Saturday, May 29, 2010

Love at First Star Wars Reference

            I fell in love with a clown at the Mall of America.

In the middle of the Mall there’s an amusement park. Rollercoasters, water rides, ferris wheels and costumed characters. Nowadays, it has a Nickelodeon theme – last time I was there I rode the Sponge Bob rollercoaster – but back in the day it was called Camp Snoopy and the characters that roamed the park were the Peanuts gang.

During the month of October, they liked to augment the cast as part of the Halloween Celebration: Camp Spooky. There were some ghoulish characters (a ghost, a scarecrow and a swamp creature), but they also added things like a princess, a knight and a jester.

This was during the brief stint in my life where I was flirting with the misguided notion that I might have an acting bone somewhere in my body, and I figured that any acting experience was going to be good experience. I tried out for the knight, and in the improvised part of the audition, I played it cowardly (not unlike Sir Andrew Aquecheek in Twelfth Night) I shivered at the mere mention of anything creepy or unpleasant and they ate it up. I got the job.

When I showed up to be fitted for my costume I ran into a girl outside of the Peanut Gallery Theater. She was tall with short brown hair and little eyes like Chinese Checkers.

There was nothing extraordinary about her physically. You encounter a lot of this in the Midwest: girls who seem plain at first glance, but have an air of absolute sensibility about them. They are healthy, happy, level-headed, and they have modest culinary ambitions. They make excellent charades partners, enjoy watching baseball, and they boast odd, unexpected skills (in this instance: clowning). These girls are the perfect elixir to the aimless romantic boy.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m the jester. Who are you?”

“I’m the cowardly knight,” I told her. And then simply because I’d been marveling at the fact that there were all sorts of real trees planted in the park I observed: “Isn’t it weird that they have real trees in Camp Snoopy? I thought they were fake up until now.”

Her checker eyes lit up. “You know what I heard about these trees? I heard that when Star Wars Episode One premiered, that a bunch of people hid up in them overnight so that they could be the first ones in line to buy tickets. Imagine all those nerds camping out in trees! Isn’t that awesome?”

My jaw dropped. My eyes glazed over with sugar and all the splendid lights around her head stretched into candy laser beams.


I went on to tell her that I had a long history with Star Wars here at the Mall of America. When they re-released the original trilogy in 1997, some friends of mine from college came down here and stood in line all day to get tickets and our friend Patrick even convinced the theater employees to let him help clean the theater before our show so that he could sneak in and save amazing seats for us (sixth row center). Patrick works in politics now.

She said she had worked as a professional clown, and had gone to college at St. Thomas. The St. Thomas Tommies are the hated rivals of my college, Macalester (the Fighting Scots), but I didn’t care. There was something very preppy and American about the Tommies, and I’d come to know several attractive St. Thomas students while I was doing my student teaching at the Museum Magnet School and Expo Elementary. I found them to be perfectly tolerable. Even if I hadn’t, all that history of conflict was just that: history. I adored my clown.

You see, sometimes it doesn’t take too much to fall in love.



If I profane with my unworthiest hand

This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.


            Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,

            Which mannerly devotion shows in this;

            For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,

            And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.


            Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?


            Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.


            O then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do!

            They pray: grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.


            Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.


            Then move not, while my prayers’ effect I take. (1:5)


            And then they kiss.

            I think it’s essential in movies and plays, that the moment when two people fall in love be big and real and important. For Romeo and Juliet they have this moment, when they first see each other, they dance together and they share a sonnet.

            This may seem like a ridiculous thing to say, but the poetry is always Shakespeare’s strength. Nearly all of the stories he used for his plays come from other source material. R and J is based on a famous legend of sundered lovers who employ a sleeping draught to feign death and escape together that appears in many iterations going all the way back to the third century. Shakespeare takes these stories, he turns them around, he introduces new characters, he streamlines the action, fixes the endings and dresses the dialogue in perfect language.

Writing is re-writing as we say.

            There’s another tragic love story that comes to mind as I re-read Romeo and Juliet. Of course, I’m talking about Han Solo and Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. I think the reason that Empire is widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars movies is due entirely to the escalating sexual tension between the scoundrel and the princess as they dart in and out of asteroids barely avoiding the clutches of Darth Vader. And the payoff is just too delicious and tragic to be ruined by prequels. Captured by Boba Fett, and in the Empire’s clutches, Han is being lowered into the carbon-freezing chamber when Leia realizes she might never have a chance to say it to him again, and she steps forward:



            I love you.


            I know.


            Bad. Ass.

            Oh, how we boys dreamed of noble demise. The heroism and the sacrifice afforded those of us who would one day battle the forces of evil in intergalactic warfare.

            But there would be no room in the annals of chivalric wooing for a cowardly knight that October. Oh my clown, my jester. I wandered more than once to her section of the park and watched her juggle, and perform tiny magic tricks to the wonder of nine year-old park-goers on their way to inhale funnel cakes and plunge a hundred feet on the log ride. We rode the merry-go-round with a group of unsupervised youngsters, who comforted me as the up and down motion made me queasy and nervous, but they dragged me away from there to find the princess because as children they understood the cruel, controlling nature of destiny better than anyone.

            I didn’t have a car at this time in my life. And I had to take the 84 bus from Grand Avenue and Snelling in St. Paul all the way to Bloomington to get to work those days. One night after the park closed, she saw me looking at the bus schedule and said, “You don’t want to take the bus do you?” I told her I didn’t. “Well, you should get a ride home with us.”


            “My boyfriend is coming to pick me up. We live in St. Paul too.”


            It never would have worked anyway. I don’t know. What do you think? A jester and a guy like me?


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