Friday, July 8, 2011

B.B.F. (Before Bill Finger)

Rarely can we backtrack and pinpoint precisely when our awareness about any given issue shifted. But tonight, I came closer than I would’ve expected on a subject that’s dear to me.

You might have noticed I’ve blogged a thing or two about Bill Finger, uncredited co-creator and original writer of Batman (and subject of a book I wrote coming out a year from this month). I now know I first encountered Bill sometime after 1992.

The fall of that year, when I was a junior in college, I lived in a suite—six friends in six small bedrooms off a main common area.

One of those friends was Dave. Another of those friends was Justin, and he and I often had a bit of fun by leaving stream-of-conscious, often nonsensical messages on Dave’s answering machine. Since our doors were only 15 feet from his, we would be amused beyond sane limits when he’d get home and we’d hear him listening to them. These weren’t crank calls; they weren’t mean-spirited and he obviously recognized our voices. They were, in effect, off-the-cuff comedy routines for his own personal enjoyment.

Back then, I copied all of the messages onto a cassette. Today, I converted them, all 18 minutes’ worth, to digital. And, of course, listened to them again. Three times, actually (long drive).

One of our VM MOs was to ramble on at some length about a topic of no consequence to Dave. For example, Justin once read a hokey, extended poem about the nature of friendship. Another time, he rambled off the draft of a letter he was writing to a professor who gave him a grade he didn’t agree with.

One of my segments particularly struck me. It was about Batman. Specifically, about the creation of Batman. I told Dave the story. Except, at the time, to my surprise today, I mentioned only Bob Kane. As of 1992, I had not yet heard of Bill Finger.

It was jarring to be reminded that there was a time when I knew only the whitewashed version of a true story I have been immersed in for the last five years. Hearing this recording was a fun visit with another me. I will probably never be able to determine when and how I was introduced to Bill; one thing my Finger research has shown me time and again is that B.F.B. (Before Facebook), too few documented the day-to-day. (Historic moments are not always obvious in advance.)

Therefore, when you discover a seemingly throwaway comment that you did capture, it’s a potent form of time travel. Time has a way of amplifying the personal significance of even the smallest moments.

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