You hear a lot about people meeting their heroes – the awkwardness of it, the desire to both be cool and let the person be and the desire to jump in their shirt pocket and go home with them forever. I had a bit of that when Patton Oswalt came to Fargo the year before we moved to the Twin Cities. I got his book and went to a book signing with Becky. She made me get in line after he’d done his reading. I had him sign the book, but wouldn’t let Becky do a picture. This was the days before we had phones with cameras. The world had them, but not Becky or me.
I also had the feeling when we went to a Paul F. Tompkins stand up event after seeing him on Wits the night before. I again waited in line, got a picture. He signed his dvd case. I managed to not be creepy.
Becky has a much worse time around heroes. We went to an Ani DiFranco concert in Fargo once and approached the Fargo theater from the alleyway, and there she was, her legs hanging out the front of the tour bus as she smoked. Becky saw her legs and stopped. Like a deer in headlights. I had to drag her past the bus to the doors that led to the front of the building.
She also has similar reactions to team mascots like Hawkeye, the bird mascot of the Fargo RedHawks baseball team. She was always afraid to go up to him and get a hi-five.
That’s all just background so you know where my head is at to tell this meeting a hero story.
I’ve written pretty gushingly, and deservedly so, about my love for Wits, the radio show/podcast that’s homegrown right in St. Paul. It’s tempting to bring in comparisons to Prairie Home Companion – also in St. Paul, also featuring a house band music guests and skits, also the brainchild of the writer/performer – but the shows are so incredibly different in key ways. Wits brings in actors and comedians, has fun interviews, a game, and thrives on pop culture the way PHC thrives on folksy.
Anyway, I wrote about Wits and what it meant to us last year. John Moe responded with a tweet:
He aslo emailed me personally about his appreciation and asked if we wanted tickets to that week’s show – that I had to turn it down because of a prior commitment really stunk.
The last show we went to was May 31, the week Becky lost her job. Once again, the show came along at a pivotal moment in our lives where we needed something to look forward to and forget the crappiness of things for a bit. We already had the tickets, and it was a show with Peter Sagal, Paul F. Tompkins and Open Mike Eagle. For a few hours, we could put reality away that week. For the month before, my therapist had been trying to get me to stop worrying about one of us losing our jobs – it was my biggest fear. So yeah, it was horrible. We didn’t yet know that Becky would soon find a temporary contract job in digital marketing – all we knew is we had to cancel our planned vacation in June, to stop aggressively paying off debts, and return to belt tightened mode for another summer. This might have been our last fun thing for a long time.
We joined the Wits social club last year, which gets us access to tickets before they go on sale to the general public, and it gets us a 10 percent discount. They usually have a happy hour event the evening before you can call for tickets. At the event, you can go to the theater and buy in person. However, we couldn’t get out of work when they took place before.
This time, however, events conspired to get me to the happy hour social club event on Sept.4. Becky couldn’t make it since she’d already had two job interviews that day and had to make up some hours at work.
I got to the place at 4:30, half an hour after they opened, hoping it would be a simple process. The line was out the door. In all, it was 45 minutes of shuffling before I could get our tickets to three of the four upcoming shows. Luckily, you can get a beer to help pass the time, especially when you are me and talking to strangers is not an option. Thank jebus for cell phones that I can look at to avoid eye contact, even though I’m not looking at anything in particular.
This younger guy in a red checkered shirt was making his way down the line, checking people’s social club numbers. Hans Buetow, a producer for American Public Media. I showed him my number, he looked it up on his list.
“Joel Hagen.” His head snapped up again at me. “Why do I know that name?”
Me: I blink dumbly. Immediately I wonder if I’m in trouble. What did I do? Then I remember I don’t know this person.
“Um, I don’t know.”
“I swear I know that name.”
“Well, I did write a blog about the show last year…”
“That’s you!!! That’s where I know you from! Yeah, you wrote that blog… um…”
“Bacon and Ice Cream.”
“Yes! Oh my gosh, we all loved that post. We passed it around the office. Everyone loved it. How are things going?”
“Well, ups and downs, you know how it is. The wife is looking for work, so that’s a challenge. But we’re getting through it. Overall, things are going OK.”
“Good to hear. Hey, have you met John Moe?”
“You’ve got to meet him.”
Hans started looking around the lobby, but John Moe was nowhere to be seen.
“I’m going to go find him. Don’t go anywhere!”
Hans darted off. I started texting:
To my everlasting relief I managed to not be weird when a bearded John Moe came around the corner and was introduced to me. Awkward, of course, because this is me. I think it’s a birthright of Minnesotans.
“Hi, it’s great to meet you,” he said as we shook hands. “I love your writing.”
“I love your writing,” I said.
OhmygoshJohnMoeistalkingtome. Am I sweating? Do I have pit stains? Was my hand too clammy? Damn my clammy hands!
“How is everything going?” he asked.
I knew why he was asking. I had written how much the show had given Becky and I something to look forward to when things were at their worst in our lives. It was also there when things were better. When things are a constant struggle, bad thoughts are always at the surface. Becky and I are pretty much in charge of the other’s ability to get through such times.
“We’re doing OK,” I said. I relayed how Becky was back on the job market, and working full time and part time jobs on top of it all, so it’s all pretty exhausting, “So we are really looking forward to the Thrilling Adventure Hour/Wits/Weird Al show.”
It will be like a Voltron of awesome. Volsome? Christ, why am I talking about our lives so much?
“You know, Weird Al isn’t going to be signing. He’s coming to act,” Moe said.
“I’m perfectly good with that!”
“But that doesn’t mean we won’t leave an accordion on the stage, maybe hanging from a rope, in case the mood strikes.”
He mimed looking at an accordion, then looking at Al with a hangdog-puppy-with-a-cold-surrounded-by-angel-sprinkles look on his face. I mimed looking at a watch and said “You know, we don’t really have anything written for this five minutes, so we’ll just sit around by this accordion in dead silence.”
Banter, we’re bantering. With banter. We’re miming things at each other. Good God, who is this person talking through my mouth? How am I managing to keep cool and not pitching skits?
We exchanged more pleasantries, I again said how much we love the show, and John Moe headed off into the night. I imagine he was off to fight bears or solve crime. One or the other.
That’s my story. I managed to keep my cool to some degree. I managed not to try to crawl into John Moe’s shirt pocket. I met a hero and it wasn’t weird!
I hadn’t started reading his book at the time, but have since then. I read some out loud to Becky, the one about Disney characters. She loved it. Go get it. It’s awesome.
Half an hour later, I got my tickets for three of the four upcoming shows, including reserved seats for the Thrilling Adventure Hour/Wits/Weird Al/Rhett Miller extravaganza and general admission seats for the Neil Gaiman/My Brightest Diamond and the Hari Kondolabu/OK Go shows, which is all we could afford. Tip, if you decide to try to bring cash to such an event, don’t. Credit cards are much easier for them to do.
That’s a lot of names to throw out there. Thrilling Adventure Hour is a podcast comedy in the style of old time radio dramas and I love it. It’s my companion during chores like doing dishes. One of their features is a take on The Thin Man movies and stars the awesome Paul F. Tomkins and Paget Brewster. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors of all time, and OK Go is a band Becky and I both love. I also have done some research on Hari Kondolabu, and am excited for his appearance as well.
If you need notes on who Weird Al is, I don’t want to know you. Go away.
The Weird Al show is sold out (naturally), but there are tickets still available to the other shows. More info here.