In my imaginary life when I encounter Jon Hamm in a crowd outside say, the Ahmanson Theatre in LA, I just smile and give him a coy little wave. You know, the kind where you duck your head and waggle your fingers.
He waves back. Smiling of course. Glad that at least some of the public are composed and know how to act around celebrities.
When I’m flying First Class, which is never - except in my fantasy life, I wind up seated next to Oprah, the powerhouse, enormously influential mogul of an all-around high profile person. But I’m cool.
When I’m seated next to her? I do not ask for her autograph. No. Instead, I ask just the right question in precisely the right way. Something like, “No really, how ARE you?”
See? See how that works?
She is drawn in, is Oprah. She cannot resist my direct yet unassuming eye contact. She’s relieved, actually, to not have to be ‘on.’ Here is someone, at last, she must be saying to herself, who is not so dumb struck as to be groveling.
In our cross-country flight, somewhere over Oklahoma (poetic isn’t it?) she leans toward me and begins a sentence with, “I’ve never told anyone this, but…”
I hold my own with the celebs. A day’s work. No. Big. Deal.
I saw Elvis once.
I was nineteen, hanging around the gate to his mansion in Beverly Hills with a rumpled and torn “Map to the Stars’ Homes” in my hand. (When I balked at the map’s $5.00 price tag, the sketchy character who sold it to me said he had a torn one he would let me have for $2.50. Then he turned his back and ripped the corner. It was a good deal.)
We did not have curvy roads like that in Tulsa, so it took my girlfriend and me a lot longer than we thought it would to weave our way up the hillside, gawking at Lucille Ball’s house and George Burns’ house – and the houses of other big name stars our parents knew and we cared about on their behalf.
We barely arrived when the gate began to swing open. A black Cadillac El Dorado rushed forward and paused until the opening was just wide enough; then it swooshed in.
We saw him behind the wheel. He looked good. Like Elvis.
I’m not sure how poised I would have been if he’d looked my way. I hadn’t worked out a cool fantasy conversation in advance so on that inevitable occasion Elvis would see I was different from all the others. Poor planning.
Not like with Jon Hamm or Oprah in my dreams. Now I’m ready.
Ted Turner shook my hand once. I was in a reception line at the Grand Ole Opry hotel in Nashville. He was the keynote speaker at an event I attended with students I coached in debate. It was a national tournament and they qualified, so we got to meet TT.
I was tired and hungry and my shiny new ‘attend-a-keynote-dinner-with-Ted Turner’ shoes had rubbed a flaming blister. So, bedraggled and limping, I offered my hand with an apologetic smile, my moment less than I had hoped.
I think I said, “I admire your work.”
He gave me a quizzical look and said thanks. Doubtful he’s retelling the story.
I didn’t practice for Robin Williams either; even though it seemed possible I might run into him sometime. After all, he lived close by. Once, he even shopped for a vacation home up on the remote north coast right where my family hangs out. So we had some anticipation.
From what I hear he was pretty easy to talk to. No pretenses. Gentle. Normal-seeming in the moment.
But not normal.
He was not a regular guy on this planet. Maybe it was lonely for him in the face of all this ordinary life.
I wonder if he rehearsed his conversations, hoping to seem natural with his paper boy or the guy at the bicycle shop…the retired high school principal.
Too late now, of course, but I wish I could tell him he didn’t have to try so hard. We really did love him anyway.