As a birthday present one year, my brother Kris gave my cousin Erin a 5’7” glossy photo he’d picked up in a janky Hollywood souvenir shop. The photo was a promotional shot of Jaleel White, all decked out in his Urkel costume and giving two thumbs up. Kris had signed a fake autograph that read To Erin, Happy Birthday to my number one fan. Love, Urkel. P.S. Did I do that?
Ugh. Just picturing Urkel saying that in his annoying voice (made twelve times worse once he hit puberty) makes me cringe. But despite, Urkel holds a special place in my family; making references to his horrible character never seems to get old.
So a few weeks ago, after Bill Clinton was in our store, I left a message on Kris’ voice mail that said, “you have three chances to guess whom I met yesterday, and I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t Urkel.” I knew Urkel would probably be his first guess.
Last week, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented itself. I was walking through Barnes & Noble when a coworker mentioned in passing that his day had been made better by his having just met _______ .
“________ is in our store?!,” I squealed. I couldn’t believe it. My first thought was: ‘must get an autograph for Kris. Must get an autograph for Kris.’ I searched the place frantically, hoping ________ hadn’t already paid and left.
In hindsight, I’m kind of glad I didn’t find __________ right away. I realized—in the course of my search—that I would only be getting the autograph so Kris and I could laugh about it later, not because I was truly an admirer. And that’s just not really the nicest thing to do. So I settled for exchanging a few words when _________ came to the information desk seeking some help, and resolved to tell my brother about it later.
The message I left on Kris’ voice mail that night went: “you have three chances to guess whom I met yesterday, and I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t Urkel…but close.”
He called back later and set to guessing.
“Not Urkel, but close? Hmm,” he said. “Kimmy Gibbler from Full House?”
We hate Kimmy Gibler, and it was a good guess.
“No,” I said, “but you’re on the right track.”
“Um, Paul from The Wonder Years?”
“Was it Monroe from Too Close for Comfort? Boner from Growing Pains?
“No dice, Bro.”
Then he came out with one I’d totally forgotten:
“Skip from Family Ties?” he said.
“You’re good at this,” I said, “but still wrong.”
“I know, I know. It was Cockroach from The Cosby Show.”
“Damn!” I said. “Cockroach from The Cosby Show?! What dusty corner of your brain did that one emerge from?”
In a hundred guesses, I would have never remembered Cockroach from The Cosby Show. But the heaviest of artillery was yet to come.
“Was is the quadriplegic girl from The Facts of Life?”
That was just too funny. I tried to imagine that exchange:
“Pardon the intrusion…I’m sure you get this all the time, but…aren’t you the quadriplegic girl from The Facts of Life?”
And what are the possible responses to that imaginary question?…“Yes, yes I was. Only now I’m a quadriplegic woman.” Or, “No, I’m just a regular quadriplegic person, not a famous one.”
So anyway, that guess was wrong, too. How could he have overlooked what was—in my view—the quintessential T.V. dork friend who somehow still got to hang out with the non-dork characters we’d really tuned in to see (why we’d even tuned in to see those non-dork characters I’m not sure)?
I was about to disown Kris when it the answer came upon him in a flash of T.V. trivia brilliance.
“No way,” he said. “Wait a minute. No way. Did you see Screech?!”
“Dustin Diamond himself,” I said.
“Oh man, that’s awesome. Did you get his autograph?”
“No, I said, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
But not only did I not get his autograph, when he came to the information desk, I wasn’t even able to address his Screechness. At the time, I was reminded of a story Kris had once told me about being seated next to Long Duck Dong from “Sixteen Candles” for brunch at a restaurant in Hollywood. I’d asked Kris at the time whether or not he’d said anything to The Donger. “You mean about the fact that he’s Long Duck Dong?” he asked.
"Well, yeah, I guess."
"No," he said. "I mean, I'm sure he knows he was Long Duck Dong." That made sense.
I realized at the time how stupid any comment to The Donger would have sounded. And “Hey! You’re Screech!” certainly doesn’t sound much better than, “Hey! You're Long Duck Dong!”
I let Mr. Diamond—Screech-disguising full-face beard and all—continue to pretend he
didn’t once star as the most obnoxious T.V. character of all time.
We all make mistakes.
He’d been browsing the chess books when I saw him. Later that day, when word got around that Dustin Diamond had been in the store buying chess books, my coworker Wolfgang, who plays tournament chess, asked, “Wait, you mean to tell me that guy was on a T.V. show?”
“Yeah, he was on Saved by the Bell, of course.”
“Well, I never saw that show [liar],” he said. “All I know is that I met that guy at a chess tournament once, and he told me his name was Dusty.”
So apparently Dustin has managed to reincarnate himself as "Dusty," the tournament chess player with facial hair. I congratulate him and hope he’s overcome the horrors of recovering from teenaged T.V. infamy.
But you know, thinking about it now, I don't know if I would have been able to resist saying "Oh sexy giiiiirlfriend..." had I been the one seated next to The Donger at a restaurant.
It's just a good thing Screech never had any quotable lines.