FRESH YARN presents:
When I was eleven, my older sister Kelly said that someone famous was going to be at Thanksgiving dinner: "You've probably never heard of him but he's in the encyclopedia. And, he is related to us."
are you an owl?" she teased, incubating the suspense.
Gordon Liddy," she said, handing me a copy of his autobiography,
Will. "You better get yourself one of these for him to sign."
"How is he related?" I asked.
"I'm not sure, but he is."
"And why haven't we ever met him before?" I asked.
"Because he's famous, silly. He lives somewhere like Hollywood."
During the week before Thanksgiving, I meticulously poured over the pages of his autobiography, watched the movie All the President's Men, and brushed up on Watergate at the library. When Turkey Day finally arrived, I spotted the G-Man snacking on my grandmother's Swedish meatballs in her dining room. I nervously advanced on him with a pen in one hand and Will in the other. He didn't need a stethoscope to hear my heart clamoring against my ribcage.
"Um, could you sign this for me?"
"Sure, what's your name?" he smiled.
"Scott Keneally," I said, before dropping the one burning question I had after reading Will. "Did you really eat rats in prison?"
told you that?" he laughed.
"I sure did," he responded, "but, they didn't taste nearly as good as this turkey your Aunt Midge has cooked. There was no gravy in prison."
As we laughed I bubbled like gum, reveling in my legwork. Feeling comfortable, I fetched another four books and presented them to him. But I asked him not to personalize those. They were perfect Christmas gifts for my teachers. I opened my copy and read the inscription:
Curious as to the exact nature of our relationship, I pulled Mom aside in the kitchen. Apparently, my Uncle Jack (who was actually my mother's uncle) married the G-Man's sister, Aunt Midge. So, Liddy was my mother's uncle's brother-in-law, in essence making him my great uncle-in-law. There were no blood relations whatsoever. Not even a drop. Still, I was proud to have someone famous in my family tree, even if his branch was a bit shaky.
The truth is, I am a Celebrity Slut. Whenever I am in the presence of a star, my chest tightens like a boa around my heart as I think of some witty lead into a conversation with them. My next impulse is to tell everyone I know.
My siblings share my fervor for celebrities. Kelly and I call one another whenever we have a brush with fame or even just a dream about being backstage at a Moby concert.
"You'll never believe this," she'd say in a whisper, hand cupped over her cell phone, "Jewel is eating at the table right next to me. She's less than two feet away."
"Put her on!" I'd shout.
Of course, Kelly had enough tact not to reach over to Jewel with her phone, but I know that if roles were reversed, she'd expect me to hand my phone over to Johnny Depp.
My older brother has been exuberantly recounting shared moments with celebrities (with varying degrees of truth) for some time now. Chris is a Celebrity Slut of a slightly different breed -- one with a more active imagination. His encounters always occur when nobody is around to verify them, like the time Andre the Giant picked him up by the neck after Chris heckled him before a WWF match. His stories are often framed, "While you were at the bathroom." That's when all the action happens.
One night while we were at a bar in Santa Monica, I walked back from the john to see Chris' face lit up like a slot machine, "You missed it! I was just hanging out with Arnie." He was referring to his new buddy, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The fact is, Arnold did briefly walk into the bar that night; secretly I asked the bouncer if he saw him. And maybe Arnold even stood next to Chris for a second or two while I was in the bathroom. And if so, I'm sure Chris would have summoned all his wit and peeled off a one-liner. But whether or not Chris and Arnie shared a few puffs off the same cigar or that Arnie said, "I'll be back," in his Terminator voice is dubious at best.
I thought of Andre the Giant that night, picturing Chris walking back to our seats at the WWF match wringing his neck with his own hands to sell the story of his confrontation ("Look at these red marks!") At the bar I was half expecting Chris to yank up his sleeve and show me the friends-forever ritual cigar burn he and Arnie had branded each other with: "He has one too, in the same exact spot!"
I can understand the urge to glorify the moment, to beef it up a bit. Announcing "Arnie stood next to me" doesn't arouse the crowd nearly as much as declaring, "Arnie passed his cigar to me and winked."
In my celebrity-sighting quest, I struck gold one summer during college when I went on a date with a girl from Red Bank, New Jersey. After dinner in her hometown, Lindsay pointed to a store across the street, "Hey, did you ever see Clerks or Mallrats?"
"Of course," I said, having watched the latter nearly thirty times.
"Well, that's Kevin Smith's comic book store, 'Jay and Silent Bob's Secret Stash.' Jay works there most days."
"Jay actually works there?" I asked. "But he's a movie star."
Nonetheless, I wasn't complaining. I couldn't wait for the store to open the next morning. Jay was close enough to my age that I imagined friendship was possible. If everything went according to plan, I'd be showing him off to all my college friends in Boston. And if I were really lucky, Kevin would be there and cast me on the spot for one of his upcoming movies. Sure, I'd accept a modest role, but maybe he'd take a chance and give me a meatier role.
As my dreams traveled down the pipe, it became clear to me that my obsession with celebrities was really an obsession with myself. Ever since I was a little kid, I had the sneaking suspicion that the whole world was, or at least should be, fascinated by my every action or comment, and here was my chance to prove it. I was going to be a star. My face would grace the cover of glossy magazines. I'd give brief, coy interviews to Access Hollywood that would add new layers of complexity to the mystery that was me. Most importantly, perhaps I could even parlay this acting gig into dating someone like Britney Spears or Angelina Jolie, since I knew stars were an incestuous constellation.
After tossing and turning through the night I arrived at the store at 9:59, one minute before it was supposed to open. I sat down by the front door and waited. Thirty minutes later, a voice called out from the back seat of a red Cherokee across the street, "Hey kid. Are you waiting for the store to open?"
I approached the car as Jay said, "I'm just finishing my breakfast. Give me twenty minutes."
"Holy shit! You're Jay!" I ejaculated, completely exposed as a Celebrity Slut. "I can't believe it's you."
Jay smiled and said, "Snootchy bootchie," just like his character did in the movies.
At 11:15, Jay finally unlocked the store. Since I was not even remotely interested in purchasing comics, I spent the next hour picking his brain:
"How did you get into acting?"
"Do you get more chicks now that you're a star?"
"Is Silent Bob coming in today?"
"Why are you working at a comic book store in New Jersey?"
Jay fielded all of my questions and seemed happy to talk to me. I was pleasantly surprised that he was the same person I saw onscreen. And of course, I came prepared.
"Do you want to smoke weed?" I asked, flashing him my freshly packed glass pipe. "This is some heady shit."
"Sorry, I'm on probation," he said. It sounded like a lie, much like the instinctive response of most of the girls I had ever asked on dates: "Thanks, but I have a boyfriend."
I felt jilted, like our connection had been suddenly ripped out of the wall. I jotted down my number. "Call me when you get off probation," I said.
to say, Jay never called. But my iridescent afterglow lasted for months
as I ferreted out any opportunity to share my story, even with complete
strangers: "Did you say your name is Jay? That's so funny because
I have another friend named Jay. Did you ever see Mallrats?"
Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, I lucked into a freelance writing job that put me within putting distance of rock stars. I collaborated with a music video director, brainstorming for storylines and visuals to go with songs. If the bands liked my two or three page treatment and our vision for the song, they hired my director to shoot the video. While my name never appeared onscreen even if the video was entirely my concept, I enjoyed the fringe benefits of the job. I was allowed to loiter on set and mingle with the artists. And as a creative partner in the video, I had a legitimate excuse to talk to some major stars like Jessica Simpson and Madonna. However, I craved more than behind-the-scenes recognition.
Finally, with the publication of my bedwetting story in JANE Magazine, I snagged a small sum of fame. My picture and saga appeared in three-quarters of a million magazines with Angelina Jolie on the cover. I imagined that if I ever bumped into her, I could easily strike up a conversation about that issue. And just in case she had missed my piece, I always had a copy handy.
While the magazine was still on newsstands, I hoped it could double as a temporary membership pass into the inner celebrity circle. My first chance to test this theory came when I saw Elijah Wood waiting for my Jet Blue flight to New York. "Hey, I really love your work," I said, fumbling for some connector into my work. "Say, did you ever see this magazine?"
"Yeah, I read it all the time," he said.
my article, I said, "Here's a story I published this month. Maybe
you can kill
He looked at the page, up to me, and back down to the page. "It's you," he said, flashing his gap toothed smile. "I already read this and it was brilliant."
What were the odds? Feigning modesty, I looked away to make sure everybody was watching.
He even asked me to sign the magazine for him. Frodo wanted my autograph. I felt a Magic Fingers tingling sensation race through the length of my body. I imagined that feeling was the norm among the Hollywood elite.
On the photo of a wet bed that dwarfed my thumbnail picture, I wrote, "Aren't you glad you never slept here?" with an arrow pointing to the soaked sheets.
I handed him another copy to sign for me. "By the way, will you jot down an email address or some way to get in touch?" I asked, clearly pushing my luck.
Greedily, I suggested, "Next time you're in town maybe we can hang out. I have a great spot in Venice." I was thinking about the snowballing social effects that drawing a star like Elijah Wood to a party might have.
When he asked what other kinds of stories I wrote, I happily segued into my freelance writing career. Since he was a fan of music videos our conversation cascaded freely. When our flight boarded an hour later, I said I'd email him sometime. I waited a few days and dropped him a note:
Greetings from a Bedwetter!
Apparently, I would catch him much later, as I am still waiting for his response. I wasn't bummed out though, as I knew there would be other encounters and opportunities to befriend the rich and famous.
One afternoon while shopping at Wild Oats, a familiar looking, tall, lanky man sporting a Yankees cap walked by me. After a triple take, I realized it was Kramer from Seinfeld. He was nearly incognito in the baseball cap, but it was definitely him.
I wanted to run back home and grab a copy of my magazine. Who knows what could happen from there? I weighed my fantasies against the reality that he'd only be in the store for a few minutes and decided not to leave.
As a huge fan of Seinfeld, I figured I'd have lots to talk with him about. While Kramer milled around the produce section, I remembered the episode where on principle he refused to buy fruit from a grocery store because it wasn't fresh enough. Later, he was banned from his favorite fruit stand for complaining that his mango was not ripe. Jerry was coerced into doing Kramer's fruit shopping, until he too was banned when the fruit guy realized what was going on.
And now, as Kramer shoved three mangos into a bag, I had the perfect icebreaker. So, are your mangos ripe? I thought to ask. But, that just didn't feel right. I decided to wait for another moment to chime in with something that would make his eyes pop open, his arms flail, and his body rattle in vintage Kramer fashion.
Like an experienced sleuth, I covertly followed him throughout the store, always one aisle away, peering between boxes of spaghetti or jars of mayonnaise. When he stopped in front of the soup station, I moved in. Standing next to him, I stared at the two cauldrons of soup du jour, pretending I was trying to figure out which one I wanted. Kramer's elbow was just inches from mine.
I immediately flashed back to the Seinfeld episode with the "Soup Nazi," who banned Elaine from the store for a year because of an ordering error. The Soup Nazi yelled, "No soup for you!" He did this to any of the customers that screwed up an order. Standing in front of the vats of soup with Kramer was just too perfect an opportunity to pass up. I was glad I had waited for this moment since two different one-liners in two different sections of the grocery store might have been considered stalking.
Say it Scott, just say it. No soup for you!
My nerves were frayed as Kramer kept glancing over at me. He had a curious look on his face, as if he were going to talk to me. I was half expecting Kramer to nudge me and drop the line himself.
After an awkward silence, Kramer finally spoke.
"Oh, you don't work here," he mumbled.
"Huh?" I said, grasping for the hidden meaning in his words.
"I was going to ask you what the unlabeled soup was, but you probably don't work here."
And that was it. I was too stunned to recover. My total part of the conversation amounted to, "Huh?" And as he walked away, the helium fizzled out of my ego like air through a pinched balloon. No sitcom screenwriting fame. No late-night bar crawls with Kramer. Just a painfully shy Michael Richards mistaking me for a grocery store clerk.
Still, I called Kelly collect from a payphone outside the store. Her excitement glorified the flimsy moment for me, "No way! Well, at least he talked to you!" Kelly reinvigorated my unyielding desire to tell everybody about the encounter.
One night last month, I had the opportunity to share my Kramer story. I was flipping through channels while babysitting my senile grandmother. Gram can barely remember what she's chewing at dinner, let alone have any idea who the hell Kramer is. That didn't deter me.
"Gram, did you ever see this show Seinfeld? See that guy right there with the funny hair? Kramer? Well, he just talked to me last week at the grocery store."
"Oh," she mumbled, with enough enthusiasm to muster up one more heartbeat. It was exactly the response I had expected, but it still felt great to tell my story.
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