Freaks and Geeks

So many starlets in the sky, plus a sprinkling of comic-book characters

I got my geek on at Mike Carbonaro's Big Apple Comic Book Convention, which brought swarms of aggressive nerds to the Penn Plaza Pavilion to rassle over graphic art, trinkets, and a chance to gawk at stars from the A to Z list. The scene had arrested children (and some real ones) taking the guilt out of pleasure by openly exploring their culty passions while quietly picking at their scabs. The day I showed up, Jedis were prancing around wielding large sabers, a fistfight was almost breaking out among artists jockeying for space ("They're very territorial," explained an official. "Even Picasso had an edge"), and by another booth, a dad was telling his son about one three-headed action figure: "Put it back. We'll add that to Santa's list." (Sure, and just blame the fat freak when it never materializes.)

Free autographs of a former Heroes star were being handed out, but for Hayden Planetarium—I mean, Hayden Panettiere—the teen blonde who still plays the cheerleader on that same show, you had to wait in line and fork over 25 bucks. Hayden's manager/mother watched over her the whole time, looking like a cross between Lindsay and Britney's mamas and driving a hard bargain by saying I could talk to her daughter if I mentioned SavetheWhalesAgain.org (which Hayden is a spokesmodel for) and also didn't bring up her personal life. Desperate to ask if she's ever dated a whale, I whorishly agreed anyway.

So what's the weirdest thing Hayden had to autograph so far? "One guy just had me sign an entire book of my life," she said, bemused. "He paid $600 for it!" Uh oh. Get out the restraining order. Speaking of legal action, Japan has issued an arrest warrant for Hayden for trying to interfere with dolphin hunting there. It's kind of refreshing to have a starlet arrested for saving wildlife rather than for driving drunk and licenseless with three tots on her lap. Will she get thrown in the clink if she sets foot in that country again? "It depends," she said. "Part of this could be them trying to scare me away from coming back, because obviously they don't want me there." You don't mess with the sushi industry, honey!

As I left, a man in a very tight baseball cap actually asked for my autograph, and I lit up like Elvira on Halloween. "That'll be $25," I tried, and the guy laughed a little too emphatically.

Freaks and geeks are forced to grow up in The Savages, Tamara Jenkins's dark, eloquent tale of two siblings (Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman) having to take care of their unpleasant and now fully demented father while dredging up unresolved childhood issues. At the premiere, Jenkins told me: "I had two loved ones suffering from dementia at the end of their lives." Party! And what has she learned about death, pray tell? "I have a funny story," she said. "When I was in L.A. doing screenings of the movie, my driver, who'd take me around in a black sedan, told me that by day he was a mortician. I asked him, 'How has proximity to death made you feel?' He said, 'It's acceptable. I'm not looking forward to it, but it's acceptable.' " Not for me—I'm planning to keep the receipt and bring it back to customer service. "I mean, here's a guy who drives corpses by day and Paris Hilton at night!" added Jenkins. Same difference!

By the way, Hoffman is having quite a year—first robbing and killing family members in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and now putting them in nursing homes in The Savages! He's also doing the movie of Doubt, and some cynics have expressed anguish over that casting, insisting it tips the scales: He definitely did it!

In an even darker part of the cineplex, the upcoming Atonement, which is being deafeningly buzzed about in Oscar circles, actually has a plotline that centers on the use of the word cunt. Honey, that's my kind of art film!

No stranger to the C-word, Dan Savage is having his book The Kid turned into a stage musical, as I reported last week. Scott Elliott confirmed to me that he's directing the project for the New Group and said, "It's touching and hilarious. It's Dan's exploration of figuring out what it means to be a father as a gay person." Maybe they can call it The Savages.

For the set designer, let me suggest Tony Walton, who was just honored by the National Arts Club with a medal of honor to go with his three Tonys and 16 nominations. At the event, I weirdly wondered if Walton ever had to throw out a design concept he came into a show with. "Yes," he admitted. "For the first act of The Apple Tree, I started with a very elaborate Garden of Eden, but it turned out it's just two people and the snake. All you needed were sawhorses and ladders." So the recent revival—which used just that and was dismissed as "minimal"—was actually just recreating the original? "Yes," he said. "And with the revival of Chicago, everyone assumed it's a radically stripped-down reworking of a full-on, flamboyant production. But in the original, we just had a bandstand and some neon signs!" Still, with Gwen and Chita dancing around them instead of reality stars and ex-boy-banders, it seemed a lot fuller.

Over at Splash, the signs aren't neon, but they do clearly say "Beware of pickpockets." Yeah, the go-go boys! One of them recently made a point of getting behind me to do some supposedly hilarious erotic dance, and as he did so I felt his hand go so far into my right pocket it almost pinched my low hangers. Fortunately there was nothing in there to take—but next time there'll be a rat trap with a piece of head cheese.

My pockets are empty after spending over $2,500 to order custom-made shoes that took six months to make and didn't fit, and I want to thank everyone who lent support and advice after my column that griped about that situation. The funny thing is, I recently wandered into Kmart and found two pairs of $7.50 bedroom slippers that fit better than the custom-made shit! So bless you, Kmart! I will insanely trudge through blizzards in slippers while making boudoirwear chic if it kills me. (Update: Still hoping for actual shoes, I contacted Nike about their Air Native N7 model, made for big-footed Native Americans. These babies are only offered in tribal wellness centers, but I thought I might be able to cajole a pair out of the publicist if I sounded desperate enough. Alas, the creature never followed up. Maybe she found out I'm not really Native American?)

But let me take off my slippers and leave you with a gift: my annual holiday guide to spotting messy people in nightclubs! See, in my long life spent at boozy boîtes, I've noticed that there's a certain type of person that hangs out there: drug addicts! Oh, not just drug addicts, mind you. Let me not generalize. There are some alcoholics, too! And there are even more people who are on both drugs and alcohol.

And how do you spot these sweaty, self-medicated dingbats? Well, without fail, they always: Are either manic or comatose, but never anything in between. Point out other drug addicts in the crowd and endlessly tsk-tsk about how sad they are. Are wildly enthusiastic and full of ideas about things you can do together, but when you follow up the next day, act like you're from outer space. Are rabid sexaholics who will hit on their own grandmother's corpse at 3 a.m. Make up dramatic reasons they need to borrow money ("A meteor hit my home town. . . ."). Attach themselves to whoever's got drugs or is willing to spend a few bucks to get some. Interrupt your conversation to scream unfunny things in your face. Lose track of time, though they somehow know exactly when the open bar ends. Spend the whole night fidgeting and texting other messes. Can sit next to me any time!

WEB EXTRA

But wait! Put down that bong! As the strike rages on, it's a good time to soberly think of some classic movie lines that might have come to pass if it weren't for professional writers. One satirical YouTube post came up with "Whatever, Scarlett," among other listless gems, but let me add these verbal turkey trots: "We'll always have Pittsburgh"; "Nobody is dismissive to Baby"; "Encore, Sam"; "Put your seatbelts on really tight, everybody"; "E.T., text home"; and of course the immortal "I'm the king of the front part of this boat!"

musto@villagevoice.com

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