Monday, March 2, 2009

My Japanese Fan Club?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the months following your 16th birthday are pretty much the ideal time to go on vacation with your parents.

In my case, it was a trip to San Francisco in 1986, which allowed me to share my special brand of adolescent moodiness—and nerdy fashion sense—with the entire Bay Area, from scenic Carmel-by-the-Sea to the rolling hills of Wine Country.

Or at least I think that’s where we went—I actually spent the whole trip with headphones clamped to my ears, ignoring one breathtaking Pacific vista after another, and insisting that Alcatraz was the only thing that interested me in Northern California.

(And to Mom & Dad, I would just like to say: bad. Thanks for not abandoning me on the side of Highway 1.)

For some reason, my parents declined to spend even three hours of their vacation inside a prison, so the closest I would get to Alcatraz was a cruise around San Francisco Bay. That’s okay though, because it was while we were waiting in line for this ferry that I experienced the most singularly magnificent moment of my life to that point: out of nowhere, five young Japanese women approached us and asked if they could have their pictures taken with me.

To my 16-year-old self, this was as awesome as it was confusing. I regarded any female attention as an intrinsic good, even as I accepted the following very real possibilities:

1.That they had only chosen me because I looked unusually ridiculous, even for an American.
2.That these “Japanese tourists” were actually UC Berkeley students who just enjoyed messing with gullible out-of-towners.

But as the girls giggled through their round-robin camera exchange, taking turns posing beside me, I definitely got the feeling that they'd mistaken me for a celebrity—I just couldn’t imagine who. And between the language barrier and my burgeoning social awkwardness, I wasn’t about to ruin the moment by asking.

And then it was over, and time to board our ferry. From our seats on the upper deck, I got one last glimpse of my new friends, still standing together on the pier as we motored away. I waved to them, and they waved back with an enthusiasm that made me smile, even if it was intended for someone else. (And to these mysterious women, I would just like to say: Thanks. And my parents thank you too—if not for your arrival, I'd still be sulking about Alcatraz.)

I’ve often wondered how long it took them to realize their mistake. At the time, the only celebrity I could think of who even vaguely approximated my age and coloring was Michael J. Fox. But although he was still playing teenagers, he was really nine years older than me, six inches shorter, and (one would think) far less likely to be traveling with his parents. I doubted that anyone could confuse us, even considering the well-documented challenges of identifying people from other ethnic groups wearing enormous Ray-Ban Wayfarers.
Michael J. Fox photo by Alan Light

Come to think of it though, I’d originally acquired those sunglasses in an effort to make myself look more like Huey Lewis—perhaps I’d been more successful than I’d realized? Sure, Mr. Lewis was a full twenty years older than me, but he and the News were based in the Bay Area, after all. Even more telling, they had contributed two hit songs to Michael J. Fox’s biggest movie, Back to the Future. Hmmm...

However, I suspect that the answer might actually be found via one of Mr. Fox’s smaller films, Teen Wolf, in which he had portrayed a basketball-playing teenage werewolf. Those who have seen Teen Wolf understand that the film simply demanded a sequel—Teen Wolf Too—for which the producers turned to Jason Bateman, who was younger and less famous, but who still kind-sorta looked like Fox...and a little like me too?
Jason Bateman photo by Alan Light

Did those women think I was Jason Bateman? Maybe. Although, I have no idea what kind of Japanese fan base Jason enjoyed circa 1986—or for that matter, if my friends from the pier were actually Japanese.

What I do know is that Bateman played a character named “Derek“ on the popular TV show Silver Spoons, which might just seem like an eerie coincidence until you consider the fact that, on Arrested Development, Bateman played the father of Superbad actor Michael Cera, whose current hairdo is clearly an homage to the Chia-shrub that I was rockin' in '86.
Michael Cera photo by eugene

Okay, so maybe it's a stretch to suggest that those women mistook me for Michael Cera, especially when you consider the fact that he wasn’t born until two years after I visited San Francisco. But still, I can’t help feeling like there’s a connection there somewhere...maybe via Doc Brown’s DeLorean? (Or perhaps I’ve just been watching too much Lost.)

So the mystery remains unsolved for the moment, but darn it, I know the truth is out there. If the Internet has any real value (and I’m still not convinced that it does), maybe one of those women will find this post, recognize herself in the pictures, and send me an e-mail explaining what the heck happened that day. That would be pretty cool.

More likely, I'll get an e-mail from some smart-ass teenage boy pretending to be one of the women from that day...but I probably deserve that.

Either way, I just hope that Michael Cera gives me a call when he finally decides to complete the Teen Wolf trilogy. How about Teen Wolf Three: Family Vacation? I have some totally bitchin' ideas for the script.


  1. What's really scary is your photos circa 1986 look surprisingly like my daughter's CURRENT boyfriend.
    Who let the 80s back?

  2. To me though, there's a larger question here relating to the whole idea of daughters having boyfriends: are we totally sure this is a good idea?

  3. NO!! Keep Lilah as far away from boys as possible!
    Good grief, the girl is in 6th grade. To make it worse, it is the son of a really good friend - what will we do if they break up? What will we do if they don't?

  4. Okay, it sounds like we're on the same page anyway. I'm just going to plan on panicking about this for the next 15 years or so.

  5. First off, with that leather jacket, you had far more style than I did. And The Monkees and Lou Reed? No wonder those girls were hot for you.

    As to who they thought you were, I have no idea, but to me you looked like this guy.

    Just checked IMDB, and yep, "The Breakfast Club" was released in Japan in May ’86.

    In any case, good thing they didn’t ask for your autograph. :-)

  6. I really think you might be onto something there. According to IMDB, Anthony Michael Hall was even born in Boston!