I grew up in restaurants and hotels, daughter of a restaurateur. People came around, people who were famous sometimes for one thing or another, people who had an entourage, people who tried to demand preferential treatment somehow. I didn’t necessarily recognize any of these people, sometimes I did, sometimes not, but there was a tension that hung around the kitchen and chef’s office when a VIP was scheduled to be in the dining room, a tension that would disappear the moment he or she arrived and everyone remembered the star was as human as the rest of us.
Later on, as I grew up and lived in Manhattan, seeing celebrities wasn’t any big deal. It’s what happens in New York, and only tourists dare make a garish scene and acknowledge the famous in any way other than that of a peer. Even if the heart is a teen-aged girl gripped with the Beatlemania of the moment, the exterior had to be cool.
Haley Mills and I used the same bank, and the same coffee stand, where after the third day in a row of seeing me in line just ahead of her, she patted my arm for my attention and laughed that I ought not fret, I’m not stalking you, she smiled. I made small talk. Though my heart may have been leaping to shout “Omg omg omg! Parent trap!” I did not mention Parent Trap. I was cool.
But back to my list of people I made a point by which to not be outwardly impressed: Al Pacino and I passed in front of Lincoln Center– he I heard before I saw, as he belted out stick with me baby I’m the fella you came in with– I swear to shit, Jerry, this Broaway shit feels good he said– Marilu Henner and I stood on line for coffee, George Carlin introduced himself to me and we talked briefly about cheeseburgers, whoppers in particular, milkshakes, oyster bars and blues music, and Cyd Charisse and I had a lovely conversation about well, I can’t tell you that. Matthew Broderick helped me laugh about a bad date while said date was in the restroom, and when I waitressed, on separate occasions, Emmit Smith and Adam Sandler and Tiger Woods were polite and seemed almost relieved that I treated them just like the rest of my tables.
I saw Tony Bennet in the pharmacy buying laxative and nasal spray, and picking up a prescription presumably to support an associated affliction, Martha Plimpton flopped down on a bench near me in Central Park in horribly ratty blue jeans, Pavarotti walked out of an apartment building and thrust himself into oncoming pedestrian traffic, expecting us to all stop, and I was– and I’ll say this an an opera lover, to boot– I was relieved when none of us bearing down on him flinched, but rather sverved to miss him. AND, each time, no big deal. Just people, out doing their thing. It’s nothing. Only tourists make a fuss and screech and act foolish in the face of fame; everyone else, has to be cool.
And then one day, a pretty afternoon bearing time to kill, I flipped through CDs at a record store near in the west village. It was touch and go this record store, sometimes killer imports, sometimes resale crap. I flipped through a couple of bins of CDs, and started towards the messy pile of vinyl when I realized Morrissey was in the store.
Let’s be very clear about this: I love The Smiths. I don’t care who misunderstands the subversive merriness and cheeky underhandedness of them and calls them a downer. I don’t care. I loved them as a teenager, I loved them in my twenties, and I love them now in my thirties. I loved them as a group, I love Morrissey solo. I love them even though I can’t always explain why, I just do. I even– yeah, I’ll say it, I will admit this to you now– planned a couple of dates of my first book tour around where Morrissey would be performing and bought tickets. I did. Oh yeah. I did. The Smiths underscored some highlights of my life, and landed on soundtracks to adventures, and there they are, there they always are.
And right then, there he was. Now, my deep-seated feelings on the subject of celebrity acknowledgement were just that, I was raised to be nonchalant and unimpressed by the famous. I’ve said this. You know this. I could say, respect your work, but never your celebrity. You, famous person, might be famous, but you are a person, and there’s simply no reason to be giddy and screechy over a person.
But again, there he was. I decided on the spot, that despite everything I knew and thought and learned and was told ever, ever, ever in my whole entire life, I wanted, nay, needed to say something to Morrissey. But what? What could I possibly say that would still allow me to treat him as a peer, as just a regular man whose work I happened to enjoy? I decided, in a moment I would regret horribly only moments later, to wing it. Surely, I though, the right thing, a graceful, casual, pithy little remark will just spring forth from my lips and not alienate him in the least. We’ll strike up a conversation, I’ll express my enjoyment of his work, he’ll respond graciously, we’ll laugh, then go our separate ways and the whole thing will be a small talk delight.
I casually flipped through CDs, scooting closer and closer down the aisle towards the Ringleader of the Tormentors. Once I stood maybe only a few feet away, I realized he held in his hands a CD, a CD I owned, and still own, Singles 45’s and Under by Squeeze. Perfect! I inched closer, appearing, in my mind anyway, to be completely unaware of his presence and just anther shopper, out browsing, la la la.
And then, with my shoddy plan only half in my head, before I realized what I was doing, I watched my hand and extended finger moving away from my body, slowly, weirdly like ET reaching to Elliot, as everything in me screamed, begged please don’t let me actually be about to touch that CD. And I touched the CD. He looked up, a look of half horror and half amusement across his face. My mind reeled. recovering, I thought to say something clever, something witty about the CD, to assure him, Oh, of course, it’s an excellent CD. You should buy it. You should.
Instead, my voice caught in my throat and what came from my mouth was not the brilliant remark I was attempting but instead went HUUUURNNNNK!; something between a terodactyl and a horn.
I gasped and stepped away; Morrissey did the same.
Making matters worse, to this day for reasons that remain unclear to me, I stuck my hand out, palm forward, as if giving him The hand of sitcom comedic fame, as if to stop everything, to hit pause and go back to being composed, to being… cool.
Instead, I ran. Clumsily and floppily, and with wrists raised like a kangaroo, I ran from the store, into the street and away from the record store, face hot against the afternoon. I ran until I felt less mortified and slowed to a stroll, far slower than my usual fast, city walk. Passing a film set, I didn’t look up to try to see the actor at work beyond the crowd; I didn’t much care if I ever saw a celebrity again. I felt ridiculous, like the wide-eyed tourists choking times square at night, and wanted to never be confronted with celebrity again. I thought about the kitchen in my father’s restaurant, and the not-big-deal sense that hung in the air after the restaurant staff all, as my father ever demanded, was able to see the person dining beyond the kitchen doors as just a person, a diner like any other.
I turned on Bleeker, nearly running into two young women, both with a tangle of caramel curls, bright eyes and freckled faces, one wearing a still-creased “I (heart) New York” t-shirt, and the other carrying a Taxi-checkered souvenier store bag. “Excuse me, ma’am,” one began, both girls smiling at me with raised eyebrows. “Isn’t Tom Cruise filming a movie in this neighborhood? Oh my god, he is like my favorite actor ever. I would die to meet him.” Hours before I would have shrugged, or offered a flat “maybe that way”. I drew a breath and felt the springtime breeze across my cheeks and neck, and smiled at the girls. “I don’t know if it’s Tom Crusie, but someone is filming somethng right around the next corner. Just turn here. Can’t miss it.”