I hate approaching celebrities. I hate to bother them. They are, after all, just people, people who must be slightly if not terribly annoyed at having to put on a public face whenever they go out, at having to pretend they don't know that everyone is staring at them because they have had them in their living rooms, speaking to them, staring at them. It must, I think, be like sitting on the wrong side of the one-way mirror. Awkward at best.
At the height of Seinfeld's fame, in the early 90s, I walked out of my apartment on 68th St. and Broadway to find him shaking hands with Rob Reiner outside the Elite Diner downstairs, saying goodbye, parting ways. I proceeded, not on purpose, to walk with him up Broadway for roughly 20 blocks, at one point side by side on the wide paved walk next to the Natural History Museum, just the two of us. I watched the show religiously at that point, quoted it, felt as if I lived it as the scenes were filmed mostly right around me, in restaurants and cafes where I spent my time or at least walked by daily. And yet, what could I say? "Um, hello Mr. Seinfeld, I love your show!" What a dork. Like he hadn't heard that before, a million times? Like it wouldn't be totally embarrassing for both of us? I refrained from saying anything, maybe rightly but regretfully. In some respects, I imagined, it must be nice to know how you've touched people's lives with your art. But I was young, insecure, lame.
Years later, after a work Christmas party where I drank too much and was looking to keep drinking, I ran into George Clooney and Randy Gerber (aka Cindy Crawford's husband) at Mr. Gerber's Whiskey Bar at the W Hotel. I was standing there innocently, just trying to get a beer, while the bartender was deeply absorbed with Mr. Clooney and Mr. Gerber, his boss's boss's boss. I waited patiently, then I waited some more a little less patiently and, then, I could wait no longer.
"Um, excuse me?" I said to the two paparazzi-hounded gentleman hogging the bartender in my most sweet, demure tone, "I'm afraid standing next to you guys I'm never going to get a drink..."
George Clooney immediately hopped to, grabbing my arm and apologizing profusely. "Sorry, sweetie," he said, looking into my eyes with his own fabulous ones, "What can I get you?"
"Just a beer would be great, whatever," I said. Randy Gerber barely looked up. I told him that I knew his sister-in-law, that she was a friend of mine from college, but he didn't really care. Meanwhile, Mr. Clooney came back with my beer in hand. "There you go," he said, "so sorry!" I thanked him and walked away. See, I wouldn't have bothered him, but really, a girl needs her beer when she needs her beer...
I could go on with various star-sighting stories, but they're all, excepting the interaction with Mr. Clooney, virtually the same. I see people who have affected my life, who I greatly admire or simply lust after, and I am silent. John Turturro in the t-shirt shop by my house, Chris Noth in Grey Dog's Coffee in the Village, Diane Wiest in the Upper West Side Barnes & Noble. All of them got away scott free.
I have been thinking lately that a lot of celebs deserve gold stars, that they actually have difficulties that many people scoff at simply because they have money and fame. They are, after all, just people, trying the same as everyone else. They have been recognized, sure, but at what price?
Well, yesterday, I had my chance. I purposely put a small strip of gold stars in my tiny going-out wristlet as I headed into the city for my birthday dinner, just in case I should come upon a situation that called for them, as I most always do, especially if I don't have them. Right away, on the train platform, I encountered Steve Buscemi. He is a world-reknowned actor and also a local, someone I see fairly often around and about. He is usually keeping to himself, going about his business like the rest of us. I have never felt right bothering him to tell him how I admire his acting, his choice of roles and projects. I had the same feeling this time but, then, it began to gnaw at me: doesn't he deserve a gold star?
I had just seen Mr. Buscemi in a documentary made by a friend, a great film about a great actor, John Cazale, who died too young. It was an entree to talking to him, I figured, a film that has not (yet) been seen widely, that he had supported, that I was linked to personally through a friend. And, I reasoned, I could finally test out the star power of my star...would a star take a gold star? How would they react?
As I sat near to him on the train, I tried to get up the gumption. Giving out the stars to your average person takes a bit of courage, more than a bit of faith that the project is a good one, that the person won't look at you like you're crazy. Giving it to a famous person upped the ante. I reasoned to myself that I really wanted to do it, that it was my birthday, that it wasn't a big deal and that, even if I looked stupid, it would be only briefly. I've looked stupid for worse reasons and for far longer.
I waited until just before I was getting off, just as the train pulled out of the Second Ave. station. I got up, gold star stuck to my pointer finger in readiness.
"Excuse me," I said, tapping him slightly on the shoulder, "I don't mean to bother you, but I wanted to give you this." I handed him the star and he took it, looking up at me. "I just saw you in my friend's movie, about John Cazale? You were great, and I've really enjoyed all of your performances so...I just wanted to thank you!"
He looked at me with pure pleasure and gratitude, a big smile across his face. "Thank you so much!" he said.
I smiled. "Thank you!" I said, and walked away, standing only for a moment in the doorway in front of him before I departed the train at Broadway/Lafayette.
I giggled as I got off the train. Mission accomplished, well received, lovely. I wrote a lot about celebrity seeding when I wrote about marketing. It's a good tactic for my own project but, more than that, it's just nice to be nice, to anybody, famous or not famous. It felt good to recognize someone, even someone who is easily recognized. I imagine it can be lonely at the top.