There are times in life, when all of the stars align, and some amazing “no way!” situations, turn into “Holyfreakinshirt I can’t believe that happened” reality. This weekend was exactly that kind of a weekend. And no, I’m not talking about the amazing “Lazarus back from the dead,” return of Tiger Woods…but that was cool too.
But Friday night, my stars were working overtime, and the timing could not have been better.
I reluctantly agreed to attended the 150th Sesquicentennial (150th) celebration of my wife’s high school, Lincoln High School, in Portland, Oregon. From the aspect of a “reunion” of living class members with ages ranging into their 90s, down to current kid performers (yes…the choir and the dance team performed) it was predictable in it’s overpriced finger food and drink, long list of former teachers and administrators, as well as local celebrities.
You have to know that Portland has always been a bit “weird” and actually takes pride in that title. Before the “surprise guest” was announced, the biggest alumni names were a handful of current mayors (Lincoln has had a bunch), and one of the most infamous cross-dressers in the country, the irrepressible Darcelle, who is 89 years old, and still looks “fabulous!”
But then, the night, and all of my prospects changed, when the “Key Note Speaker” was announced as, “Special Guest, Cartoonist, Matt Groening.”
Deb grabbed my arm. I grabbed my cell phone. She said, “Oh my God! You have to get a…” But, I was already snapping pics and video, while working my way toward a place where I could get close to his stage exit location for a chat.
Yes. I was “fan geeking.” But, I didn’t care. This was Matt freakin’ Groening, and I was going to ASK HIM THE QUESTION…
As many of you who have followed my writing in the past, I have always claimed a loose “three degrees of separation” from Matt Groening. My wife Deb, was a casual friend of Matt’s sister, Lisa (the real sister), who married Craig Bartlett, with whom I worked with various projects when he was working for Will Vinton Claymation, before leaving to do his own projects. Matt, Lisa and Deb all went to Lincoln High School in Portland. But, that was decades ago. And, this was now.
And…of all of the people in the arena that night (there were over 1,400), there was only one who had the proud distinction of writing for the number one Simpsons Tapped Out blog in the world…ME! So, surely I would be able to get his attention long enough to ask, “The Question.”
The fact is, I’ve met loads of “celebrity types” in my life, as a radio program director, concert promoter, and studio wonk. So I wasn’t off-put by his status, and was determined to get a couple of minutes with him.
But, things can go almost predictably weird, when you are
coming home,” to a huge arena of relative strangers. Matt went from being a famous cartoonist worth a gazillion dollars, to being “that Groening kid” who was admittedly kind of a “pain in the ass” as an irreverent student. An admitted poor student, even poorer athlete, and almost constant truant, most of his stories onstage were very personal and self-deprecating in nature, recounting friends, pranks, and the kind of everyday “kid stuff,” that should have endeared him to the crowd…if they could hear him.
Matt, in his saggy, wrinkled jacket and “Dad jeans,” was swallowed by the huge stage. The easel of drawings he tried to use as visual support, could only be seen by a handful of people in the front rows (it should have been projected as a PowerPoint overhead) and the crowd grew restless quickly, unable to hear, the din of chatter soon overwhelming the “speaker” to a point where he simply said, “I’ve lost you…” and started rifling through his cue cards he was reading from, under the bright spotlights.
This was clearly no celebrity panel at Comic-Con.
It was kinda brutal. I started to perspire for him… I’ve been in situations like that, and it is simply a nightmare. Bad AV. Bad crowd. And having to follow the High School Dance team, who sucked the energy out of the room.
It was clear there were a few fans in the audience who tried to laugh loudly at the right spots. But, when his jokes went a bit “off-color,” and when he made a reference about his class (class of ’72) having to deal with the worst President ever (Nixon) until now…the crowd wasn’t so much hostile, as it was barely able to contain its apathy. Like I said. Brutal.
There were some funny references. A mention that he was donating the drawings he had done from the flip presentation to charity, and that he had really enjoyed talking to the High School kids the day before. I’m guessing they listened better, and got the jokes.
When it was finally over, I joined a substantial group of people who actually had “old connections” to Matt. People who went to school with him, or had family members who went to school with him, or played on a little league team with him, or knew someone who knew someone who knew him.
The line wasn’t too long…and it was orderly. Matt was gracious to connect with everyone who came forward, listening and genuinely interacting. He was a very, very, normal kinda guy…for a multimillionaire who has never been back to his High School since graduating.
I finally got my chance. He looked at my name tag, and then looked up…and I said, “Hi there Matt, I’m one of the three degrees of separation types…who is going to ask you a “Comic-con” kinda question….I worked with your brother-in-law Craig, at Vinton, and I blog for TSTOAddicts.”
The look of confusion that came over his face said it all.
“I don’t know what that is,” Matt replied honestly.
“It’s the number one blog for The Simpsons Tapped Out,” I replied, with a bit of an edge of incredulity, while maintaining my earnest, friendly smile.
His face instantly lit up in recognition. “OH!! The writers love that game! They play it constantly…they grind it out…every day!”
Ah. Finally a connection. Mostly.
OK. So I admit it. I purposefully made the introduction “meta” in order to ascertain what he knew about Craig, the Game, and perhaps me, CrankyOldPatric. What I didn’t know is that Craig and his sister had split up back in 2015. So, much for connection degree number one.
And, after it was clear he neither played the game, nor read the blogs, I simply settled into a more relaxed, “I’m just a fan…who likes your work, and I’m not going to make you sign my underwear with an Eat My Shorts drawing of Bart” kinda vibe. Things went a bit better, and I was able to edge into “The Question.”
I’m not going to try to “word for word” the next few minutes, as I was reluctant to have my voice recorder turned on my phone (as this would turn me into “the press” and feel like an ambush). I just wanted to have a short conversation, while the rest of the people in line tried to figure out what the hell we were talking about.
But, I will encapsulate the important stuff…including “The Big Question.”
First…as much as those of us in the “Blog-O-Sphere” would like to think “The Creator” reads our blog. It was clear, he does not. In fact, I am going to guess that he has such a “non-Hollywood” vibe about things at this point (he looks and acts about as Non-Hollywood as one could get), that he doesn’t read much of anything at all about the show, about the game, or maybe even the fate of the show. He doesn’t do social media…and pretty much seems to endure his forced appearances at Comic-Con.
As I said, the writers play the game. At least some of them do. Which may have a lot to do with why the dialogue is often the best part of every update in the game. It also makes me forgive the writer’s who lampoon the gullibility of the players a bit, because they too, are being yanked around by EA.
There is simply no doubt that The Simpsons is very much an homage to Matt’s Portland upbringing…with more references and storylines to his youth than one could count. And yes…everything from Marge’s hair (his own mother’s bouffant hair)…
are references to real life…if slightly exaggerated, that were part of his presentation. He talked about the origin of Krusty the Clown being a kid show host on Portland’s Channel 12, named “Rusty Nails.” Rusty may have also been the inspiration for Itchy and Scratchy, if this picture is a hint.
So…yes…Springfield is Springfield OREGON. Like it or not, like ALL real Oregonians, no matter where they live, or work, or become famous, if they were raised in Oregon, they remain Oregonians at heart, forever. Period.
After a brief recounting of my connections through Craig, and the work we did on the Claymation Christmas Celebration for Vinton, which was the same year that “The Simpons” showed up as a short on the short-lived, “Tracy Ullman Show” (it was a big year for animation wonks!), I got around to building up to “The Question.”
“So I get that you don’t play the game…but your writers do…are they freaking out with the lull, and the possible ending of the game?” I questioned, as if it was a perfectly normal thing to ask a guy who was surrounded by childhood friends, clamoring for a selfie.
“What? Is there some sort of lull going on?” He replied…clearly perplexed.
“Yes…the rumor mills are going nuts…with the speculation being that with the Disney deal, the game is going to end soon,” I explained, knowing that he knew at least part of the answer, even if he didn’t play the game.
And then…he said it. What all TSTOAddicts really needed to know...”Nah….I don’t think so…Disney doesn’t really have anything to do with the game at all. It’s probably just a lull.”
BOOOM!!! There you have it! Probably just a lull! From the guy who doesn’t play the game, but knows the “deal” part of the Disney deal, intimately.
Sensing that my time had come to an end…and feeling the literal heat of others in the crowd wanting their turn with Matt….I did what every real fan of the show, the game, and the “truant makes good” history of this guy would do…I asked for a selfie, and thanked him for all of the amazing work he has done over the years.
And, that was it.
I turned. I didn’t look back. I didn’t try to go in for a followup question when the crowd finally thinned (he hung around for at least a half hour after the rest of the crowd had dispersed).
I simply took solace in the fact that Matt is a regular guy (for a mega-millionaire who lives in a huge mansion and doesn’t play the game), and that life can truly be weirdly amazing, when you least expect it to be.
Fame is a fickle thing…especially when you went to a High School full of doctor’s kids, and broker’s kids, and a people as famous as the infamous “Flashing Mayor, Bud Clark”
and Darcelle (who I still can’t believe is 89 years old, and walks great in high platform heels!)…and dazzled my wife Deb.
But, I laughed at his inside jokes. I appreciated his unkempt, overly nerdy attire, and awareness that he was still a “smart ass” who lucked out and made it big.
I would have been shocked if he actually read our blog…or knew who the hell I was, other than “the guy who asked the weird question” and knew his EX-Brother-In-Law, Craig. Let’s face it…the success of the “Simpson’s Tapped Out,” has far less to do with Matt, than it does the choice to allow EA to be “the engine,” and perhaps a handful of the Simpsons writers who DO play the game.
I can live with that.
It was a weird, unexpected, and fun blip of time, and made an otherwise pretty unbearable night, special.
It gives us all just a glimmer of hope, that Matt knows enough about the game, to know that Disney has nothing to do with it. I’ll take that.