Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Celebrity Epidemic

 I'm a bit of a celebrity whore. Okay, okay...I'm a huge celebrity whore. Except not the literal kind. I just like finding celebrities to see what they're wearing, who they're with, where they are, what they're eating. You know—just totally normal, non-stalkerish stuff like that.

As you can imagine, Manhattan is an excellent location for random celebrity sightings. My parents are convinced that Central Park is just crawling with 'em. Every time I call home while walking through the park, they say (simultaneously while on speakerphone): "Do you see Barbara Walters walking her dog? Is Kelly Ripa there with her kids? They're always in Central Park. Are you sure you don't see them?" I hate to break it to you, Mom and Dad, but I've never seen a single celeb in Sheep's Meadow or near the Reservoir or skating at Wollman Rink. But once I did follow Ethan Hawke as he pushed his kids in a stroller around Union Square Park. At a discreet distance, of course.

My first significant celebrity encounter occurred at Baldoria, the fancy Italian restaurant I used to work at to pay for the voice lessons my meager editorial assistant’s salary couldn’t cover. Jerry Orbach used to frequent the restaurant, and while I should have been more bowled over to be seating Lumiere, he somehow seemed like more of a customer than a star. When he and his lovely wife sat down at a table for four one day, I joked to the bus boy (which was no small feat, considering the language barrier) that they were probably waiting for Benjamin Bratt and his wife. So when I got a phone call at the hostess station from someone claiming to be Benjamin Bratt, I assumed it was a joke. It wasn't. When he and his tall gorgeous wife arrived five minutes later, I almost passed out, which is extremely strange seeing as I had never watched a single episode of Law & Order and only thought he was mildly cute in Miss Congeniality. But he suuuuure made my heart go pitter-pat in person.

I led the couple to the Orbachs' table and offered to take Ben's delicious-smelling soft leather coat for him. (Of course I smelled it—wouldn't you?!) After he handed it to me, he said casually, "Oh, I forgot to take my cell phone out of the pocket." He leaned over me, his face mere inches from mine, as he checked every pocket in the coat that I was still holding. When I peeked at him through my eyelashes, he was staring at me with an I-know-that-I'm-totally-making-you-nervous-right-now look in his eye. And he was. I have the unfortunate distinction of being an easy blusher, and within seconds my skin turned completely red and splotchy from the center of my chest to my forehead. I kept his $10 tip taped to my bedroom wall for three years.

My big mistake was acknowledging Ben's celebrity status. By doing so, I put him on a higher level, making myself lowly in comparison. If I had been completely aloof, we would have remained equal. For example, if I were to see Katie Couric, I should slyly observe her from a distance without identifying her as someone special. What I definitely shouldn't do is put her in an overly enthusiastic headlock while taking a picture with her, as my sister once did.

But I get it. My sister was just excited because that type of thing doesn't happen in upstate New York. A celebrity sighting in Rochester consists of seeing the dapper Don Alhart, co-anchor of the 11pm news on WHAM-TV Channel 13, buying an Auntie Anne's pretzel at Eastview Mall. Don't get me wrong—I love me some Don Alhart. But he's no Benjamin Bratt.

In New York, you never know what may happen. You may be having a drink at your favorite local watering hole and see the Real Housewives of New Jersey
file in after their performance of My Big Gay Italian Wedding off-Broadway. You may meet Shelley Duncan, a hot new Yankee (now an ex-Yankee), who gives you free tickets to games, lets you polish off the contents of the mini-bar at his suite at the W, orders pizza for you and your friends, then ends the night by throwing apples off the giant private patio with you at 4am. You may know a girl who went to college with NBA players Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton, join them at the VIP area of Suede, then head to Richard's gigantic Tribeca loft for the Spam-filled after-party (with Wilmer Valderama, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Robert Iler, and Taye Diggs), and eat your way through his Costco-looking pantry at 7am. You may even find yourself being cornered by Richard Jefferson's brother, who (ten minutes after you meet him) offers to drive six hours to your parents' house the next day for Thanksgiving dinner and when you politely decline asks if it's "a race thing."

Like that non-boiling watched pot, a celebrity sighting never happens if you try to force it. It mostly happens when you walk down the street, see someone and think, "Oh. There's Richard Kline, the guy who played Larry, Jack Tripper's best friend in the pivotal sitcom Three's Company
. Weird..." and go about your day. In short, celebrities aren't just in Central Park. They’re everywhere. Like bedbugs. You just have to keep your eyes open and ignore them.

***I'll 'fess up. I've taken a few celebrity pictures in my day. Here I am with John Patrick Shanley, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Doubt, who complimented me on my coat at his movie premiere.

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