No pictures this time. Just a story. Please share it, I’m hoping he reads this. A long shot, I know. But this comes from the heart, so I hope. In the absolute least, I’m going to rile up an argument about Central Jersey…that’s always fun.
In case you haven’t heard, this weekend after a successful return to stand-up, Kevin Smith was hospitalized with what has been described as a massive, life-threatening heart attack.
Weird thing is, I had been revisiting his films this entire past week and reminiscing about the impact he has had on not only my life, but the lives of so many of us in the nerd/geek community.
Here is a man who came from a small town in the often condemned as non-existent “Central Jersey”, more specifically, the Atlantic Highlands. As a Jersey fella myself, his success had an extra strong impact because here’s a fellow blue collar kid, only a little older than me, but no less the nerd, who took a chance and made a movie that not only he, but no one else thought would become anything huge. He originally killed off the main character! But still he went on and built one of the most beloved worlds in all of cinema at a time when universe-building in movies really was not a thing that was done without having a 2, 3, or 4 following your film’s title.
One of the regulars came in to my video store in 1994 and started telling me about this indie movie he’d just seen at a theater in Hoboken that he swore was “about me”. He continued that it was this black & white film about a convenience store clerk and his video store friend and it had the funniest dialog he had ever heard. It made him think of me going on and on about movies to my customers at the store. Of course I had to see it. Immediately.
So I did. The very next day, I called my assistant manager, said I needed the day off. He wasn’t even supposed to be there that day… I grabbed the train at Plauderville Station (before the fancy upgrade). Four stops to Hoboken. Picked up the requisite slice at that place on Newark Street where it meets Court St which is really just a creepy freakin’ alleyway…. Then I hit the theater and bought my ticket for the next showing of little movie called Clerks.
My life changed for the better because of Kevin Smith.
Since then, because not only did he stay in Jerz for a little while longer, but also made his presence well known by opening up a comic book store right in the Highlands area, thus bringing him straight down to our level. He was real he was approachable. We now had one of ours making movies about us for us. The weirdos, stoners, geeks, fruitcakes and dweebs had a new leader. It started small, Shelley. Then Verne, Wells, Lovecraft, Heinlein, Asimov, Roddenberry, Gygax, Lucas, and now, the new king of the weirdos and their ilk….Smith. And since then, Kevin Smith has never led us astray. He’s been a good king, a benevolent demi-god of abject nerdery. After the movies, he started his website forums, another way to engage with a man we’d come to idolize, but who never balked at us in a way the many that famous would. Yes, at first, he was a bit sensitive. But this was the early internet days. We hadn’t yet gotten used to or even had used the word, “trolls”. But, he persevered. He then created one of the original and best podcast networks on the web….and half of the shows are his!
It was around 1998 or ’99, that I was working at Suncoast Video in the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, NJ.
Still a clerk.
One night, during an otherwise particularly dull and quiet evening, myself and one of the part-timers were just dusting, talking, and generally trying to kill time until shifts end. A fella walks and says that he had heard we were the dumping grounds of all the chain’s laser discs. Which was true. Laser discs had gone the way of the VHS. DVD was now king, but Kevin Smith didn’t want to hear any of that, so he came into my store to load up on his favorite format.
So, knowing I had a fellow film-buff in front of me, I went and did my best customer service and chatted with the man. But here’s the thing. I had NO IDEA who I was talking to at the time. None. Zero.
I was clueless.
The conversation was great and we went all over the place. We talked about Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Terminator, Godzilla, Terms of Endearment, Cocoon…this man loved movies as much as I did. I wanted to be his best friend so we could talk about movies like this forever. Aside from that, he has a few bags full of Harley Quinn 12″ figures. He’d come to buy up the stock of the KB Toys in the mall. I was bro crushing, big time. So, after about 20-30 minutes, his then pregnant wife was seeming a little perturbed with me distracting him, so we wrapped it up. As I was ringing him up, I checked the name on his card, as you do, and, as I considered this guy my new bff, busted his chops with , “Oooo…look at Mr. Moneybags” here buying over a hundred dollars worth of clearance priced laser discs, I saw the name, “Kevin Smith”. I asked him if he gets a lot of people ribbing him about that, if he liked those movies, etc, to which he replied with a sort of , “Heh, they’re okay I guess”. I bagged his stuff, shook his hand and thanked him for the awesome conversation, he laughed, waved goodbye, and walked out.
At that moment, a metric and imperial fuck ton of bricks stomped on my face at warp six. I’m an idiot and just spent time talking to one of my heroes, made small talk about his achievements and everything about him to his face and DIDN’T REALIZE IT WAS HIM!?!?!?
I didn’t care if I got fired. “Kailey, watch the store for 5 minutes!! I’ll be right back!”
I ran out, down the stairs, just past the food court, “Mr. Smith!” he stopped and turned around, “What’s up? Did I forget somethin’?” I took a deep breath, “I’m an idiot and didn’t realize that you were you and I was gushing about you to you and I’m embarrassed and I wanted to say “I’m Sorry”, but also thank you. Thank you for what you gave me. A fun, irreverent voice that makes me laugh when I need it. You helped me make a lot of friends and reignited my dream to work in film no matter how. To just do it. I want to thank you for that and sorry if this is all weird, but I’ll probably never have the chance again.”
I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget right after when he just smiled and said a bit awkwardly, “Thanks man. That’s really sweet. I don’t think my goofy movies are all THAT, but thank you.” He shook my hand again, and that was it. I was always taught, “Never meet your heroes.” but thanks to him, I learned that’s not true.
Kevin Smith is an amazing human being. He continues to entertain us and speak in our language. He’s respectful to us. He’s a loving husband, a doting father, and a fearless leader….and we almost lost him.
That being said, the other night I tried watching the David Bowie documentary, Five Years and it got me thinking again about how eulogies should be for the living. As a Gen-Xer, so many of my heroes are dropping like flies lately. With social media the beast it has become it’s en vogue to write long diatribes about the people we admired so much after they’d passed and couldn’t be an audience to it. It strikes me as really sad. I’m the kind of guy who likes to tell my friends I love them just because I do and they should always know it now. While it’s important.
Kevin Patrick Smith, I think I speak for a lot of us when I say, “I love you” and I’m glad you’re still here.
Christopher Lee Mannix