My Awesomeness Revealed

When used as intended, Facebook is not unlike a globe-spanning Freshman rush party.

As I remember them, barely, rush parties were noisy and chaotic affairs marked by skunky beer, sticky furniture, boorish guys, even more boorish chicks, shameless posing and transparently bogus biographical embroidery.

That’s Facebook.

In the second instance, of course, the skunky beer comes in a 12-ounce aluminum can instead of a 7-ounce plastic cup, the furniture is sticky because the garden hose isn’t long enough to reach your desk, and you can massage your curricula vitae as vigorously as you like because there’s exactly no chance your boorish online associates will catch you in an apron and hairnet serving steamed peas and carrots in the dorm cafeteria and deduce you’re not really on a full-ride lacrosse scholarship. Then again, fiction is generally more interesting than truth, and if everyone knew you actually drive an ’87 Plymouth Reliant and how you really spent last New Year’s Eve you’d have no friends at all. What makes Facebook work is that everybody’s so busy pretending to be that fascinating white-bearded rogue in the Dos Equis commercials they don’t have time to notice that everybody else is, too.

In a bold spirit of glasnost, let me take this opportunity to state, here and now, for the record and for all time, that I am not “the most interesting man in the world”, although I’d like to think that if I ever find myself in a Bangkok casino I could bench press two native beauties if I felt like it. But if I’m not James Bond, James Dean, James Joyce, Jesse James and Susan St. James all rolled into one irresistible package, it’s because I don’t have to be.

I’ve got people for that.

A few months ago I got a friend-request from Steve Knapp. I assumed, as would anyone who can still remember the Blue Screen of Death, that it was a mistake; a little glitch in the system; the World Wide Web having one at my expense. I would have ignored it all together except the idea of friending myself momentarily tickled my funny bone. Sure, I thought, I’ll play along. I extended the cold hand of online friendship to myself, and quickly found out that I wasn’t me. I was Steve Knapp of Manchester, England, England, across the Atlantic Sea.

Steve Knapp

Turns out the estimable Mr. Knapp (since we’re like brothers, I call him Steve, or Steve-O, or Dr. S, and sometimes K-Dog) has been on a mission to friend everybody in the world who shares our proud and mellifluous moniker. He’s run onto 62 of us so far, every one a titan among men, and each equipped to supply one or another of my few and minor deficiencies.

 

 

Case in point:

I don’t know anything about cars, up to and including how to safely operate one. Steve Knapp, 23, works at Shuls Express Lube and Tire in the town of Olean, NY, where he spends 40 hours a week expressively lubricating and tiring automobiles. So if Steve Knapp couldn’t grease his car with a lard cannon at 10 paces, Steve Knapp could do it in 30 minutes or your next service is free.

 

See where I’m going with this?

Steve Knapp

If I’ve got two bucks in my pocket, it just means that some online novelty gimcrack purveyor is about to make two bucks. After graduating from Whitefriars College in 1971, Steve Knapp has risen to become executive director of the Mawson Group, a financial services powerhouse in Melbourne, Australia. Thus, if Steve Knapp can’t handle his money, Steve Knapp can.

It’s Nature’s symmetry, I tell you.

Steve Knapp

There’s a Steve Knapp in Mannheim, Germany. Herr Knapp, 32, graduated from Geschwister-Scholl-Schule Hauptschule mit Werkrealschule Vogelstang. His favorite quotation is “das kurzeste zwischen zwei menshen is ein lacheln.” In Manchester, that means “the shortest distance between two people is a smile.” Now, Steve Knapp would never utter such a syrupy saccharine sentiment, and will now try mightily to forget he ever heard it. But Steve Knapp isn’t afraid to let his love light shine.

A warm people, are the Germans.

On a related note, Stephen Knapp, a student at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., plays on the JV baseball team, says “i no a place were the grass is greener oho”, and claims fluency in English, French, German and Portuguese. Where Stephen Knapp has grown too cynical and indifferent to bother lying about his attainments, Stephen Knapp is willing to make the most transparently outrageous claims without apparent shame.

Steve Knapp

Here’s one for the books – Stephen Knapp of Detroit bills himself as an “Author of Books.” He’s authored 22 books at last count, all of them long-haired explorations of Hindu spiritualism, Vedic traditions, and how to achieve enlightenment in just 22 books. I consider myself more of a Reader of Books, provided the books are really movies and they don’t have any tedious subtitles, distracting dialogue, or confusing plots. What Stephen Knapp’s personal philosophy lacks in depth, insight and illumination, Stephen Knapp’s amply supplies by sheer volume.

Make that volumes.

It’s true. Steve Knapp isn’t a professor of astronomy in New Hampshire. He doesn’t spend weekends flat-boating on Lake Ponchartrain. He doesn’t run his own electronics company, or go to Romania twice a year, or guide raft trips out of Talkeetna, AK, or paint imaginative (and oddly masculine) female watercolor portraits.

Maybe Steve Knapp isn’t the most interesting man in the world.

But Steve Knapp is.

White and Wrong – A kindly indictment

Anybody who knows me will tell you I’m totally Mr. Christmas.

Totally.

I’m jolly, for one thing, and, as a “winter”, I look sharp in red. I also drink deeply from the cup of human kindness when thirsty, love getting free stuff, and harbor no fear of reindeer such that are properly restrained.

True, nobody who knows me ever calls me Mr. Christmas to my face, possibly because they also know I’m uncomfortable with praise, being subject to so very much of it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t apply that tender title to me outside of my hearing. It just fits, because I love everything about Christmas.

Okay, so I’m not crazy about unloading precious monies better spent on myself obtaining gifts for people who’ve possessed everything they could ever wear, watch, read, hear, and play since I gave it to them at least a dozen Christmases past.

And sure, I could do without the herd of relations flying in from all Creation, looking for a weeks-worth of sit-down suppers, messing up my guest beds and persistently trying to “catch up” in the middle of my favorite television shows.

For that matter, it kind of sticks in my Craw of Peace and Brotherhood that the networks routinely dump all of my favorite television shows each December, replacing them with syrupy seasonal fare that invariably looks cheap and canned in reruns.

And I admit to feeling a twinge of Grinch everytime some Kringle-Come-Lately throws on a free-with-your-fill-up Santa Hat and carries on like they’re Mr. Christmas, when anybody who knows me will tell you they couldn’t muster a fraction of my legendary cheer on their best day.

And then there’s the weather, which usually stinks.

On the other hand, I love Christmas lights.

A lot.

Maybe too much.

Christmas lights are the reason for the season, as far as I’m concerned. Inexpensive to purchase and to operate, the smallest string transforms the blandest landscape into a glittering realm of beauty and wonder. The monotonous paths of our lives are made splendid, the everyday enchanting, the dreary delightful and the mundane marvelous.

I will flatter myself to say that I put on a pretty decent display, myself. I do it in part for myself, because it makes coming home after dark even more agreeable than usual, and partly because Peter, my brother and Cohort in Christmas, wouldn’t hesitate to flay my hide clean off if I didn’t, but mostly I think of dressing up the house in its holiday finest as my own little gift to the neighborhood. It pleases my generous heart to think of the grateful smile that must touch my neighbors’ pursed lips as, wending their weary way home after a long day of drudgery and disappointment, they spy my fanciful handiwork through its encircling veil of trees and spontaneously recommit themselves to Charity and Good Works, and – then and there – decide to bite the bullet and pay for the costly and life-saving medical treatment so desperately needed by whomever passes for Tiny Tim in their impoverished household.

It’s my gift to the world, really, because Tiny Tim could grow up to invent some boon to all Mankind, like bacon-flavored toothpaste, or self-applicating toilet paper. You’re welcome in advance.

I confess that, driving down my street of a December night, I feel a warmth and solicitude toward those of my neighbors thoughtful enough to cheer my passage, and take disapproving note of those so dim of spirit or black of heart that they can’t be bothered. But there’s a third group on my street, and on every street, and they’re the ones to whom I direct this impassioned epistle. I’m talking about you white-light people.

Wrong

One month a year you get to wreath your colorless hovels in sparkling splendor, and you choose white lights. For 31 too-short days you can illuminate your benighted lives in every shade of joy, and you put up white lights. After feasting upon the incandescent banquet that I have laid for you, you go home and plug in a string of white lights.

How is that right?

I mean, don’t you white-light people get enough undifferentiated visual stimulation every other day, hour and minute of the year? Every lamp in your house is white. The flourescent bulbs at your office are white. Car headlights are white. Streetlights are white. Flashlights are white. Your Coleman propane lantern burns white. Even the sun – the sun – is little more than a koo-koo-kajillion-watt, thermo-nuclear yard light bathing the Earth in an inexhaustible stream of radiant vanilla pabulum and keeping the solar system up at all hours.

Show some imagination, is all.

In my book, white lights aren’t properly Christmas lights at all. They’re just really tiny reading lights that you can’t possibly read by. They’re an affront to the concept of Christmas decoration. A broken promise. A cheat.

“Icicle” lights? Who do you think you’re trying to kid? They don’t look any more like icicles than Cindy Lou Who looks like a Bumble.

“Star” lights? Last time I checked, stars come in a variety of designer colors like blue giants, red dwarfs, and green clovers. Truly, you mock the very Cosmos.

Right

Look.

I’m not trying to make trouble.

I’m not proposing that Congress enacts laws criminalizing the sale, possession and use of white “Christmas” lights, and if they did anyway I would be among the first to call for moderate sentencing guidelines for persons convicted on such charges.

It’s Christmas, after all.

I’m not asking for Peace on Earth, or a 92-inch plasma, although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at the plasma. I’m just asking for a shade more creativity. You’ve got the whole spectrum to choose from. Be the rainbow.

I’m begging you.

Color my world.

With All Due Respect

So the other night I’m watching TV.

I watch TV in the evenings because it’s easier than learning to play the banjo and more relaxing than trying to teach myself Mandarin Chinese.

Mike Nelson was on. Mike Nelson is a weather-guy for Channel 7 News. He’s the highest-paid television news personality in the market. Mike Nelson teaches kids to do the “Tornado Dance” whenever a camera is within range. It’s an uncomplicated step. The kids spin in place, and howl like a gale, and spin and spin, and then fall down like a trailer park. The Tornado Dance is Mike Nelson’s signature contribution to education and the arts.

But Mike Nelson wasn’t demonstrating the Tornado Dance. He was being interviewed by a pretty young Channel 7 news correspondent. She was asking him questions about recent Colorado flooding. Mike Nelson said the floods were “extreme”, and that we could expect more “extreme” flooding in the future, and well as extreme drought, and extreme winds, and extreme calm, and extreme snowfalls, and other weather-type phenomena of frightening extreme-ness. All that extremity, said Nelson, was our punishment for stuffing the atmosphere full of carbon dioxide. It was Nelson’s opinion that catastrophic “climate change” is our doom and we are the architects of our own destruction.

“What,” the doe-eyed beauty asked in conclusion, “is your biggest concern about climate change?”

Mike Nelson was ready for the question. I mean, really ready. Almost like he knew it was coming.

“I think what bothers me most is the lack of respect for scientists,” he said, earnestly.

My Hot-Pocket slipped from my fingers and into my lap, leaving small streaks of tomato sauce on the front of my Snuggie. If I’d heard right, Mike Nelson was predicting meteorological Armageddon, but was principally “bothered” that “scientists” weren’t getting their due props. Who, I wondered, choking on outrage and bone-dry Hot-Pocket crust, wasn’t giving scientists the respect they deserved?

Scientists are aces in my book. From anti-lock brakes to colonoscopy to GPS, scientists have made life in the 21st century an impossible dream of comfort, safety and convenience that would have been unimaginable even 100 years ago. Scientists have made it possible for me to research anything and everything in excruciating detail without ever getting up from my ergonomic chair, and to waste a few hours playing Spider Solitaire when even that stupefying expediency becomes too burdensome. Via the Internet I can discourse at length with people from Denver to Djibouti without having to shave first. The World Wide Web is science as magic, and I’ve never met anybody who didn’t benefit substantially from its creation, or who wasn’t, at the very least, impressed by the quantum leap forward it represents.

No scientists are more deserving of admiration than agronomists. Agricultural sciences have made it possible for Mankind to feed itself. Yes, people still starve, but not because there’s nothing to feed them, but invariably because political scientists have diverted the bounty to other, political, uses. Drought- and pest-resistant strains, improved farming techniques and technologies, and better fertilizers and crop-management strategies have combined to produce annual yields sufficient to the dietary needs of 6.5 billion mouths. While agricultural scientists may often go unsung, I’ve never heard anybody speak ill of them.

Cataracts used to spell the end of sight. Now they’re just an unpleasant afternoon. Both of my parents would be dead right now if not for the stents given them in simple out-patient procedures. For that matter, one in three people of your acquaintance might be dead right now without a helping hand from medical scientists. Ticker gone bad? They can give you a new one. Blood pressure slowly killing you? There’s a pill for that. Cancer – just about any cancer – used to be a death sentence. These days, folks with colon cancer have a 70 percent chance of beating it, and, if detected early, nobody dies of breast cancer anymore. If anyone’s been beefing about medical scientists, they’re not doing it where I can hear them.

But perhaps Mike Nelson was talking specifically about weather scientists. True, weather-wonks take a lot of heat, but mostly because they’re sticking it out there every night at 5 and 10 and their mistakes are so easy to see. And that’s unfortunate, because they perform a helpful service, thanks in large part to the extensive network of weather satellites designed by aerospace scientists that allow them to see weather coming from much farther away than you or I can by poking our heads out the kitchen window. Do I condemn weather-folk for their frequent miscalculations? Absolutely not, and if people tend to grumble when they get caught in a thunderstorm without umbrella and galoshes, they’re typically grateful for a timely heads-up when the morning commute is apt to be on the slickery side. No, if there’s rampant disrespect for weather scientists, it’s news to me.

 Then again, maybe I misunderstood Mike Nelson’s lament. Maybe when he said “lack of respect”, he meant “lack of obedience.” Maybe he meant that we, the great unlearned, should be more compliant to the commands of our scientific betters. If so, then Mike Nelson and I may have a problem.

 The thing is, being smart doesn’t make you wise, and sometimes it doesn’t even make you smart. Scientists, for all their education, for all their insights, for all their focus and knowledge and ability, are wrong precisely as often as, well, anybody else. For every ballyhooed triumph of science, like mapping the human genome, or the Higgs boson, there’s an equal and opposite failure, like Einstein’s static universe, or Windows Vista. Whatever Mike Nelson may think, a science degree doesn’t confer infallibility, and a Nobel Prize in science doesn’t come with a Bat-Phone to God.

And I have to believe that Mike Nelson isn’t suggesting that scientists are somehow more virtuous than we dullards. Any good scientist in the marvelous field of robotics will assure you that most scientists are not artificial beings, but rather are reg’lar folks like thee and me, and subject to the same weaknesses, lapses, and personal, philosophical, political and financial predilections as any other creature of flesh and bone.

Billions of dollars worth of crops are still destroyed each year. It’s not for nothing that about 10 cents of every dollar spent on health care goes to pay malpractice insurance premiums. My computer is still a sitting duck for every worm that comes winding down the Inter-pike. Do I really have to remind anyone about the ill-starred Mars Climate Orbiter? And yes, Mike Nelson and his well-groomed TV colleagues are quite capable of some pretty spectacular prognostic blunders. Right about now a lesser person would bring up the Ice Age scare of the 1970s. But I won’t.

It wouldn’t be classy.

Do the weather-heads deserve our scorn for missing the daily high by almost 35 degrees? Heavens no. If I know anything – and that’s certainly debatable – it’s that the study of weather is, like all natural sciences, hideously complex and only poorly understood. I recall a very interesting feature that appeared in the Denver Post awhile back. It involved the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the handful of hard-working scientists who spend 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, dreaming up complicated weather-predicting models on their computers. It’s their goal that, by plugging all known weather data into their ingeniously devised models, their computers will spit out an accurate picture of the weather to come. It’s a miserable, painstaking, and very cutting edge discipline, and I have only admiration for the people who undertake it.

Here’s the interesting part – every time one of those talented nerds comes up with a new climate prediction model, it has to be tested for accuracy. They test it by picking a recent day – yesterday, for example – then turning back the calendar a week, or a month, or whatever, and applying the model based on previously documented weather conditions. If the model is correct, it will accurately predict yesterday’s weather. In a fit of journalistic competency, the reporter asked how often they get it right. In a fit of surprising candor, the climate scientist told him.

“So far, we’ve never had a model that got it right,” he said. “There’s obviously some factor – or possibly several factors – that we’re not taking into consideration.”

Now there’s a scientist worthy of respect. More than most, the beaker and Bunsen set hate to admit that there’s anything they don’t know. Would that Mike Nelson – who clearly counts himself among that useful class – could muster such humility. Because if I interpret the subtext of Mike Nelson’s statement correctly, and I think that I do, it’s his position that anybody who doesn’t automatically and utterly accept the scholarly conclusions  about climate change reached by Mike Nelson for no better reason that because It Is He Who Hath Sayed It is guilty of disrespect at best, and at worst of willful ignorance.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a scientist, nor have I ever been credited with the invention of a vomit-inducing dance for pre-adolescents. On the other hand, I don’t believe I’m more stupid than my fellows, and if the foremost scientists working in the field of weather prediction can’t accurately foresee weather that’s already happened, then I can’t in good conscience get behind an economy-crushing carbon tax, or paying Third World countries for permission to turn up my thermostat, or henceforth riding my bicycle to the grocery store, purely on the say-so of an engaging on-air personality whose chief professional responsibilities are reading from a teleprompter and looking good in a suit.

No disrespect intended.

Learning to forgive

There’s something I need to get off my chest.

I’ve been holding it inside most of my life, letting it fester, and I hope that bringing it out into the open will help me move past it.

Let the healing begin.

A clean slate.

A new beginning.

It’s time to move on.

I hate California.

Okay, maybe “hate” is too strong. Let’s say I resent California.

Always have.

And let’s say I don’t actually resent the whole of the Golden State. The Bay Area is aces in my book, what with the great food and the streetcars and Alcatraz and bridge-jumpers and such. And Monterey is swell.

Let’s say I resent Southern California generally, Los Angeles specifically, and Malibu bitterly. I’ve lived with this unhealthy resentment since I was a child, and it has in a small way blighted what should have been many happy hours of television viewing, which is ironic because many imperfectly-happy hours of television viewing are what raised that persistent bile in the first place.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been to SoCal, and I liked it. I found the climate agreeable, the scenery exotic, the ocean magnificent, the attractions numerous and gratifying. Disneyland did not disappoint the boy that was I, and teen me couldn’t get enough of SeaWorld. The eucalyptus groves, the piers, the colorful nut-cases and the ever-present glitter of tinsel were sources of fascination and delight. I even loved the beaches – those famous, broad, sun-soaked bikini-clad beaches – which is kind of ironic, since they are in no small part responsible for my lifetime of secret antipathy. But I can state without reservation that I have never blamed the beaches.

I blame Hollywood.

I suppose it all dates back to the surfing craze and movies like Beach Blanket Bingo, Surf’s Up and Gidget. One needn’t know a grommet from a honker to appreciate Sally Field reclining in the sand wearing a form-fitting one-piece, and the idea of cutting loose at a late-night clambake with a bevy of beach-babies could make even the most hydrophobic young hodad lose his water.

In the 80s, blockbusters like the Karate Kid, Valley Girl and Fast Times at Ridgemont High didn’t improve the situation, although by that time, at least in my case, the emotional damage was largely done.

I love the Beach Boys. Always have. Heck, who didn’t? They don’t get much play these days, but I still sing along when “I Get Around” or “Help Me Rhonda” somehow slips past the metal-manic program director at 99.5 The Mountain.  But they were kings, once upon a time, and they presided over a large and imperial court of surfing nobility. Toss in music by the Ventures, the Surfaris and Jan and Dean, and, for a while there, the national soundtrack had a decidedly west-coastal cast.

In my formative years, adolescent viewers were constantly awash in Southern California. All the best TV shows were set in California, from the Brady Bunch to Charlie’s Angels to the Beverly Hillbillies to The Monkees to The A-Team. Even programs not set in SoCal were too obviously filmed there, forcing impressionable young minds to either believe the whole world is an unvarying landscape of dry hills and even drier palm trees, or accept that everything on every screen was a reflection of California culture. Battlestar Galactica? Take Dirk Benedict out of his smart tunic and put him in Karachi sandals and he’s Ricky Nelson in Malibu U.

What’s my point? I’m glad you asked.

Yes, I liked the shows. I liked the movies. I liked the music. But the subtext of it all never varied. California was cooler than whatever backward armpit you had the lousy luck to live in. Californians were smoother, wittier, better looking and better dressed.

Kids in California surfed, and when they weren’t surfing they were riding dirt bikes, and when they weren’t riding dirt bikes they were performing martial arts, or hang-gliding, or combating injustice, or going to teen parties that were so much better than anything you’d ever be invited to that you were effectively doomed to a life of social disappointment. The girls in Los Angeles were cuter, the boys muscle-ier, the food tastier, the sun shinier. The schools were fun. Big fun.

Not like my school.

Before you say it, belay it.

I’m not jealous.

Insecure, maybe, but never jealous. Fact is, even as a pup, I have never aspired to the Malibu scene, or the ostentation of Beverly Hills, or to emulate the bizarre, alien Valley culture. Why would I want to live in California? I grew up in Colorado, and it was pretty awesome. Still is.

As a lad, I lived in constant low-grade frustration, quietly desperate lest the country not understand that the Centennial State is, indeed, cool, and that I, by extension, was just as hip and with it and tuned-in as Tatum O’Neal. Fact is, I could find nothing portrayed in the California-centric media that was in any measurable way superior to my own circumstance.

Maybe I didn’t have an ocean nearby, but I had a lake to boat on if the mood struck me, and a creek to tube in if I just felt like getting wet. I also had snow, and mountains, which equal skiing, which is at least as cool as surfing and, quite frankly, looks better on TV.

I perceived no obvious lack of hipness in my friends. I had buddies that made Jeff Spicoli look like Ralph Macchio, and if I didn’t own a dirt bike, I knew plenty of guys who did. And we didn’t ride around some sissy track. We took our chances in the unforgiving forest primeval. My schoolmates of the female persuasion were of uniform quality and pleasing proportion, such that I could easily, and frequently, imagine them holding their own against Annette Funicello in an all-bikini clambake dance contest.

And yet, for all that, Hollywood never took any notice at all. In return for my generous investments of time and interest and money, the quiet-on-the-set crowd could only rarely be bothered to even recognize Colorado in passing, much less acknowledge that my Rocky Mountain home might possess some small feature of value not to be found on Pacific shores. Like we weren’t good enough. It felt like a snub, and it hurt.

And I resented them for it.

And I resented California.

And, in my heart of hearts, I still do.

Wow.

That felt good.

Yeah, I know it’s stupid. In time I came to understand that everything was filmed in California because that’s where all the cameras were. It just made good economic sense. As I matured I came to realize that Dobie Gillis was no more an accurate representation of American life than Gilligan’s Island, or the A-Team, or any of the other fictionalized, glamorized, dramatized and homogenized nonsense that Hollywood perpetually churns out. I eventually concluded that my real-world peers in California probably looked, lived, laughed and loved pretty much the way I did – excluding Pamela Anderson, of course – and that to measure my existence against the entertainment industry’s illusory yardstick must necessarily kill my spirit by inches.

Knowing helps, but the scars run deep.

I have forgiven the Brat Pack, but I won’t forget the way they made me feel less-than.

Even Ally Sheedy.

And that’s saying something.

Even today I generally avoid shows that are set in Southern California. It’s an almost subconscious aversion, and admittedly unfair. On the other hand, it’s spared me the discomfort of even momentary exposure to steaming twenty-something piles like The OC, Beverly Hills 90210 and the Big Bang Theory.

I guess you could say I’ve grown. I now know that our 31st and most populous state is a fine and proud and admirable place chock full of scenic wonders and cultural delights and scientific marvels and a stout citizenry that likes me just the way I am.

And I resent it.

Always will.

Except now I feel a lot more comfortable with that.

In psychological parlance that’s called a “breakthrough.”

I see our time is up.

Let the healing begin.

Rumor mill goes off the Depp end

 

Who’s behind these Foster Grants?

Move over Iraq. Back of the line, immigration. I’ll call you, $3 gasoline, I promise. Right now, Johnny Depp is America’s topic of choice.

Depp’s latest cinematic piratical effort just sent previous box-office records spinning grimly down into dark and watery graves, and Hollywood-watching media-types are beside themselves with admiration for the charismatic fellow.

Popular magazine writers extol Depp’s purported neuroses as endearing and accessible, and prime-time talking heads become faint describing his magnetic screen presence. Teacup-clutching yak mavens sail into transports at mention of his vaguely impudent good looks, and everybody in L.A. who’s ever believed themselves within two city blocks of His Eminence – from producers to actors to the guy who makes the popcorn – are scrambling for a microphone to tell the viewing public all about what a swell Joe their good and great friend Johnny is. Small wonder, then, that the whole country’s gone a little dippy, er, Deppy.

Well, here’s some bad news for Mega-D’s superfans from Napa to Newark:

We were there first.

That’s right. Evergreen’s been in the sweaty grip of raging Depp fever since long before it became “cool,” expanding the frontiers of unreasoning movie-star obsession and providing fresh grist to a local rumor mill that for too long has been scratching out a meager subsistance on little but unlikely lake monsters and phantom chain restaurants.

The madness began perhaps three months ago when some imaginative gossip leaked to a credulous neighbor that the Illustrious Personage had bought a house in Evergreen. Like lightning over the high plains, the story flashed across town, sprouting a zillion vivid arms and charging every gulch and hollow from Shaffer’s Crossing to Squaw Pass with burning expectations. To date, the bolt has produced several million watts of gossip but not one spark of evidence. Based purely on frequency of repetition, Upper Bear Creek Road is the odds-on favorite for Johnny’s new address, though North Turkey Creek and Floyd Hill are slowly gaining advocates.

Talk is cheap, of course, but seeing is believing, and the growing epidemic of sketchy Johnny Depp sightings constitute, for many, proof that Edward Scissorhands will soon appear at someone’s back door and ask to borrow their weed-whacker. In recent months, rumor has placed the Grande Artiste at The Bagelry in Bergen Park, standing in a checkout line at a King Soopers and crooning to an appreciative audience at the Little Bear. Well, even Hollywood marketing constructs have to eat, and showmanship must course through Depp’s veins the way oxygen does in the blood of lesser mortals. While theoretically possible, however, each rumored sighting arrives on the doorstep thickly packaged in layered embellishments and without a return address.

Have you seen this man?

“I’ve heard all the rumors, but they’re always at least three-people removed,” laughs the proprietor of a historic local inn. “One of my maids swears she saw Johnny Depp jogging around Evergreen Lake at 6 o’clock in the morning, and my husband said it would be more believable if she’d seen him smoking at the same time.”

Not long ago, overhearing the staff exchanging Depp-related gossip, a guest mentioned that Depp had recently bought a house near his own. “He was from Vermont,” she laughs. “I guess we’re not the only town with rumors.”

A longtime Evergreen resident and respected local businesswoman, the innkeeper is one of a precious few who can speak with some authority on the junction of Johnny Depp and Evergreen because, on March 26, 2004, he was her guest. Not buying it? Check out the autographed photo he left in his room. “Thanx,” he wrote, in a sharp, somewhat abstract hand, “Johnny Depp.” It’s ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s for real.

“A guy from Denver called me about holding an engagement party here,” says the woman who, with the natural discretion for which hoteliers are rightly prized, prefers that her name and that of her business not be made public. “He and Depp are friends and they’ve work together. He said Depp would be coming and wanted it kept as quiet as possible. We had a verbal confidentiality agreement.”

Granted, Depp wasn’t her first A-list sleepover. “Tim Allen and David Schwimmer stayed here,” she says. “People like that come here to get away, to hide. Privacy is very important to them, which is why I have to be careful how much I say.”

To ensure the greatest possible confidentiality, she told no one of their VIP visitor except the duty manager and her public relations agent. “It was killing her, but she didn’t say anything.” The party was about 20 strong, champagne flowed freely and secrecy was tighter than Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

“They were very careful about their privacy,” she says. “Everybody was very nice, but they kept to themselves and really kept Depp under wraps. After the proposal, a bunch of them went to the Ice House Bar. Depp went with them, but wasn’t recognized.”

Despite lavishing her guests with every indulgence and consideration, the lodge owner never laid eyes on the Glorious Curiosity until the next morning.

“I was standing in the lobby when this guy walked across the lawn and got in the back of this big, silver Bentley with tinted windows,” she says. “As it pulled out, we waved to each other. I can’t think of who else it would have been but Johnny Depp.” By noon, nothing remained but creeping exhaustion and a signed picture of Big D wearing faded blue jeans, a muscle shirt and his trademark sulky expression.

Perfect for a discreet get-away

According to the innkeeper, Depp’s friend – the one who arranged the soiree – is a regular guest who works with numerous dignitaries and public lights.

“I told him that, if he ever brings someone of that caliber here again, I don’t want him to tell me,” she says. “Everybody says Johnny Depp’s a really down-to-earth, laid-back guy, but there’s just no way you can really do enough for someone like that. I started worrying about everything, like whether the bowls on my red-wine glasses were big enough. It was just too nerve-wracking.”

And for those wagging tongues that look forward to having a famous new neighbor, there may be a lesson in that.