This month marks the 13th anniversary of one of the dumbest thoughts ever to cross my mind.
I was covering the annual Toy Fair for a trade magazine. Held in February in two buildings on the west side of Madison Square Park in NYC (it’s moved to the Javits Center now, I think), the fair brought together makers of toys, gifts, games and children’s products with distributors and retailers, to hash out orders for the next year. For some exhibitors, it was a big media event, with trade and consumer press conferences for product launches.
On my first day, I rode a cramped elevator to visit a crib-maker whom I needed to interview. Or maybe it was a breast-pump maker. That’s not important now.
What is important is what happened when the elevator reached my floor and the door opened. There was a man in front of me. I would say we were face to face, but he was at least six inches shorter than me. Still, his face was instantly recognizable.
And as we stepped aside to get past each other, I had the dumbest thought ever: “Wow! One of the toy companies actually hired a Gilbert Gottfried impersonator for the event!”
A moment or so later, of course, I thought, “You idiot! No one could make a living as a Gilbert Gottfried impersonator! You just missed your chance to –”
— to what? As I headed to my appointment, I wondered what I would actually have said to Gilbert Gottfried: “Love you on Howard Stern!” “You should’ve got more screen time in Ford Fairlane!” “Can you do that Arthur Godfrey impression for me? Or the senile Groucho Marx?”
I have to admit, I’d have been tongue-tied. Of course, he would’ve been incredibly uncomfortable, too, but that’s little consolation.
* * *
A few months later, at the annual Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association annual show in Dallas, I found myself sitting beside Jean Kasem in an overstuffed food court. She was at the show to promote her line of boutique cribs.
I’d wised up since that February and realized that this was actually Jean Kasem and not an impersonator or robot duplicate. Still, I found myself unable to acknowledge her, although I did have a joke that I simply didn’t have the balls to deliver:
I would have gone into Italian teamster voice and said to this towering, lovely, blonde woman, “I know you! I know who you are! You were on Cheers! Goddamn: Rhea Perlman! Right here at JPMA! Man! That is AWESOME!”
* * *
A year or so earlier, I went to see Bob Mould play at a 400-seat hall at Georgetown. The hall was inside a campus building and there was a long line snaking up the stairs to get to the door. Mould, on the way up the stairs, had to wait beside me on the landing for a few moments, waiting for people to move aside so he could head backstage.
Standing beside him, I thought, “I have no idea what to say right now.” It’s not that I was totally in awe of him, but the first few things I thought to say were inappropriate:
- “I really love your music.” â€“ Well, yeah, you’ve paid to see me perform, so I got the idea that you like my stuff.
- “Put on a great show tonight!” â€“ Should I? I thought I’d just half-ass it and cheat my paying audience.
- “Good luck!” â€“ Why don’t I kick you square in the nuts?
So I just said, “Hey,” and he did the same, and then he went up the stairs.
* * *
I’ve gotten a lot better with this stuff over the years, as I’ve met or bumped into more “famous” people. Part of it stems from realizing that they’re still people. Sometimes, ignorance helps too, like the time I met Frank Miller at a friend’s birthday party. In this case, it helped that we’d been talking for almost half an hour before I realized that he was Frank Miller. A friend of mine admitted that he would have genuflected before Miller all night if he’d been at the party.
But I admit, having adored Miller’s work throughout my teens, that if someone had pointed him out to me beforehand, I probably would’ve either avoided talking to him, or come up with some incredibly elaborate opening comment that would have made him really uncomfortable.
Which brings me to my big question:
What living celebrity (artist, actor, athlete, etc.) would cause you to have an absolute fawning meltdown, and why?
(I don’t mean like my Bob Mould story, where I couldn’t think of anything good. I’m talking Chris Farley meets Paul McCartney level of tonguetied-ness.)