious that as soon as the doors opened the semi-orderly line was going to collapse like nobody's business; those of us who had been waiting together the longest had agreed to work in concert to get good seats, so with the aid of the Amberbama girls Rebel Monkey and I got some primo seats for the show. Of course, Chance wasn't the only movie showing in that venue that day, so a theater filled with Amber fans had to wait patiently through a series of shorts before the movie we were all anticipating was played.

How was it? It's really hard for me to say objectively. I mean, first of all, that was six years ago, and the movie has never been released on VHS or DVD, so I've never been able to see it again. And second of all, so much of my memory of the film is tied into the experiences leading up to it that it's practically impossible to say how much that influenced my opinion. That being said, at the time I loved it, and was eagerly awaiting a chance to see it again.

After that, everything else was a bit of a let-down; sure, Rebel Monkey and I got to see Adrien Grenier of Entourage fame back in the same cafe theater where I'd passed out the night before as he presented his documentary A Shot in the Dark about the search for his birth father, but this was years before Entourage, back when pretty much all he was known for was playing Melissa Joan Hart's love interest in Drive Me Crazy, so not exactly something that made me all that excited, although Rebel Monkey was looking forward to bragging to her teen-aged sister. But soon enough the festival festivities were over for us, and there was nothing left to do but catch some shut-eye before heading back to Denton the next day.

We tried to keep in touch with some of the friends we made that day through email and the Amberholic message board****, but sadly I've never been good at maintaining friendships through message boards, and I soon found my time spent there growing less and less as I became more and more involved with The Singles, and soon my Alabama experiences were little more than a memory . . . an incredibly surreal memory, to be sure, but a good one nonetheless.

*At the time I had no real clue what had happened, chalking it up to low blood sugar or exhaustion or the like, but since then I've had the same thing almost happen to me at three other times, and each time it was while I was watching something overly graphic incredibly intensely, including The Passion of the Christ; I've pretty much figured out that all four times I was so engrossed in what I was watching and so overly empathetic to the pain I was witnessing that I hyperventilated unto the verge of unconsciousness. This was the only time I actually passed out completely, but a couple of the other times I became woozy and blanked out for a second or two. Fun stuff!
**Now, this is generally the point of the story where people ask "Did you eat the mint?" and then act surprised that we did and didn't save them for posterity. To which I always respond that (a) Rebel Monkey and I may have been crazy fans, but we weren't that crazy, and (b) when Amber gives you a mint to eat, you bloody well eat the danged mint!
***Or as Rebel Monkey refered to it "A pity interview for Pity Mint."
****The message board is how I found the few pictures shown above; sadly, most every picture link posted in the Amberbama thread is now broken; amazing what can happen in six years, huh?


Flunky lover said...

Awesome story! I want one too. I wouldn't have asked you if you ate the mint because it never would have occurred to me to save it. I'm not overly sentimental though.