Most people look back fondly on the individuals who influenced their behavior and attitudes as children, and wonder what would have happened if they ever met their role models. A few move those dreams to varying levels of completion, with results ranging from handshakes to restraining orders. A few, well, a few manage to make an impression. By the time I turned 35, I’d met almost all of my childhood heroes. Oh, who am I kidding? I scared the hell out of them.
You think I’m exaggerating, but much like how I have an FBI record for allegely selling government secrets to the Daleks, I have witnesses. In 1990, Stephen Jay Gould came through Dallas to promote his book Wonderful Life at McFarlin Auditorium at SMU, and I found myself invited to an autograph reception afterwards. After waiting in line behind a gaggle of sorority girls who thought they could sell their autographed copies afterwards, I stumbled to the front of the line with my well-worn copy of Wonderful Life, and promptly scared the hell out of Dr. Gould. Not with any of the erudite questions I had about the fossils of the Burgess Shale, but by choking and asking him about baseball. Mind you, at the time, I was in a black trenchcoat, Mad Max motorcycle boots with steel shin plates, and black hair down to my waist, so I don’t think he was expecting the question about baseball. (I also managed to scare the hell out of the fantasy author L. Sprague de Camp and his wife Catherine on the elevator up to the reception, even as I was trying to explain that we knew each other through correspondence.) It’s a good thing that I didn’t get my Anomalocaris tattoo until the beginning of 1992, because then he really would have flipped if he’d seen it.
I thought that was that, but it kept going. I scared the hell out of Carl Sagan. I literally scared Johnny Rotten so badly that he nearly jumped through a plate glass window, and that was only by my holding out my hand. I scared Harlan Ellison badly enough that he confided in me “Riddell, I like your writing, but DAMN you’re weird!” The main reason I never scared the hell out of Hunter S. Thompson was because I actively avoided attending his readings and lectures: you should never scare the hell out of anybody with access to lots of exotic firearms. Hell, I even scared the hell out of people I’d known from high school, who later went on to bigger and better things. You’d think they’d been immunized from Riddell horror just from my proximity back then.
Again, I have to note: with most of these tales of terror, I have witnesses, particularly to the Johnny Rotten incident. The Czarina is even worse: she managed to scare the hell out of theatrical makeup artist Tom Savini, just by being herself. Well, that and standing six feet tall.
It hasn’t gotten any easier since I switched careers from writing to horticulture. Just ask Jacob Farin. Or Debbie Middleton, who keeps a shotgun loaded with consecrated silver by her bedside just in case I should visit without warning. Amanda Thomsen now knows four separate recipes for napalm and keeps them on hand, and Ryan Kitko claims he knows I’m going to contact him when he has dreams about my brother Martin and I calling our father’s name from atop Sentinel Hill. (Well, that’s fair, seeing as how my brother looks more like our father than I do.)
This, of course, is why I fear meeting the person behind The Idiot Gardener. As his bio reads:
I am an idiot. It needs saying. I drink too much, exercise too little, and am unlikely to change. On 29 November 2009, I had a thought. That thought has turned into a millstone around my neck. I carry my burden with me, and every day it gets a little bit heavier! To think, I could have been so many things: a drunk, a junkie, a womaniser, a lunatic, a criminal or even a pervert. Instead, for my sins, I chose GARDENING!
I understand all too well, seeing as how “freelance writer” is much filthier than anything in his list. (With only a slight bit of self-loathing for youthful indiscretions, I highly recommend that weekly newspaper writers and science fiction magazine columnists marry meth dealers and child pornographers, solely so their children have one parent they can look up to.) As I said, I fear meeting him, because we’ll either see the aspects we have in common and become fast friends, or see the aspects we have in common and challenge each other to single combat. Either one can’t be good for the space-time continuum.