I saw the first "Ghostbusters" movie when I was 5 years old, and it had me at "He slimed me."
I've done more since then than watch the original movie and "Real Ghostbusters" cartoon series countless times and pretend for most of my childhood that "Ghostbusters II" was a worthy successor.
I owned the toys, played and beat all of the video games and asked my old man to make Ghostbuster costumes for my brother and me almost every Halloween and Mardi Gras. We looked like walking blood clots with unofficially licensed Ghostbuster toasters strapped to our backs, but I still thought we were cool.
More than 20 years after Dad made me a Ghostbusters suit, I upgraded, creating a far more authentic-looking uniform from a military flight suit, a pair of SWAT boots and a set of Ecto Goggles made from a welding mask and some plumbing parts. If my 8-year-old self had access to Facebook, he'd be very jealous -- and also wonder what the hell happened to his metabolism by the time he hit 21.
Now that a new "Ghostbusters" reboot's finally in the works (which as of this week has my comedy hero) I'm excited that a whole new generation will be introduced to the insane concept that turned me on to so many things I hold dear -- comedy, the supernatural, Bill Murray's undying awesomeness. However, that excitement does not extend to tweeted by director Paul Feig in June. The original jumpsuits didn't try to be flashy or even stylish, and they didn't need fancy reflective decals or flammable material. They looked like something your average blue collar worker would slap on because he knew he faced a dirty job.
Someone has to bring those uniforms back, and fast, before the new uniforms completely replace their memory. And I decided that someone has to be me. So for one whole week in summer weather hot enough for the city of Dallas to file a civil lawsuit against the sun, I decided to wear my uniform. Everywhere.
I didn't anticipate the nerves such a stunt would produce in the days leading up to it.
I'm generally shy, socially phobic even, and my instincts often tell me to guard myself around strangers, so putting on a costume in public could cause my defenses to go up. Somehow, however, I didn't even anticipate this until I took the first step outside my door on that fateful Monday and the first person I saw greeted me with a "hello" that sounded more awkward than a "Celebrity Jeopardy" episode starring three genetic clones of Kanye West.
For advice, I turned to a couple of friends who make and wear movie-grade Ghostbusters costumes and props. Thiago X. Nascimento, a founding member of the Dallas Ghostbusters cosplay club for hard-core fans, also provided some of the uniform sound effects for the 2009 Ghostbusters video game, and he told me he doesn't just see his uniforms and props as a public admission of his love for "Ghostbusters."
"When I wore it personally, it was almost a showcase of my art of building, like visual art," he said.
Kaitlin Francis, a member of the Columbus Ghostbusters franchise in Columbus, Ohio, said she drives a homemade Ecto-1 as her primary vehicle and gets comments all the time from people who think they're being clever. Sometimes those comments venture into an uncomfortable zone, but Kaitlin said she has a secret weapon.
"Typically, I just laugh it off. I've had comments made to me like, 'Hey baby, I'll call you' and such," Kaitlin said. "I've said this to guys, 'Well, we heard there was a major creep in the area. So we checked our lists and you were right on top.'"
Sexual harassment was low on my list of worries as I set out on my adventure, but if my friend could handle stuff like that, surely I could handle wearing my Ghostbuster suit in public. I realized pretty quickly that most strangers who crossed paths with me didn't care how I looked, or even acknowledge me -- in any way I could pick up by telepathy at least.
I learned this during my first outing to see my sister Erin and brother-in-law Chris for lunch at a burger joint in an upscale shopping center. I took my time getting out of the car because of my nerves but when I did, no one hassled me. No one made fun of me. No one said a word to me. The only people who noticed me were my sister and brother-in-law, who laughed out loud when they saw me sitting out front in my full uniform as if I were waiting for Winston Zeddmore to pick me up in the Ecto-1 so I could bring the rest of the boys their lunch.
Once we walked up to order, the entire kitchen staff came out of the back to see me in my costume and gave me nothing but compliments and smiles. The cashier even gave us a discount on our meal. I wonder if I had worn a Frank-n-Furter outfit if they would have given me free burgers for life or some kind of restraining order.
Hey, pay more attention to me!
But that windfall of attention was the exception, and the general lack of acknowledgement of this strange, pop-culture sight lumbering around started to turn me from an anxious socio-phobe into a bit of a selfish narcissist. I actually started to get angry that people weren't paying more attention to me. So I realized it was time to release myself from my emotional containment unit and unleash this sight on a bigger crowd.
I had to go to the grocery store, so I called up my friend Adan Gabriel Gutierrez and asked him to shoot some video to capture the reactions random people might have to a Ghostbuster searching for Hot Pockets, Crisco and wart removers.
My strange presence still wasn't enough to elicit more than a few compliments and quick stares. I thought I might actually be asked to leave the store but the most attention I got from an employee was from the guy who lavished me with compliments and stories of his own "Ghostbusters" love. I found myself trying to go out of my way to screw with people and get them to at least ask, "Why are you wearing this thing in public? Did you just finish a shift at Cafe 80's from 'Back to the Future Part II?''"
Hell, the shoplifting alarm even went off when I tried to leave and no one even came to make sure I wasn't hoarding marshmallows in my bulbous suit.
Once again, Adan and I decided we had to turn up the heat in more ways than one, and no, I'm not talking about. The next day, we headed to a park in the middle of downtown Dallas where people of all ages and backgrounds were busy enjoying a clear summer day.
This decision was problematic in more ways than one. To up the ante in light of my new confidence, I walked around carrying a "Will Bust Ghosts for Food" sign and asking if people needed someone to do "a little housecleaning." I also walked around in a costume that covered almost every inch of my flabby body in a state that Satan won't visit in July.
The interactions definitely increased, but they were all positive. No one hassled or ridiculed me, at least not in a way I didn't find amusing. The closest to anything negative came from a smart-ass kid who asked why I wouldn't release his deceased grandmother's ghost.
"Well, if I release your grandmother, then I've gotta release his grandmother and her grandmother and her grandmother," I responded. "Pretty soon, I'm up to my neck in dead grandmothers."
This whole experience was quickly showing me that people don't react the way my frantic brain tries to scare me into thinking they'll react. I felt like this experiment was moving me toward some strange level of mental peace. Hot, sticky, sweaty, thigh-chafing peace.
I spent the rest of the week with family and friends who I knew would have something to say about my choice of wardrobe. I got about halfway to the movie theater to catch a film with some buddies when I realized I didn't have my wallet. I also remembered that I must have lost my keys at least 10 or 12 times in the early part of the week. How did the Ghostbusters ever get to a call on time? They can design equipment that can reach across the ethereal plane and detect beings from another dimension, but they couldn't figure out how to keep their keys from disappearing in their multiple pockets?
At a Japanese hibachi restaurant where they cook the food right at your table, the flames leaped off the food and ramped up the temperature in my suit. By the end of dinner, I thought the table-side chef was cooking me.
Afterward, my friends and I played mini-golf. Since it was nighttime, I thought I would suffer less than I had at dinner, but by the ninth hole, I couldn't take it anymore. I started taking the uniform off so quickly I forgot I was only wearing a T-shirt and a pair of Joker boxer shorts underneath. I almost passed out from a combination of exhaustion and a coughing fit at least once during our game. And here's the kicker: I won.
The ultimate test came at the end of the week. I was going to meet my old man, maker of my first Ghostbusters costume, for Sunday lunch.
Now my dad and I get along great. In fact, we're closer now than we've ever been. However, I get my shyness and humility from him. His nervousness about drawing attention to himself makes my social paranoia look like I'm Donald Trump making out with a full-length mirror.
At first, he clearly felt uncomfortable just being seen in public with me, but by now, I knew not to expect a reaction unless I provoked one. I kept insisting we wouldn't be mobbed by mocking apparitions or lawyers with copyright claims from Columbia Pictures. I still didn't think he'd ever get over the embarrassment, but this time, I was floored. He eventually seemed to forget I was in a ridiculous costume and that he was sitting across from someone who looked like Harold Ramis' stunt double with a thyroid problem.
In fact, the whole week seemed to bring an end to, or at least put a stronger leash on, that nagging bit of paranoia from the troll that lives in my skull telling me I'm some kind of freak or weirdo or just unworthy in the eyes of other people no matter what outfit I'm wearing.
However, it didn't quell the voice that tells me when I'm about to do something really stupid like spend the hottest week of the year in a XXXL basting bag. If I ever get an idea like that again, I'll tell you who I'm gonna call: my psychiatrist.