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The Column

Two Beldings in One Building

I don't usually write serious columns. I prefer to write responses to junk mail or discuss my lack of butt. But occasionally, a topic comes along that is so important I can not ignore it. Well, I can, but not if I need something to write about.

If you're between the ages of 18-28, you get the title of this column. If you're not, the quote is the first half of a memorable line from what I believe to be the bible of all shows for my generation. The quote is from Saved By the Bell. Or as Mr. Belding simply calls it, "The Bell."

I will remember November 7th and 8th for quite some time, as those are the days that I met Mr. Belding. Actually, I met him November 7th, but my exchange with him on the 8th was also very important. But not as important as remembering to take Kelly's baby brother with you when you leave Home Ec.

Dennis Haskins, the actor who played the principal on Saved By the Bell, was attending NACA, a conference that matches student activities boards with bands, comedians, speakers, and the people who rent out those really cool gyroscope scooters. The conference was in Hartford, Connecticut, which is such a crappy city that even the Whalers left town. Ironically, the convention center here houses the Connecticut Sports Hall of Fame. It's a lovely place, filled with three shelves of UConn basketball memorabilia and Bruce Jenner's headband.

There is nothing to do in Hartford. Especially after one o'clock, when most of the bars close. The police "encourage" everyone to stay inside after one, leaving the streets about as safe as Jessie was during her bout with caffeine pills. So Friday night of the convention, a few of us decided we'd hit the bar quickly, since it was closing way too soon.

I knew Mr. Belding would be there, but was so concentrated on landing a few college shows that I completely forgot until I walked right by him on the way to the bar. Despite my dwindling drinking time, I had to stop. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was excited. So excited. Albeit a bit scared.

The first humor column I wrote that got any recognition was about Saved By the Bell. I've since re-written it, but it first hit my school's paper when I was 17, and is fairly responsible for my career as a humor columnist. I also mentioned The Bell in my book. I had to thank him for the inspiration. And for the time he went easy on the gang, even though they destroyed his new car during a multi-tiered blackmail scandal.

I really did thank him, and then quickly made my way to the bar (hey, this was Hartford). But before I did, he said he may join me there. And Mr. Belding, unlike when it came to expelling Zack, kept true to his word.

At the bar, I got an autograph for my sister, who used to be my companion in Saved By the Bell trivia-offs (held in the same manner as Saved By the Bell dance-offs). If you have ever engaged in said trivia-offs, I hope you, like me, have since found a life. If you haven't, props to the first person who can tell me, without Google, exactly where Violet Bickerstaff was hiding before her solo.

I thought that was the end of our exchange, until he asked me to bring him a copy of my book the next day. That's right - Mr. Belding wanted to see what I wrote about Saved By the Bell.

It must be interesting to be Mr. Belding. To be a part of something so integral to pop culture that you are recognized everywhere you go - for something you did a decade ago. Since "The Bell," Haskins has been on West Wing and The Practice and ten movies. But when he walked into the bar, the music stopped, the bouncer hugged him, and whispers of "Oh my god, it's Mr. Belding" filled the air. As potent as the sounds of the rockin' new girl band, "Hot Sundae." (The true fans realize that this is the third time I have referenced this episode.)

Haskins is forever type cast, and that has got to be difficult. It made me think - if everything pans out and I land on some TV show for more than just a passing frame behind the co-stars (My mom is so proud), I don't want it to be that big of a hit. Because Haskins is Mr. Belding wherever he goes, and though he is beloved and welcomed, he can never just be Dennis. He does a talk about that to schools, and I must say it's something I'd like to hear. You should, too. Right after your school books me, of course.

On the 8th, I gave Dennis a copy of my book, and even signed it. (That's right - I gave Mr. Belding an autograph.) And before I left, he told the students around him they should check out what I wrote about The Bell, and also suggested I contact his friend at National Lampoon - using his recommendation. And that was just amazing. For the first time, someone I wrote about (that I didn't know ahead of time) read what I wrote about them. And he liked it enough to stand behind it.

Well, Dennis, I hope you're reading this, too. I wanted to thank you one more time for teaching my generation that the last three letters of principal spell "pal," even if Screech was the one to actually say that. Losing your identity to a TV character is probably difficult, but know that it is a character I, and many other people, admire a great deal. My day was certainly brightened by chatting with you.

And I got to ride the gyroscope scooter, too.

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