Once we got there, we realized just how many people 1100 were. Or, in this case, 820 (as some opted out of the more-expensive post-party tickets). Though our passes were designed to allow us to cut through the lines, we decided to stay with our friends and queued up with the rest and the best of them. We ended up hanging for a bit with Fred Vogel and Shelby from Toe Tag Pictures, and discussed their upcoming “Red Sin Tower”, which they’d just wrapped shooting. A few minutes later, they were lost to the sea.
If Café Euro had been crowded, Déjà vu felt like the horror-crowd version of an Auschwitz cattle car. We were moving by milimeters, a dozen of us inching towards the back staircase that would lead up to the private third floor, where we were to meet Cam and the gang. I had no desire to stay on the ground floor—think the prison scene in “The Four Feathers” and you’ll get a rough idea of what this crowd was like. Too many people; not nearly enough space to move or breathe. For the claustrophobics among us—well, okay, everyone—this was a friggin’ nightmare.
There was a snarl at the top of the steps—the second floor had a room comprised of frosted-glass. Several large, angry-looking Greek bouncers stood outside the door, denying everyone entrance. “You gotta gold star on your pass?” they demanded of everyone—even those of us just passing by. “No gold star, no going in.”
“We’re going up, not in,” Amy said. And we shoved our way past them. We would learn later that this “gold star” bullshit would even extend to Cam and the gang, who didn’t even have passes on them, seeing as how, you know, they put on the event.
“I’m going in to see my father,” Cam told the bouncer.
“I need to see a gold star, or you’re standing outside.”
“This is Cameron Romero,” Chris told him. “I’m Chris Lombardo. Those names mean anything to you?”
“No gold star—“
“F**k you, man,” Cam said. “We hired you!”
The bouncer, we learned the next day, was fired a few minutes later.
That snafu aside, the post-party was actually a pretty nice affair. Having learned from past experience that you are always good to your wait staff, we joked around with the waitresses and even tipped them for bringing us the free drinks our passes merited. This simple act guaranteed that our glasses were never empty for the rest of the night.
Faces passed in front of me in a random succession. As I partook of free drink after free drink, the faces themselves began to blend together. The room to the rear was this floor’s VIP lounge, and we quickly realized that our “CamOpped” passes granted us to-and-from entry. The bouncers up here didn’t give a s**t for the gold star rule. We were the ambassadors up here. People dropped our names at the door and were granted the same access. And thus the night got stranger.
The memories are only blips of clarity: I remember Amy giving Savini a big hug when he came up. I remember doing the same, which made him extremely uncomfortable at first, then he switched to “what the hell?” and palled around with us for a while.
I remember hanging out with Greg and then bumping into his former partner, Robert Kurtzman, who remembered meeting me two years ago at Twisted Nightmare in Akron. Bleary as I was, I didn’t remember him. Nor did I remember fellow effects artist Gino Crognale, who was with him. The fact that they remembered me staggered my freakin’ mind!
I remember Amy introducing me to Pedro Larce, who played “Pillsbury” in “Land”. At one point, Pedro was talking with Simon Baker, who actually had made it down from New York to join in the festivities. As my only familiarity with Baker was “Land of the Dead”, I didn’t recognize him and my proximity to him had only been pointed out after he’d left.
I remember, at one point, trying to leave the room to hit the john, only to be stopped at the door by the bouncer. This was new, I thought. This was followed by, “Aw s**t,” as several policemen entered in front of me. “Great, the party’s being raided. The fuzz discovered the pot smokers.” Rather, they were there as escorts. A large African American gentleman was making his rounds in the room, flanked by the uniformed cops. The Dali-esque feeling returned. Why was “Big Daddy” Eugene Clark traveling with an armed entourage?
It wasn’t Clark. It was Michael Jordan. A fact I would have known had I ever paid attention to sports in the slightest. Wonder intern Joe Kromer discovered that Jordan was in town for Mario Lemieux’s charity golf function, was eating in a restaurant a few blocks up, and had conned his way to the sports giant’s table, leaving passes to the party behind. Jordan came on his own, a little starstruck himself.
As my hand was swallowed by his, the only thing I could think to say was “I loved you in ‘Space Jam’.”
As it turns out, when he left, Amy shook his hand and said the exact same thing. Which is why we were made for each other.
My first ‘big’ highlight of the evening came as Simon and Edgar were leaving. Amy grabbed my arm and dragged me over to the center of the room… to introduce me. All the major guests were being presented to me by my gregarious wife. As I stuck out my hand, Simon grinned, “Oh, so you’re Mike Watt,” he said, “Great to meet you.” And then my brain turned off for a minute, as I struggled to think of a single reason Simon “Shaun of the Dead” Pegg should greet me like that. It suddenly occurred to me that Nick Frost, who plays “Ed” in “Shaun” plays a character named “Mike Watt” in their UK series “Spaced”. I’m sure this is a tribute to the Minutemen bassist, but it’s still pretty cool.
I passed out my cards, handing one to Simon and one to Edgar. “Could I get another one for Nick?” Edgar asked. I gave him one of my last three. “Brilliant! He’ll probably tack it to his computer.”
The story continues in part three of ZOMBIES RETURN TO PITTSBURGH: THE “LAND OF THE DEAD” PREMIERE – PART THREE>>>