After the fake 9-1-1 call he made–allegedly made–to pull me off the online auction for Dan Quayle’s gym bag and jar of Ben-Gay, I had to admit a grudging respect for Wayne. I’ve always wanted to win, but I’ve never gone that far. I’m still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he really didn’t report a phony hostage situation at my apartment because it’s really out of character for him. However, like me, he’s a person who at times has allowed his worst impulses to get the best of him and do things that he wouldn’t do if he was in his right mind at the time.
Those impulses still get me in trouble. Wayne came to a point where he had to address his. But more about that in a moment.
It was still another year before Wayne and I finally met. We began sparring in a chatroom popular among VP foamers. It was a healthy give-and-take. I recommended he be drug-tested for even putting Levi Parsons Morton in the same league as John Nance Garner and he thought I was very nearly adulatory on the subject of Thomas Riley Marshall. I began working on my revenge for him almost getting me shot or arrested by the police just so he could steal Dan Quayle’s duffle bag from me. I had a fairly elaborate ruse planned involving a date rape drug, a gallon of fake blood, and an amateur actress friend who convinced me she was born to play a murdered 17-year-old prostitute, but it never got past the fantasy stage, as I was fairly certain that this was a road that could escalate to my imprisonment.
Through our gently-hostile exchanges in the VP chatroom we started realizing we had a practically disturbing amount in common: The Vice Presidential coincidences were notable but not terribly surprising given our particular shared passion–he’d gotten the phone number of one of the girls I was maced with at a Dan Quayle rally in Portland in 1991; I had tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate a 1979 audience Wayne’s Boy Scout Troop received with Walter Mondale where the Vice President took a liking to Wayne for his eleborate illustration of the Veep and nicknamed him “Hot Sauce” (I was 13 and all I could find was my old Cub Scout uniform, which red-flagged me instantly).
The personal parallels were a bit more startling. We’d gone to the same high school several years apart, ditto with college and I’d very likely served him on a fake ID when I was bartending at Taylor’s Tavern in Eugene, Oregon. We’d both dranks lots at Taylor’s during or after a Curtis Salgado show, and he threw up in the bathroom on my last night there during a Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs show when I was busy onstage responsible for making sure Jimmy never ran out of bourbon.
In late summer 2001 I’d lost almost everything I had betting on a proprietary search technology that my bosses had tried to sell at the height of the dot-com boom for $80 million, but now the market had crashed. They had ruined the company in a storm of cocaine, strippers, and hubris, yet when the tech crash came, they were still poised to unload the search engine placement technology to a wealthy pornographer for $4 million, and I was a junior partner who stood to make a 12.5% share off this sale. I wasn’t getting paid and was living off what was left of my 401(k), but I stood to make $500 K off this windfall (it was weeks later that we finally learned that all the time they’d been wining and dining my one remaining boss [the other embezzled $800,000 from the company, abandoned his wife and four children and moved in with his 21-year-old mistress], they were learning how the pornographer’s college-age techie son could reverse-engineer the search placement tool for $3,000, and while my boss was waiting in a Holiday Inn in Inglewood to sign the final papers, they canceled his return flight home and refused to return his calls).
But I didn’t know any of that yet, and not working and with a big payday coming, I decided to take a vacation to Maryland for the fifth anniversary of Spiro Agnew’s death.
Unfortunately, that anniversary fell on September 17, 2001, and I had to take a Trailways across the country after the planes were grounded for the better part of the previous week. Nonetheless, I made it to Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens cemetary in Timonium, Maryland on the morning of September 17.
I had purchased a cheap pair of clippers and gave myself an Agnew buzzcut in the Trailways depot in Gary, Indiana in anticipation of my visit, but after five days on a bus I didn’t look good. I didn’t care, but I was quite frankly appalled at the dearth of mourners at Vice President Agnew’s gravesite. Yes, it was a Monday, and Humphrey and Mondale always got better play in Veep circles, and people were still freaked out about the terrorism thing, even though it had been almost more than a week. But I thought it was an absolute disgrace.
Nonetheless, I was more than a little annoyed at the one mourner who was there and was circling the grave with a video camera. He made a snide comment when I accidentally nudged the bouquet of Black-Eyed Susans that he’d already laid on the grave. I was leaving my own bouquet. I wasn’t trying to shove his out of the way or out-mourn him or anything. I just wanted to leave a respectful arrangement in a way that would offer my respects and make a good picture, and then I just wanted to take a few minutes and read from Agnew’s May 8, 1970 post-Kent State speech.
But it was this one jackass with the camera who wouldn’t step off and shut up for five minutes. He had no respect for the solemnity of the moment and was walking near and around the gravesite reciting bullet-point details from Agnew’s biography. Any moron who knows Maryland from Meryl Streep can tell you backwards and forwards Agnew’s career in Maryland politics, and no one needs to be reminded that his first name was really Ted. I had no idea for whose benefit he was doing this video, but he was rubbing my fur wrong eight ways from Sunday, and I told him with great restraint that it might be nice if he piped down for four seconds and let someone else give tribute. I probably shouldn’t have punctuated my request by suggesting he looked like he might be more comfortable at Rockefeller’s gravesite “doing your little half-Nelson there.”
It’s hard to explain to a layperson, but there’s nothing that an Agnewphile hates more than being at the butt end of a Nelson Rockefeller joke. You just don’t go there unless you’re looking for trouble.
It worked, and in a matter of minutes, we wound up in a scuffle that was arguably inappropriate for the solemn venue in which we had both come for ostensibly separate but equally reverent reasons. Timonium police had to be called and we were placed under arrest for battery, disturbing the peace, and desecration of a gravesite (we wound up rolling onto former Balitimore Colts’ assistant coach Don McAfferty’s grave and I tried to brain my aggressor with a horseshoe that a fan-mourner had left near McAfferty’s tombstone). It was when we both insisted we wanted to press charges against the other that I realized who this was. “Mr. Kelter, I should tell you that Mr. Shellabarger has also expressed his intent to pursue criminal charges against you.”
I couldn’t believe it. This could be a coincidence but it would be too remarkable. This was my nemesis and the bane of my Vice Presidential passions, Wayne Shellabarger. I was incredulous, but I kept my cool and grudgingly agreed to drop the charges if he would as well (we were in separate holding rooms). I didn’t want to press charges because I didn’t want to wind up in a legal imbroglio in Maryland (though it would have given me a notch on my belt to share with my deceased Veep hero, Spiro T.) that would wind up with a bench warrant for my arrest, because there was going to be no way I’d be able to come back for trial. The owners of the cemetery promised not to press charges if we agreed to a lifetime ban from the premises (not a worry; I was going to grow my hair back so I knew I could always sneak my way back in in a year or two when the heat cooled).
Besides, like the fake hostage call, I had a grudging but growing respect for Wayne that he and I were the only mourners to make the trip to Dulaney Valley for this solemn and criminally-overlooked anniversary. I agreed, and was released with a $175 fine for disturbing the peace.
Wayne and I caught up with one another outside the jail. He knew it was me as soon as they told him I wanted to press charges against him. We’d known for awhile that it was inevitable with our passion and our mutual history that we’d meet someday, but we never knew when that would be, and there was still enough posturing surface tension that neither of us was going to initiate. We’d come to blows on one of the most sacred pilgramages of each of our lives, so it seemed an apropos time to bury the hatchet and break bread like men–in this case, over four six-packs of Yuengling and a fifth of Burnett’s Vodka in my room at the Red Roof Inn in Linthicum Heights. We looked at our citations and realized that our lifetime ban from Dulaney Gardens didn’t officially start until September 18, so after dark we used the last hour or two of the day to head back to the cemetery pay our respects properly.
And the rest is history. Sure, it hasn’t been all Kumbaya and non-sexual man love since, but he’s become like a brother to me, and I’d take a Squeaky Fromme bullet for him. We realized that we would rather pursue our Veep passion on the same team than using it against one another.
We learned that we both have a shared misery in that our Veeps obsessions contributed to the dissolution of our respective marriages. And I learned that Wayne was a talented courtroom sketch artist who’s a rising star in America’s courtroom sketch artist community. I had no idea there was a courtroom sketch artist community, but on the other hand, I met someone last week who had no idea there was a VP foamers community.
And in the process of formally getting to know one another, we discovered that we both shared a dream of opening a Vice Presidential museum to honor this most unfairly maligned class of American statesmen. Since then, we’ve been pooling our eBay windfalls and portions of our disposable income towards that end, and as of today we’ve saved nearly $3,100 to put towards our dream.
Granted, that’s already mostly spent on blueprints and then we’re spending the rest through a renowned Veep collector but it isn’t going to buy us more than some sequins off of Lady Bird Johnson’s 1961 Inaugural gown, a a lens from James Schoolcraft Sherman’s glasses, an actual bucket from John Nance Garner’s family farm (it’s wooden but we’re going to attach a metal bottom, add yellow food coloring and keep it on a hidden hotplate on simmer so it’s constantly steaming–get it?), a half-smoked pack of Chesterfields from Richard Nixon, and the pistol that a cobbler named Thaddeus Pursival was going to use to assassinate Schuyler Colfax (not too many people know about this but if you go to the library at Mid Plains Community College in North Platte, Nebraska, they’ve got transcripts of the definitive oral history of the incident, and there’s a librarian there named Loy Folger who will talk your ear off about it and how Pursival was certain that Colfax was complicit in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination because he refused an invitation to Ford’s Theater with Lincoln on April 14, 1965). But it’s a start.
The rest we’ll get from our own collections (I still can’t get him to cop to how he got it, but he’s already agreed to loan the Quayle gym bag) and from donations. Given my propensity for what he thinks are blind impulse wagers and my spotty gambling history, Wayne isn’t too keen on me throwing down our hard-raised sawbucks so recklessly, but I don’t bet on a whim, and if it’s a lock I can double or triple our money, I still think I can sell him.
A surer bet is our book, Veeps: Profiles In Insignificance, due out in August on Top Shelf Publications. Everything that the IRS and our various attorneys, plaintiffs, and creditors don’t get is going to our museum.
That was supposed to be our plan for 2008, after our mutual divorces and our respective vices throwing wrenches into the engines of our lives, and it’s still going to happen if we’ve got anything to say about it.
Come this past January, though, our timetable hit a bit of a snag. Now, I’m a creature of habit as much as Wayne, but I’ve started to emerge from mine none the worse for wear, but no permanent scars. Wayne, though, seemingly had one more rung to fall. On a recent crack-of-dawn visit to Moraga Country Club, Wayne celebrated his 37th year by polishing a pint of Crown Royal and two Oxycontin and managed to find his way into the clubhouse, where the club pro found him unconscious at noon that day. I don’t know why he went into the clubhouse, and I sure don’t know how he got in there, but he told me later that he thought he remembered that the late Portuguese-American golfing sensation Champagne Tony Lema had a club on display inside the clubhouse (turns out it was in Monarch Bay, in San Leandro, which makes sense because that’s where the “Tony Lema Golf Course” is, but I’ll cut him some slack, given the roaring streams of liquor coursing through our bloodstreams).
In any case, this wasn’t the first time Wayne had been caught on the somnolent end of a slightly lubricated and uninvited morning on the links, and it was the opinion of the courts that his latest unauthorized sojourn on the front nine suggested a problem that needed addressing and mandated four weeks of institutionalized reflection.
So, this year has been bittersweet, but it’s been all great this week as Wayne is whipsmart, the picture of sobriety, and back in the fold. We’ve had to make a few minor readjustments to our interpersonal dynamic, but he’s assured me he’s not going to take me to task for my continued affection for drink as long as I stop short of anything that involves tears, unconsciousness, inappropriate nudity or arrest. Five days, and so far so good!
As I’ve said, Wayne’s return has been the reason for the lapse in the blog the last few days, but it’s all for the greater good. My friend is back in the fold and our plans are back on track. With one of us sober and one of us 50% less drunk on the weekend, the energy that we’ve got to bring to our Veeps: Profiles In Insignificance book and our in-development Veeps museum is mighty, and we’re just that much more of a force to be reckoned with.
And another thing is for certain: The next several months will belong to us and the gravitas and esteem that will be help deliver at long last to the forever disrespected office of the American Vice Presidency. We’re going to be spectacular and we’re going to change the world as we know it. 2007 owned us, but we’re going to own 2008 like a dray horse and make it work for us from dusk to dawn. This is the year we make our names in the world. I would prefer it’s for all the right reasons, but I’ll take it either way.