By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Ted Soqui|
THE NERDS TAKE THE SIDEWALK LIKE THEY OWN IT. NERDS ON BLANKETS and sleeping bags. Nerds playing Scrabble and chess and Cranium. Nerds camped out on butterfly chairs. Tonight is the opening night of Star Wars: Episode II -- Attack of the Clones, and I'm waiting in line outside the Mann's Village in Westwood for the midnight show, the first public screening. By noon the line wound halfway down the street. By 2 o'clock, it reached the gas station at the end of the block. By 8 o'clock, when six friends and I arrive, it wraps around the opposite side to a sidewalk far, far away. It is at about this point that four of us resolve to spend the rest of the night talking like Yoda.
"Heard from Bernstein yet, have you?"
"Clouded his future is." I met Robert Bernstein years ago in the UCLA graduate student dorms. In the diverse classification of nerds, geeks, dorks, freaks and dweebs, Bernstein is certainly not the most rabid Star Wars fan in our quadrant of the cosmos. One wouldn't, for example, want to pit him against the wookie-ish fellow seated about two feet from the theater entrance, who has been staring intently at the Episode II promo poster and who has, someone whispers, been in line for "a really long time." Certainly Bernstein is not famous, no more so anyway than the lanky Asian guy dressed up as Obi-Wan with the battery-powered light saber. He is, however, the only 30-year-old man I've ever met who sleeps on R2-D2 bed sheets. In everyday life, Bernstein's an ordinary guy, a balding, bespectacled organic chemist working for the Department of Defense. But Robert Bernstein is our Luke Skywalker. And tonight, his star has risen.
Though there are fewer people in costume this time around -- oh, for the days of the Phantom Menaceline of '99, rife with orange flight suits and Queen Amidalas -- the tech is light-years ahead. The most happening spot in line seems to be about a third of the way up at the corner, not too close to the front, yet still early enough in the queue to be considered "serious." Here, a gaggle of rumpled boys clutch handfuls of Star Wars Trivial Pursuit cards as a boom box perched atop a newspaper kiosk plays the Darth Vader theme. Their sleeping bags command significant real estate. A few feet away, guys in beanies sit cross-legged in front of two computers networked to three more in a van down the street: A local Internet café is sponsoring a sidewalk LAN party. Yellow power cables snake out from the pizza parlor next door.
"They're playing Counter-Strike," a guy in shorts and sandals explains.
We nod. Miniature explosions erupt onscreen.
"What is Counter-Strike?" I nudge Jeff in the shoulder.
"What is it?" he sighs, looking up at the sky. "Only the most significant computer game of the 21st century. If you look on the Web, at any given time, there are maybe 5,000 people playing Wolfenstein, 2,000 playing Soldier of Fortune, but over 48,000 are playing Counter-Strike." To our right a guy with a laptop scrolls through the engineering diagram for an X-Wing fighter.
I return to my place in line, where the following conversation is occurring between my friends, who, if you were to meet them not on the street not waiting for five hours for a movie about Anakin Skywalker's transit to the Dark Side, might very well pass for normal human beings:
Sharon: "So, relative to everyone else, how big is Yoda?"
Jeff: "That's a rather personal question, isn't it?"
Sal: "Yoda is small because he's stressed out."
Yoh: "Yoda does not get stressed out."
Me: "Stress leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering."
Tales of Yoda's prowess filter through the line. Yoda is bigger than Dooku, bigger than Padmé, Windu or Palpatine. Yoda, it is decided, will "open a can of whoop-ass" in Episode II that will blow the galaxy wide, wide open.
Two hours to show time.
"Brethren!" he cries. He's expansive. Giddy.
"Where's the Darth Maul chair?" I ask.
"Didn't bring it," he says, shuffling his feet. "Do you know how long it takes to inflate that thing?"
"Tatooine to Robert! What the hell else did you think we were gonna do for five hours?"
Once, Robert told me about how he can't sleep in the new house he bought in New Mexico, so he put up life-size models of Boba Fett and a storm trooper to keep him company. Every now and then he wakes up in the middle of the night and screams when he sees the shadowy white
figure pointing a blaster rifle at his head. I imagine that his screams are giddy and full of glee, not unlike the grin he's got now as our line finally begins to move.
Road Rules: Instant Karma on the 710
I HAVE LITTLE FAITH IN THE OLD hippie adage that what goes around comes around. In this world at least, evil deeds go unpunished and virtue is unrewarded. So I am all the more thrilled to be able to relay this tale of instantaneous divine retribution in the most unholy of locales.