Who is Victor Riley?

I suppose I should explain this eventually. As a semi-regular column called “The Hidden Hero” doesn’t make that much sense, especially since there’s not a lot of heroics written on here.

Victor Riley is NOT my real name, it is just an alias. But it’s an alias with a story.

Back in 1994, I was in undergraduate college… and the unthinkable actually occurred. Miracle of miracles… an on-campus construction project was actually FINISHED! In the several years I had schooling, whether it be public, college and beyond… that was the only construction project that HAD been completed and I was there to see.

It was the new “union building”… it had all the mailboxes that the students were now to use, had conference rooms for clubs, computer rooms, a gymnasium that wasn’t used solely by the Athletics department, a small canteen with a Taco Bell and cafeteria spin-off, etc. It was meant to be the centerpiece of the campus for the students. Seeing as how it wasn’t a large campus to begin with, that wouldn’t have been hard.

It had opened up in the spring, right after Spring Break. There hadn’t been an official “opening ceremony” yet, but everyone was allowed to start using it. I was walking by myself one day and started walking through, seeing what it had to offer. It was all-new modern architecture, it was clean, it was shiny… and I said to myself, “We need to make a spy movie here.”

I’m sure you see the logical progression, there. Isn’t it obvious?

At dinner that night, meeting with all my friends, I announced my reaction/conclusion to the new building. They emphatically agreed. (See? It *was* obvious.)

Out came the notebooks and pencils, frantically scribbling down ideas as they came to us. At no point in this creative process did myself, or anyone else really, give a flying crap about quality story. We just wanted to have fun. Therefore, we did not look at this project as, “We have intriguing characters, let’s find the right person for the role”. Rather, we said, “We have friends, let’s find a role for them.” So, there were a LOT of characters.

We had the villain: Mr. Big.

The Femme Fatale: Ida Know

Our own “Q” type character: Dr. Ette Degree

The Double Agent: Bea Trayer

The head of the Good Guy Agency: The Boss, Bob Boss.

The Informant: Guido D. Stoolie

A rival agent to the hero… Seymour Berkowitz… this one has a small story of its own. Very soon after this project was undertaken, we were having an unrelated “Evil Dead Marathon” (all 3 movies in a row). Myself and another friend (the one playing “Boss Bob Boss”) went walking around exploring the campus’ steam tunnel network, which was my first time doing it, and it was neat. (If your campus has steam tunnels, do yourself a favor and check them out. Just for the hell of it. So you can say you did.) When we finished, we went to the dorm room where the Marathon would take place, and our other friend started off with:

“Very funny, guys.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“Real cute. My question is: Who’s Seymour Berkowitz?”

We looked at him very quizzically… “Huh?”

“The phone message you left… on my answering machine.”

“Uh… we didn’t leave any message. We’ve been in the Steam Tunnels for the last hour… right after we saw you at dinner.”

“Wait… really?

“Yeah. So what are you talking about?”

“Uh… then this makes NO sense. Listen to this.”

He presses ‘play’ on his answering machine and we hear:

“Yah, dis is Seymour Berkowitz, calling for ‘Da Boss’. Wanted to let him know I’ll meet him at his house at 9:00. Later.”

“I thought it was YOU guys, cause he said “the Boss” (as in Boss Bob Boss)… but I just didn’t know who Seymour Berkowitz was. So what the hell was that?”

*shrug* We never found out an explanation. Maybe just a very odd-yet-coincidental prank phone call? That’s the best guess I had. So, with such a random name as “Seymour Berkowitz”… we HAD to make him a character.

We even had a character we called “The Running Gag”. His main thing… go streaking across the screen, wearing a gag over his mouth.

We were ALL about the silly joke names.

The Hero’s partner we named Honesty Mace… a play on the name of an old spy-novel heroine named Modesty Blaise by Peter O’Donnell. (I have no idea how many of my friends knew the connection, other than myself. Yeah, I came up with this one.)

Finally, we got to the hero. When I asked, “Who should be the hero?”, everyone thought for a second, looking around. Then one of them said, (I don’t even remember who) “Well, this was all your idea… and out of all of us, you’re probably the best suited for it… so I say it should be you.” Next thing I know, everyone is agreeing… and it was then settled, *I* was the hero. (A nice unexpected compliment)

But what should we name the character? Someone mentioned “Victor”… because then, at the end of the movie, someone can hand him a granola bar and say, “Kudos to the Victor”.

Victor, it was. Last name? That took a little more thought. Then someone else said, “How about ‘Riley’?” That way if someone asks “Really?” You can respond with “No, Riley”. Then we got the inspiration to add in “The Running Gag” with it. So the full gag would be:


“No, Riley”

(Running Gag enters, exits)

“What was that?”

“A Running Gag.”

We loved this stupid joke so much, that before you know it, we were using it in our regular conversations. Since asking, “really?” was fairly common usage, it all flowed nicely… even if we weren’t talking about Victor Riley, or the movie, or anything related to it. “Really?” “No, Riley” “What was that?” “A Running Gag”.

Ultimately, the movie itself never got made. Frankly, we had more fun just talking about it and giggling over all the gags then actually doing the work to film it. But, this exchange would be repeated… for YEARS. Seriously. We’ve never had so much fun with a silly joke. It never got old. It went on so long, and so often, that even when I moved to Northern California, I was chatting with someone, and in response to something I stated, they said, “Really?”

I immediately, without even thinking just said, “No, Riley”.

Suddenly, I started to feel a little embarrassed, because I just pretty much blurted out a non-sequitor that doesn’t make ANY sense to the people now around me. But at that moment, a third person… one who didn’t quite hear what I said, asked, “What was that?”

Wow… 3 naked women inviting me to a foursome would not have been more tempting. The situation was too damn perfect. I tried to resist, but it didn’t work. I don’t care if I become “That guy that just *says things*”… it was truly the greatest Running Gag I’ve ever known.

But that’s where it stayed, for a good long while. Just an in-joke amongst a few friendly weirdoes. That’s where we liked it. It did start to bleed into our lives in other ways… whenever you ended up doing something *really cool*… like, say you’re walking and you trip, but on the way down, you just happen to tuck your head the right way, and next thing you know you’re doing a roll, and back on your feet… we called that a “Victor Riley moment”. (Because he was the cool, awesome hero Super-Spy) When a moment of absolute coolness or heroism comes your way, and you amaze even yourself… that’s the spirit of Victor Riley possessing you. Those… ALWAYS made for good stories.

Then, in 1999, I had a breakthrough. I was at my local Staples store, and happened to notice their prices on business cards. 9.99 for 1000 of them. That’s each one for a penny, and you buy 999 of them, you get 1 free! Neat! I had never had a NEED for business cards, nor could I fathom what to do with them, other than a joke. But for 10 bucks… that’s a joke I could do 1000 times. So of COURSE I’m going to do it. But what to get?

My initial idea was inspired by Wile E. Coyote. In some of his cartoons with Bugs Bunny, he presented a business card that said:

Wile E. Coyote


And I wanted a business card that said my name and “Super-Genius” right below it. That’s it. No number, no contact, nothing. I think that would be hilarious. But I wasn’t 100% with that idea… because it WAS done by Wile E. Coyote first, and no matter what, it’s just re-using that joke that someone else made up. As great as a joke as it is (to me), it’s not original. All the ideas I “wanted” to do… were already done in another cartoon or show… and it just didn’t feel right. I was wishing I could do something “original”, that wasn’t found anywhere else, something I could come up with that, suck or great, came from *me*.

Then, it hit me.

As I stood there, with the pen and the order form, half a second away from writing my own name and “Super-Genius” underneath it… it totally hit me. I then got 1000 business cards that said:

Victor Riley


Has the inspiration of the Wile E. Coyote – Super-Genius… but was mine. Nay, OURS.

Because I shared this. As soon as I got that first batch of cards, I was going to see friends that night. I walked in the door, when right over to the living room, and started handing out chunks of cards with instructions:

“Whenever you do something nice for someone, whether they know it or not: Hand them a card. Leave it on their car windshield. Discreetly slip it to them, anything. When you perform a small or large act of daily heroism… let this be the mark of your “Victor Riley Moment”. Don’t tell them your name… don’t explain this. Just leave it, and walk away. Even if nothing remotely heroic is done… just hand them out to strangers.”

One day, in Northern California, I handed one to a guy I knew. He stopped, looked at me and said, “Where did you get this?”

“Huh? Oh, I made them.”

“No, seriously… where did you get this? Where did it come from? What does it mean?”

“It’s… just something I had made, kind of an in-joke. Why? What are you talking about?”

“Dude… when I was home in Los Angeles… I found one of these, and I’ve been wondering ever since where the hell it came from!”

Hehehehe… it was getting around more than I thought. How awesome is that?

We were now taking Victor Riley to the next level. Out of the realm of in-joke… and into the area of Urban Legend. Unlike other Urban Legends that are usually about death, pain, serial killers, kidney thieves, and whatnot… this would be a *good* one. One that people would like the idea of believing in, even perpetuating. How great would it have been if stories of heroic acts started sprouting up all over the place, being attributed to Victor Riley? Someone’s family is saved by an unidentified savior? That’s Victor Riley.

It wouldn’t be meant to diminish the heroism of the real individual that DID do the rescuing… but maybe give it a little more weight. Because when *I* think of what a “hero” is… I honestly think of people like Superman, Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc. Not because they’re wearing spandex and brandishing super-powers… but the ultimate underlying message. They’re individuals who want to simply *help* people… and not get, or need, any thanks in return. They wear costumes, so they can do it anonymously. They don’t want rewards, they don’t need praise… just helping someone in need, solely because they need it. The whole idea of “virtue is its own reward”. I believe in that.

In Grad School, I remember reading, “Heroes represent to the values of society”… which kind of explains a lot… namely why people like Michael Jordan is considered a “hero”. A stance I passionately disagree with. I have a hard time buying that one, especially. Why is he a hero? Because he makes millions upon millions of dollars, throwing his face and name on every endorsement deal he can, retiring and re-joining his sport because he “feels” like it? If I absolutely had to, there are other sports stars I would place above the likes of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant (a rapist and adulterer is considered a hero? Huh?), Barry Bonds… even Tom Brady (and I’m a die-hard Patriots fan). Talented athletes, yes. Heroes? No.

I would not put sports stars on the same level as Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Captain America. Who WOULD I put in the same category as them? Firefighters. Police officers. EMTS and Paramedics. The altruistic individuals that tried to save lives during the Holocaust. The good Samaritans that help their fellow man and NOT feel the need to speak at a press conference or hire a Public Relations Manager so they can “take advantage of the situation”. When you try to profit by it… you lose credibility with me. Yeah, there’s always going to be a few bad apples in those bunches… the corrupt cops, or the EMT that just doesn’t care, or the firefighter that’s really a pyromaniac… but those are rarities as far as I’m concerned. Not reflective of the whole. Personally, I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt. (And for the record… I had this opinion LONG before 9/11. It wasn’t the tragedy that gave me this opinion… but in some ways it did become “fashionable” to honor them after that. It’s pathetic that’s what it took… which is more a reflection on the average joe than anyone else.)

But that’s a hero to me. Those that do good, and don’t want, or need, a reward. Those who prefer to stay hidden, because that’s where they do what they do best. The ones with a little Victor Riley in them.

So who is Victor Riley? Part in-joke. Part urban legend. Part philosophy.

Not a bad alias to have, if you ask me. :)


Anonymous said...

All I can say is...
-Agent Cake

fritz said...

I do remember several ongoing discussions about your spy movie. I think I was even cast (well, I was sitting at the table, and I think *everyone* there was cast)...maybe it was as the busty airheaded secretary? And wasn't S supposed to be a cyborg like the terminator, but w/o the accent? Or was that part of a low-budget sequel?

I never knew about the guy who got two cards in different locations. That's awesome!

I tend to agree w/ you on the hero thing. However, I think a lot of people consider Michael Jordan to be a hero b/c they're using different criteria (and maybe they should use a word other than "hero"). As in, if you're a poor inner city kid with almost no positive male role models, you'd probably look at Michael Jordan as a hero you can identify with--from skin color to athletic ability--simply b/c he went so far. Is he saving lives or enforcing the peace? No. Should he be glorified? I'd say no. But I'm one of the privileged ones.

Jeff said...

I got one of these cards from a weird girl who was a friend of a friend of a friend (yes really) back in san diego in 2001 or 2002 or so, I just came across it again today an that caused me to google it, hence finding your blog..

interesting story, nice to know i've got 1 of 1000 still, har har

Andrew Ryz said...

Ha! I remember how happy it made me to find my first Victor Riley card.

Anonymous said...

very cool idea.

Don't forget about Wonder Woman!

Have you seen the movie Pay it Forward?

SaDiablo said...

Randomly stumbled onto your blog and am heartily enjoying it. You're an interesting man, Charlie Brown. ;)

Señorita Tena said...

This is an amazing story. It made me laugh and almost cry.

I don't think I've ever seen any of these cards, but it's comforting to know that they are out there with a purpose.

Thank you for sharing this part of your life.

smiles and sunshine.