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Friday, June 14, 2013

My Journey As A Muppet Fan Part VI: Noodles with Martin Baker by Nicholas Napoli

My Journey As A Muppet Fan Part VI:
Noodles With Martin Baker

Wednesday! Another day filled with Muppet excitement awaited me and all I had to do was make my way to H.M.V. I grabbed my stuff, danced out of my hotel and happily made my way to Oxford Street. This time I felt much calmer even though I was still heading to see Kermit and Pepe this time I didn’t have to go through the whole process of giving a good first impression… I had already blown mine. As I walked through Oxford Street I decided to buy a new hat, it looked very much like the kind a movie director would wear so obviously I bought two.

As I walked around I couldn’t help but notice how calm, relaxed and happy I felt after avoiding those three feelings for so long. This was my element, being around the Muppets gave me confidence and not so much because I was surrounded by true friends but because I felt all my dedication had finally paid off. Soon I came upon H.M.V and when I saw the crowds of people waiting inside to meet Kermit and Pepe I once again remembered just how famous they were, how lucky I was and once again I began to battle my nerves.

Inside H.M.V I was tempted to buy a copy of The Muppets as a souvenir to this great day but I already had the DVD and the Blu-Ray versions back home and was slowly running low on cash. I could see a stage being set up for Kermit and Pepe at the centre of the store under a giant screen which was playing The Muppets (2011). I was under the impression that these two Muppets would
be holding a meet and greet but this was something which I had never really seen the Muppets do before so I was not exactly sure what to expect. The way everything was placed I had no idea how
they planned to hide Steve and Bill yet they somehow managed to find a way in the end. As I looked around at everything being set up I noticed Stefan was there and made my way up to him. “It was a great experience meeting Kermit and Pepe yesterday wasn’t it bro?” he asked me and I replied “Doo-Do-Doo-Do”. Stefan and I started talking and I was eager to know what it was he did for Disney as he seemed so young. “I’m on work experience from school” was his reply and now it all made more sense. Best yet I now felt much more comfortable when speaking to Stefan in fact he became one of my new best friends as we shared together a very special bond… we both met The Muppets on the same day. I decided I didn’t want to keep Stefan from doing his job so I said I would see him later and began to walk away but on my way towards the stage something caught my attention.

On the stage opposite from where I stood was a man who I had only known by name up until a few years ago. Since I was a young child every time I read the closing credits to any of Jim Henson’s productions be it The Muppet Movie, Fraggle Rock, Labyrinth, Muppet Treasure Island, Muppets Tonight or anything Muppet related I always came across the name Martin Baker. This was a name that I had grown up with and it wasn’t until watching my Fraggle Rock DVD special features that finally I was able to put a face to the name which I had grown up wondering about. I had done my research on Mr Baker and I think that’s the reason I was having such a hard time walking up to him and introducing myself.

All I could think was how this was a man who actually helped produce The Muppet Movie and Fraggle Rock and everything since. I lost my cojones all over again but was determined to introduce
myself and hoped to have my picture taken with him for my very own great Muppet caper collage which I planned to make back home. My gum from the day before once again made its way back
into my mouth but again nothing was going to stop me from making a good first impression so I quickly swallowed my gum for the third time. As I approached Mr Baker I began smiling at him, “Ohmy-goodness do you know who you are?” were the words about to come out from my mouth but luckily I quickly rewrote them in my head and instead said “hello Mr Baker, it’s a pleasure to meet you…”.

For some reason I just wanted to talk Fraggles with Mr Baker but I also informed him that I had been invited by Bill to meet the Muppets and now I was meeting him too… I love London! Mr
Baker was kind enough to pose for a picture with me which as you can see I was very excited about by the dumb look on my face although remember I did suffer a seizure less than 48 hours ago that’s why I look so sickly. I could sense that they were busy setting up and did not want to come off as a pestering fan so I shook Mr Baker’s hand and walked away yet I wasn’t done meeting new people.

As I walked around H.M.V mesmerized by the Kermit and Pepe banners hanging all around me it suddenly hit me… I’m in an unofficial-official Muppet Fest and everyone around me were Muppet Fans! I was getting so exited knowing I was mixed amongst other fans and soon I began noticing people my age wearing Muppet T-Shirts! Muppet fans come in all forms, shapes and sizes as I would soon come to learn. I began chatting with two of them who seemed to be my age and best yet they were also members on the Muppet Central and Tough Pigs forums. WOW! I had never met real die-hard Muppet fans before who were also members of my online community. This was just as special to me as everything else that had happened whilst I had been in London. Chris and Alex not only became my two new favourite Muppet brothers but one of them even had a bigger Muppet collection than I did. In fact Chris had actually had his collection featured back at one point on a show for the BBC which dealt with people’s various obsessions.  As we talked about the size of our Muppet collections like any ordinary group of men I remembered that I actually had video of mine on my IPad. I quickly whipped it out and began showing off yet once I actually arrived back to Gibraltar and did my research I realised Chris had a much bigger collection than I did.

As Chris, Alex and myself continued talking about Muppets I could not believe I was actually involved in an interesting Muppet conversation with people who were also my age! I could never have done this back home. As I continued showing off my Muppet Room on my IPad we were joined by Mark and Amy. I couldn’t believe how comfortable I felt showing off my collection to strangers and they were both also very impressed by my collection. Had I been back home my friends would have been tossing my IPad at each other had I tried showing off my collection and here I was being admired for it. After I finished showing off the five of us started talking and we were all members on Muppet Central. Now if I’m totally honest when it comes to Muppet fans we are known to be labelled as crazies and honestly most of us are, me being one of them. Yet only a few true Muppet fans can hide their craziness and seem normal and luckily I had the privilege of meeting four of the most down to earth Muppet fans in all of London… and a few others.

The five of us had not realised yet but we had been talking for so long that without even noticing we had become part of the queue which had begun forming all around us as everyone hoped to get a chance to meet Kermit and Pepe.

The five of us talked about everything from what we might expect of this meet and greet to that of the new Muppet movie at the time and even about our entries for the upcoming Fraggle Rock art competition. Mark then asked me where I was from and as I always did I proudly informed those unaware of the Rock of Gibraltar what it was they would find on it... me!  Suddenly Amy and Mark both turned completely white whilst Alex, Chris and I wondered what had happened. As the three of us turned around to see what was going on behind us I spotted Bill standing on stage looking out amongst the crowd.

As soon as my eyes met those of Bill’s he motioned me to make my way up towards him, my new friends looked on at me as though I were royalty. As I approached Bill I felt as though I were a beautiful bride walking up the isle with all eyes were on me. When I arrived on stage Bill gave me a big hug and I hugged him right back as we both held our tears inside… maybe that was just me. Bill informed me that if I liked I could stay for the meet and greet and then join them for lunch. As soon as he mentioned lunch I remembered I have to make sure to offer to pay this time… would I? You’ll find out soon enough. Bill said goodbye to me needing to get ready as Kermit and Pepe were about to come on stage. Bill left and as I turned around I had every single person standing in that line looking right at me… I was the man in that room at that moment. I didn’t know what to do, should I give a speech? I decided that might not be the best way to go so I simply began walking back towards my new group of friends.

As I arrived back towards Amy, Mark, Alex and Chris the four of them just stared at me without saying a single word, what was going on? Apparently everybody wanted to smell me. All of a sudden the four of them rushed up towards me and began to smell me all over. “What’s are you guys doing?” I asked thinking I’ve met the wrong bunch of fans but when they gave me their reason I totally understood them. They wanted to smell Bill Barretta and at that point I began smelling myself too whilst I stood in line with the four most down to earth Muppet fans I had ever met.

Soon after Debbie walked on stage and introduced Kermit the Frog and Pepe the King Prawn, the crowd obviously went insane. Mark and Chris had to hold back Amy as she tried jumping on stage and I had to do the same with Alex. Bill and Steve were nowhere to be seen yet Kermit and Pepe were sitting in the centre of the stage on a director’s chair. One by one everyone went up to have their picture taken with Kermit and Pepe and as they all went up I noticed something very special about the group of people I was standing with. This had probably been the only time in life where you’d find children, tweens, teenagers, young adults, adults, old adults, Walter, chickens and even penguins all lined up waiting for the same thing. My friends were idiots back home, who says you have to be a certain age to enjoy the Muppets? A bride to be, an elderly lady, two little boys, people my age, everyone was walking up on stage to get their picture taken with their heroes.

Finally it was my turn to go up and all I could think about as I waited was what could I say to Kermit and Pepe? I wanted to have an actual conversation with the Muppets and eagerly tried to think of a good opening line. Amy quickly began recording my grand moment on my IPad and as I walked up on stage my mind went completely blank… I had no words. I smiled at Kermit and Pepe for about one minute before Pepe jumped in and saved me. “I’m going to embarrass my friend Nicholas here now, he comes all the way from Gibraltar and he’s a huge Muppet Fan” were the words spoken by my Papa Prawn on stage. Kermit and Pepe were smiling at me and the audience of four hundred kept their eyes on me too which meant at that very moment I had eight-hundred and four eyeballs staring right at me. I was really hoping everyone in the audience would turn around before I began to fit-out on stage and maybe I did because I have no idea how I made it back into the crowd.

Kermit and Pepe were only supposed to be there for around an hour but so many fans had queued up to meet them that the hour had well past. I know that the only reason Kermit and Pepe stayed there the extra hour was all down to Bill and Steve. They could have left long ago, in fact they probably had people telling them it was time to go but they didn’t care. Their fans had come all the way to meet them and they were going to make sure every single person got their picture taken and you know what… they all did. After Kermit and Pepe had performed their meet and greet many fans remained behind hoping to meet Steve and Bill and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, I was about to join them for lunch. My new friends wanted to stay and try and meet Bill and Steve but they were all on their extended lunch breaks and had to run back to work. We all promised to get together next year for an unofficial Muppet Fest and made our separate ways after adding each other on Facebook.

I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to meet Bill or where he even was and I just hoped I hadn’t missed them. They were running very late on their lunch reservation as they had remained the extra hour making sure everyone got their picture taken with their heroes. As I waited for Sal Manila to come looking for me I came upon another Muppet fan, one of the nicest Muppet fans I’ve ever met, her name was Heidi. We began talking and soon found out we had something in common we were both waiting to go to lunch with Bill, Steve and the rest of the team. As Heidi and I chatted we were suddenly called by Sal Manila to join him backstage, we looked at each other, giggled and run after that monkey.

Was I dreaming or was I filming a movie and had completely forgotten about it? I couldn’t believe what happened next. I was inside a limousine sitting next to Bill and Steve with Heidi, Stefan, Debbie and even Martin accompanying us too.

This is where I fell apart as a fan, this was just too much, I wanted to seem calm and professional but at the same time I just wanted to stick my head out the window and shout out exactly how happy I felt. I also wanted to sing “Life’s A Happy Song” but instead I sat there and had a mature conversation with all my new friends. We began discussing obscure Muppet characters and why some of them were no longer around, I couldn’t believe it, isn’t this every Muppet fans dream? To be able to speak with Muppeteer about the Muppets most obscure characters. Bill then asked me how well I knew my Muppets and how obscure I could get when it came to Muppet characters. So many to choose from including George the Janitor, Hilda, Bean Bunny, Waldo C. Graphic, Bubba Rat, Clueless Morgan, Angus McGonagall, Beautiful Day Monster but no what Muppet comes to mind when Bill asks me that question… Dr Phil Van Neuter.

For some reason that’s the only Muppet I could think of, I couldn’t even remember Gonzo and Scooter by name, at that moment Dr Phil Van Neuter was the only Muppet that existed in my universe. Then although I couldn’t remember the other Muppets I did remember I had brought my Kermit book with me and asked Steve to sign it which he did. I now have two autographed Muppet books!

I was having such a good time inside the limo but when we pulled up in front of the restaurant and stepped out I began to freak out. Where was I? I wasn’t in London anymore I had been taken to China. Had the Muppets drugged me and flown me all the way to China? I couldn’t understand what was happening but I was about to have lunch with Bill, Steve and Martin Baker so I could have been in Afghanistan for all I cared. We had arrived at our restaurant, which had been recommended by Steve himself, just knowing this food had been recommended by Steve made it even more delicious but as I mentioned last time I’m a very difficult eater. I had never eaten Thai Food in my life, I had heard about it many times but I had never actually tasted it.

Thai Food reminded me of Chinese food and back home we do have a few Chinese restaurants but I never ate at any of them. I once ordered Chinese spaghetti and it kept moving around on my plate. The only normal thing on their menu is pancakes which apparently you have to wrap around a duck before you can eat it… no thank you. Yet I was willing to give Thai Food a chance and ordered some noodles just as Martin Baker did and I felt so proud.

Soon whilst we shared food from the same plates we all slowly got to know each other and for the first time I felt comfortable speaking to Martin without having to stop the fan within me from taking over. For the first time since I had arrived in London I felt as though I could finally breathe but the bad thing about me is that when I get comfortable I tend to make a fool of myself. “This food is delicious Steve” I said and he replied “I hardly ever eat it but when I get the chance I can’t get enough of it”. Steve was absolutely right, this Thai food was terrific. I’ve heard Thai Food spoken a bunch of times on television by friends and everybody around me. Now although it’s written as “Thai” everyone knows it pronounced “Tai” yet at that moment I forgot. For some reason I couldn’t help but pronounce Thai Food as its spelled (Fai). Anyway long story short I began making a fool of myself. As I tried to correct my first mistake I just kept on making the same mistake over and over again. Steve and Bill were once again going to have to spend their lunch teaching me how to pronounce my words.

“I love Fai Food now Steve” I said and everyone laughed and I then said “Fai food is delicious” and seconds later I said “Fai food is my new passion not the Muppets anymore” and again everyone laughed. “I’m going to open a Fai restaurant back in Gibraltar” I couldn’t stop myself from saying “Fai Food” and wrongly pronounced no less. Was I having another seizure? Nope I simply knew the mistake I was making and every time I tried to correct myself I just made the same mistake again. As I said “Fai Food” for the tenth time I begged my tongue not to form the “H” in “Thai” yet every time I tried my tongue did whatever the hell it felt like doing. I had just told Steve how much I admired his Ernie on Sesame Street but at that moment I was coming across as though I had never watched an episode of Sesame Street in my life, not even the special where Big Bird goes to China himself. I couldn’t stop trying to correct myself and failing each time and this was just making me more nervous as I ate my noodles. The last thing I wanted to do was start having a seizure on Martin’s noodles so I quickly found a solution to my problem… FASHION SHOW!

Remember I had bought new hats earlier? Well maybe now was not the right time to try them but I was about to perform for my lunch guests. I placed my hat on my head and said to Bill “once I become a famous writer this is what I’ll wear” and happily showed off my new look. Had I come to London to ask Bill about Muppets or to give me fashion advice?  I think I prefer having seizures when I’m under pressure rather than breaking out into a fashion show. Anyway I did feel a little better wearing my new hat and I completely stopped fitting out over the word “Thai”. Hopefully I’d now be able to get through my meal without having to wear any more new hats. Then I was luckily saved by my sister who had been calling me all morning to make sure I was okay. I thought this will be a nice surprise for Stacey as I preceded to hand Bill my phone and asked him if he could inform my sister that I was alright. I knew Stacey would get a kick out of knowing she had spoken to Bill Barretta but Bill went even further and allowed her the privilege of speaking to Pepe who informed her that I was just fine.

Once I arrived back home to Gibraltar my sister would smack me and say never to do that to her again, she said she was speechless. She couldn’t believe that my obsession had reached the point where she was able to speak over the phone with a Muppet. That little gesture from Bill has become a running joke in my family and now every time my other sister Kaylie calls me she is always upset when a Muppet does not answer instead. It was a funny joke between my sisters when Stacey was boasting about having talked to Pepe and even though Kaylie played along at being upset I soon came to realise she was actually jealous. .

Back in China town I was no longer making a fool of myself and now thanks to my new hat everything seemed normal again. I was even making jokes with Martin Baker until all of a sudden he stood up and with one clean swoop pulled off the table cloth along with all our delicious Fai Food. Martin then jumped on the table and began to dance as music started to play around us. “The First Time It Happens” Oh-My-God my big Muppet London musical is finally happening! “The First Time I See You” Martin was singing directly at me as he danced around on our table. “No Bolt From The Blue” were his next words right before he was taken away by a group of random dancers to the next table. This was it! This was the big opportunity I was waiting for and I was not going to miss out on it for the world. I jumped up next to Martin on the table and as everyone cheered for us we were suddenly joined by Bill, Steve, Heidi, Debbie and Stefan in our big musical finale. We all danced along from table to table as the rest of the customers danced in the background but our big finale was suddenly cut short.

The police arrived out of nowhere, they turned off the music and went directly towards Martin and arrested him. What was going on? None of us had any idea so Bill stepped forward and asked the police officers what was happening. We were all shocked to learn that apparently Martin Baker had stolen the diamonds! Yet we all knew he was innocent but the police thought otherwise.

It was now up to Bill, Steve, myself and the rest of the gang to prove Martin was innocent, we had to catch those criminals red handed but there was one very important question on everybody’s mind… what colour were their hands now?

“Nick are you okay?” were the next words I heard and suddenly I realised we were all outside the restaurant. Had I been fantasising again or did that really happen? I knew it was all in my head the moment I saw Martin Baker standing next to me. Bill, Steve and Debbie apologised for having to leave so soon but I totally understood. They were very busy whilst I had come for fun they on the other hand had come for work. I hugged Bill and Steve goodbye and once again thanked them for changing my life and sadly the Three Musketeers went their separate ways. Yet how cool is your day when you’re left standing with your new friends which includes Martin Baker in the middle of China. I then hugged Heidi and waved goodbye as she walked away but little did I know that soon we would meet again and next time she would save my life. Then it was just me and Martin standing on the sidewalk and I had no idea how to get back home.

I asked Martin if he could give me directions back to England and he happily offered to guide my way. I said goodbye to Martin and then we both left in opposite directions as I tried finding my way through China.

As I walked through China Town all I could think about was the fact that today had topped yesterday and I didn’t think that would ever be possible. I had just had lunch with three of my childhood heroes and once again I FORGOT TO PAY! I knew Bill would have never have allowed me to pay but I should have offered or at least have bought a round of drinks… I did give them a free fashion show though. As I tried to make my way back to England I realised that being lost in my fantasies had gotten me lost in real life and I couldn’t remember any of the directions Martin had given me. I’m glad though that I got lost that day as I ended up in a toy store and was finally able to add a Junior Gorg plush to my collection.

The perfect ending to an even perfect day and after getting a taxi I eventually made it back to my hotel. The day before I met my idols might have been the worse day of my life but the day after I met by idols was indeed the best day ever… for now. My Great Muppet Caper had come to an end and all I wanted to do was get back home in time for my nephew’s baptism on Saturday but sadly I could not get a flight out until Friday. After spending two Muppetless days in London I shook Mustafa’s hand, tipped the cleaning ladies, handed Herbert to the police, said goodbye to London and got on a plane back home.

I left London hoping to see the Muppet again in the future but feared I’d have to travel all the way to America for it to happen again. Luckily for me Kermit and Pepe were returning at the end of the year with the rest of their pals to film their new Muppet movie in London… looks like I’m coming back to England… Again!

-Nicholas Napoli

Thanking Nicholas so much for Part VI.

My Journey As A Muppet Fan Part VII:
I’m Going To Go Back There Someday

coming next week!

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