It’s the question of the ages, at least around this website. Who is Mister Herman?
In short, Mister Herman’s Home Page has been the name of my website since I coded my very first one back in 1995. It’s been around in one form or another, from one ISP or another, for over two decades. The actual origin of Mister Herman, however, extends well before that–technically even before my very birth…
At some point during his 20 year career in the Navy, my father acquired the head of a mannequin. It was not the sort of head that once sat upon a mannequin body, but more of the sort of fiber-glass, life-sized head used to display hats or sunglasses. As a kid, I named it Eddie and it took up residence in my bedroom, usually as the support of whatever hat I happened to like at the time. It used to have painted eyes and uniformly painted reddish brown hair, but over the years of my youth I used the head as a base for sculpting faces in modeling clay. The many times I scraped it off with a kitchen knife have scared and chipped away at the paint, until I eventually just filled it in with liquid paper. At some point, I gave Eddie a touch of gray at the temples, due to his resemblance to the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards. These days he sports a set of welder’s goggles, which hide his seemingly cataract-coated eyes from the world.
Jump ahead to my sophomore year of high school. I made what was perhaps an error in applying to receive information about educational opportunities from a major religious college in Virginia. I was then and remain a religious fellow, so I’m not knocking the institution itself. However, in this particular institution’s zeal to secure my place as a student with them, they sent me approximately one metric shit-ton of mail. For the better part of at least three years, I received on a fortnightly basis at least one thick envelope stuffed with brochures, followup notes, encouraging form letters, and earnest pleas to come visit the campus. Again, this began when I was a sophomore in high school and was entirely my fault, but it became annoying to me quickly all the same. For the first year I simply dropped their letters into my sister’s gerbil cage, where they were happily shredded into bedding. By the time I was a senior, I had pretty much had an assful of these letters. (When you’re young, you take seriously the small amount of mail you receive and are prone to take offense at any you feel are wasting your time. Did I mention the fact I was receiving all of this resented mail entirely due at my original request? Oh, it was all my fault.)
In what can only be described as a wildly passive aggressive and immature move, I began a new tactic: whenever one of their thick envelopes would arrive, I would remove from it the postage-paid envelope that was always within, then I would shred every other piece of paper within the original envelope into tiny confetti bits, then stuff those bits into the postage paid envelope, write “Mister Herman’s Mental Home” as the return address, in crayon, and then pop them back in the mail. It only took about a year of doing this before the mail from them stopped entirely. Again, I’m not claiming I had any kind of moral high ground in this battle, nor was I acting maturely; I was 17.
Mister Herman’s Mental Home was born from this and is what I began to call my bedroom. I even had a sign. And the symbol of all things Mister Herman became a drawing of a partially deflated smiley balloon, which I also used to draw on the return envelopes. To me it represented warped optimism, which is about the best I can claim on any given day.
During college, Mister Herman took on a new life. I began working on the writing staff of a summer theatre camp called Summer Scholars Onstage. As a lark, I started writing top ten lists, inspired by those of David Letterman. Wanting to join in the fun, a number of other staffers became co-authors of the lists. Not wanting to take credit for their work, I decided to use the collective name of Mister Herman’s Top Ten List in order to have a neutral party at the helm. Those began in 1991. I’m proud to say that the top ten list tradition of that camp continues to this day, though they have had several other names over the years, including Uncle J.J.’s Top Ten List and Rick & Bill’s Top Ten List.
As I mentioned earlier, in 1995, as a project for a college introduction to computer concepts class I was taking, I created the first version of Mister Herman’s Home Page. It was pretty bare bones then, but soon grew to house such things as the archive of Top Ten lists from camp, my then ongoing series of college-themed recipes, my series of Mister Herman’s Cat Games, my Horribly True Tales stories, my short fiction stories (some of which now appear in A Consternation of Monsters), and, of course, the Rules of Joe–a lengthy and inside-joke-choked guide to the dos and don’ts of interacting with my friend Joe Evans. Before MySpace, Facebook and Twitter essentially gave everyone their own home page, this one was mine and remains so to this day. Only now I use it to hock my wares in addition to blogging and fun stuff.
A bit further down the line, I started operating under the heading of Mister Herman’s Production Company, Ltd., an umbrella entity I use for webdesign, graphic design, and my podcasting and voiceover work. It seemed only natural when I began looking into publishing some of my work that Mister Herman take over that as well. Ed’s a good guy to have around.
As for Mister Herman himself, he still remains a fixture in my office. He’s had a number of other hats over the years, but is currently wearing only three. He occasionally even comes back to Mississippi with me for the Summer Scholars camp.