copyright © 2002 Michael Rothschild

"Riddler Junior"

by Michael Rothschild

Lights up.

In 1967, bad TV was at its peak. And the boy I was loved every minute of it. Star Trek, Batman, Hogan’s Heroes, The Monkees. Those characters were more real to me than anyone I knew. They never hurt me, always knew the right thing to say and always made me want more. Until I met Frank Gorshin, the Riddler on Batman. After that, after Frank, everything was different.

I met him at the bar in the Grover Cleveland Hotel. I was there with my friends for my 18th birthday and he was slumped over a glass of rye at the bar. I just thought he was some sad old drunk, but my buddy Dickie jabbed me and said "hey, it’s the Riddler".

I walked over and sure enough, Dickie was right! He wasn’t just some sad old drunk, he was a famous old drunk. I’d only seen him on TV in a lime green jumpsuit covered in question marks, but he was real. Here was one of my heroes, my TV friends, slumped ten feet away from me. I had to say SOMETHING. But what? "Mr. Gorshin"?

He didn’t look up. "I’m not signing any more autographs. Get lost."

"I didn’t, uh, I just wanted to say I really admire your work on Batman. Sorry to bother you". I started to leave, but he looked over at me slowly, a thin smile on his face.

"I thought you were one of those little shits who wanted me to sign a lunch box. Have a seat". His hand unsteady, he pulled out a stool and I sat down, thrilled beyond thrilled.

"This is such an honor, Mr. Gorshin. Are you here with Adam West and Burt Ward?"

"Ah, West is dedicating a Krispy Kreme in San Jose, Ward’s at the Derby with some hooker he picked up. Are you sure you don’t want an autograph or something?"

"Now that you mention it, I’d really love to hear you say ‘riddle me this’ just once". I knew it was a mistake as soon as the words were out of my mouth.

"Do you know how many little shits like you have asked me to say that? 7,453. And I said to myself ‘if one more little shit asks me to say that, I’m gonna break his kneecaps’".

My ears started ringing, I turned red. The Riddler was going to break my kneecaps! I was scared…but, a little excited too. I mean nobody I knew had gotten beaten up by a TV star, not even William Shatner. What a way to get girls. "Hey baby, guess who gave me this cast? The Riddler!" (beat) "Mr. Gorshin, you can whale on me all you want if it makes you feel better." I meant it, too.

Gorshin looked me up and down. Sizing up the best place to punch me, no doubt. Then he put his hand on my shoulder and smiled again. "Ahhh, you got a nice face. I can’t hurt you". I was relieved, but a little disappointed too.

"So what are you doing hanging around this dump?" I asked him, feeling more at ease.

"Mrs. Riddler kicked me out. I can’t help it if beautiful women want to screw me, I’m the friggin’ Riddler. They want to see how bent my question mark is". He leaned into me, his breath stinking of rye, cigarettes and old whore. "You want a riddle? Riddle me this. What’s the secret to life’s pleasures? Physical, emotional, what-have-you?" I had no idea what he was talking about. "The secret to pleasure is pleasure. Take love where you can, make love where you must".

I was pretty uncomfortable at this point, so I got up to leave. "Mr. Gorshin, I need to go…" I felt his hand grab my balls.

"I just want someone to talk to. You have no idea what it’s like. Nobody sees anything other than a freak in green tights. But maybe you can see me for me, not that Riddler".

I looked at his withered hand on my package, then at his withered face. "What are you doing?"

"Come with me kid, I’ll make you a star on the show! You can be Riddler Junior!"

I ran away, left the bar. And I never watched Batman again. I guess I grew up after that. Moved out, went to college, got married, now I have three kids. Work for Boeing. But there are days when I wonder if I’d just lowered myself to be with him for a few minutes, what might have happened. I was young, hungry, what really was stopping me? I could have been just as big as anyone on any TV show. Five minutes of discomfort and I’d be set for life. A star, someone else’s TV friend. Sometimes I really do wonder.

(shudders). UHHHHHHH.

Lights out quickly.


"Riddler Junior" debuted October 25, 2002, performed by Michael Rothschild.

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