I'm your number one fan," breathes an enraptured Kathy Bates to injured bestselling novelist James Caan in "Misery," the current hit movie based on the Stephen King novel. It's her lucky day -- she's just pulled her idol out of a wintry car wreck, dragged him back to her isolated, snowbound mountain home and is going to nurse him back to health. All by herself.

It begins to dawn on you that she's crazy, of course. The ultimate codependent. But there's an unsettling element of truth in King's creepy scenario. Deep in the heart of every True Fan is the desire to have the Idol all to him- or herself.

But there is another way, thank heaven.

Someone invented fan clubs as a way for the fans to get a piece of their object of desire, while keeping some safe distance between the unwashed masses and the unreachable star.

Some of us still fondly remember the days when we'd send $1.50 in a SASE and wait by the mailbox for our mimeographed newsletter and a frameable, kissable glossy of the Partridge Family or Bobby Sherman. On the other end, we imagined, was some devoted fan sifting through the letters and sighing as she sent out the autographed 8x10s.

That was then. This is now:

There are 180,000 fans enrolled in the Official New Kids on the Block Fan Club. With Blockheads (that's what they're called) shelling out $20 in annual dues, that's $3.6 million in fan club revenues alone.

"As far as I know, their membership is the biggest ever," says Tim McQuaid, president of Fan Asylum, the San Francisco-based image marketing company that processes and mails the New Kids' fan club material. "The New Kids' {free} mailing list has 1,200,000 {names}. And that's in North America alone. We're in the process of expanding to Japan, South America and Europe."

Fan Asylum, which employs 30 full-time staffers, 10 of which are specifically assigned to New Kids detail, also handles fan club lists for George Michael, Aerosmith and Poison, their three biggest after New Kids. But where Michael will receive between two and three thousand pieces of mail daily, the New Kids get between 10,000 and 20,000 pieces a day -- more during Christmas, or New Kids' birthdays (Jon's was Nov. 29; Joseph's is Dec. 31).

Here's what you get for your 20 bucks:

A 16-page, glossy quarterly newsletter containing interviews with the Kids and family pictures (after four issues your membership expires).

Five individual Kids pix and a group photo.

An official Fan Club button and membership card.

"The New Kids package is more detailed and more elaborate than anything we've done before," McQuaid says. "The volume of memberships makes that possible."

Now, if the Fab Five had to personally sign and stuff all those giveaways, they never would have had time or energy to evolve from real, raw Boston urchins to Saturday morning cartoon characters (the ultimate pop culture achievement) in less than two years.

Enter the fan club, which began in Danny Wood's living room: His dad, Dan Wood Sr., happens to be a postman in Quincy, Mass., and would lug home their bags of mail after work everyday. At first the families tried to keep up themselves, sending out homemade packages of buttons and newsletters.

But within a year, it was all too much, so the New Kids rented an office and hired a fan club staff, made up of actual New Kids Sisters and Brothers: Allison Knight; Tricia and Jean McIntyre; Melissa, Rachel and Brett Wood; and James Wahlberg.

"Please don't say where we are," says director of operations Marianne Visconti. "The diehard fans will do anything to try and find us. We have to keep ourselves undercover."

The fan club already had to change phone numbers once -- once the fans catch on, a business number is useless.

Visconti, 25, was planning to teach business when she heard about the fan club job, and wound up being flown to Lake Placid, N.Y., to interview with the Kids' moms, who were mainly concerned with whether she was a nice girl and would work well with the Kids' siblings. Visconti wasn't even a NKOTB fan herself. "Before my interview I went out and purchased several teen magazines and memorized their names," she says.

Today there's a broken window in the fan club offices, so the New Kids staffers are bundled up in fan-sent paraphernalia: blankets, hats, sweaters and scarves with the New Kids' names crayoned, stenciled, embroidered, woven and ironed onto them.

"Last Christmas the presents alone would barely fit in the office," Visconti says. "We would come in on weekends just to move the boxes around. The Department of Social Services is upstairs from us, so they get a lot of stuff from us.

"We have had some . . . bizarre things. We received fish and chips from England. Danny's sister picked up the mail that day in her brand new Jeep, and she didn't know if it was the car that smelled or what. We haven't had any live animals, though. Except for ants, because people send cooked food -- what could they possibly be thinking of? This year, instead of sending presents to the boys, we've asked the fans to do something for other kids, like taking toys to a homeless shelter in their area."

"I never thought they'd make it at all, much less that I'd be working for them," says Allison Knight, at 28 the oldest member of "the Sister Posse," and one of the four fulltime Fan Club staffers. "It's fun, but it's a real job: Monday through Friday, 8 to 4, two weeks vacation, two personal days, one and a quarter sick days a month. We open, read and sort mail; send it off to San Francisco; make bank deposits and process membership applications; open gifts and send out thank-you cards; and write some letters."

But the big question remains: What happens to all that mail?

"Once we process it, the great majority of it is shipped back to Boston," McQuaid says. "Some of it is saved for them to look through when they come home from touring.

"The rest of it is probably mulched. We recycle about 20 tons of paper a year. That way it can be turned into future mail . . . for future generations of fans."