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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

My Brushes With Greatness, Part Four

We'll call this, "The Atlanta Years."

Since The Weather Channel is just in nearby Marietta, I might as well start there. (I know that these folks represent the minor leagues of celebrity-dom, but they count. But only to ten, Mudhead.)

I saw Jim Cantore in the passenger seat of a convertible over by the Lindbergh MARTA station flirting with some attractive young ladies who were in a different car. (This, in itself, should be proof of the celebrity status of these folks. If he wasn't on The Weather Channel, Jim would have just been any of thousands of big-beaked baldies who consider themselves God's gift to women. Ladies, if you ever do receive this gift, exchange it.)

My wife and I also saw Mark Mancuso getting lunch at CiCi's Pizza in Marietta. Not quite the jet set yet.

In other late-breaking news, I once saw Cher walking along Peachtree St. downtown while some guy documented her day with a video camera. Either he worked for her or he was the pushiest of papparazzi. She was all duded up and appeared to be about nine feet tall, at least from my vantage point across the street.

Most of my Atlanta-based sightings came while I was employed at a bookstore located in the airport. Jane Fonda almost ran over me on Concourse B. I had to leap out of the way to avoid being trampled by Jane and her entourage. No "sorry" or "excuse me" or "beat it, skinny." (That was a long time ago.) I just leapt to safety while they continued on down the escalator.

Of course, I've also been in the same ballpark as she and Ted, back in the old days at Fulton County Statium. I was always seated a couple classes of attendee classes away, though and never got to mingle with the upper crust.

I did share a men's room with the sports announcer, Jack Buck, though. I think I whizzed at adjoining urinals with some other famous guy, too, but the name isn't coming to mind.

But back to the bookstore. I rang up both Spike Lee and Tommy Smothers. Both bought intelligent reading. Both made it obvious that they preferred to not be recognized, thanks. I complied, but wanted to say to Mr. Smothers, "Thanks for the pumas in the cravasses." They were not together.

Back in my former life, I used to spend some time at a well-known local bar called Manuel's Tavern. I saw Howard Hesseman there back in the mid-80s.

And that is where I met the toppersmost of the poppermost of the celebrities I've seen. I was in there one evening with a friend, indulging my love for Irish Whiskey. Someone came in and sat at the table behind me. My friend's eyes widened. It was Amy Carter. But that's not it yet.

A little while later, the combination of beer and whisky was playing havoc with my renal system, and I excused myself to make my way to the Men's Room. As I got up, I noticed a couple of guys in sunglasses standing by the doorway. As I tried to make sense of this image, tottering up the aisle in that direction, I came to realize that, coming along that same aisle, in my direction, was former President James Earl Carter. I was not exactly sober, but I tried to gather my wits as best I could. As I weaved in his direction, I could see the fear in Jimmy's eyes. However, being a politician, instinct overcame fear and his right hand extended in my direction. I grasped his hand and said, "It's good to see you, Mr. President." He smiled and relaxed perceptibly and said somehting noncommittal but pleasant and made his way past me. Rosalyn, it turned out, was right behind him, and she and a couple of Secret Service types also crossed my path as I resumed my trek to the men's room.

I'd like to say that we spent the rest of the evening jesting convivally, but no such thing happened. The Carters, who were seated behind me, apparently drank good Southern sweet tea. I don't remember who left first, but I think they did. It was an interesting experience. I hope to remind him of it one day.

Friday, December 16, 2005

My Brushes With Greatness, Part Three

I forgot one from the Rhode Island days, and it's probably the best one.

When I was a student a Community College of Rhode Island, those of us in the theater program would make semi-annual trips to New York for a day of theater and tourism. The bus would let us off near Times Square just before noon, and we would go our separate and sundry ways for lunch. The entire group would reunite for a matinee and then disperse again for sightseeing and dinner. A second show in the evening would be followed by the long bus ride back to the CCRI parking lot, where we would arrive about two or three in the morning. All-in-all, a full day.

On one of those trips, between I don't remember which shows, I was part of a small group that decided to eat dinner at Joe Allen's, a well known eatery on 46th St. For some reason, after dinner, I was the first one out on the street, my compatriots dawdling inside for several minutes before emerging to meet me on the sidewalk out front. Well, I come out into the cold winter evening and take up a position near the door under the canopy. And who is stading there not four feet away from me? It's Marilu Henner, then at the height of her fame on "Taxi," talking to some old goat while she waited for a cab.

Now, I have to say that on television she was pretty attractive. However, in person, she was downright beautiful. Actually stunning. I know this because I was stunned. Since I have a personal policy of never intruding into the lives of strangers just because I've seen them on TV, I just stood there and eavesdropped on her conversation and watched her disappear into a taxi and get absorbed into the bloodstream of Manhatten. I don't remember the conversation she had, but I do remember that she seemed very nice.

My companions emerged after she had left, but I think I kept my rendezvous with Marilu my own secret. I knew, somehow, that the beauty would have been lost in the telling.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My Brushes With Greatness, Part Two

My salad days as a celebrity spotter came during the four years that I lived in Washington, DC. Many of them, of course, were somehow connected to politics. I saw Jody Powell crossing K Street. I saw Senators John Chaffee and John Warner crossing the street from one of the Senate office buildings to the Capitol. (I remember Warner gesticulating wildly and saying, "It's an 800-pound gorilla!" Chaffee looked like the guest at a party who gets stuck talking to another guest who has taken up Amway or Scientology.)

I watched the Reagans disembark from the helicopter after a special tour of the White House. (The Oval Office is smaller than you think. So is the Cabinet Room. The bowling alley was closed for repairs, but we did get to see the florist's shop. "An American President" booted that one!) The President was obviously wearing a flak jacket and Nancy was taller than I had expected. I disagreed with practically every move that administration made, still do, but it is something to see a sitting President up close.

I worked for a while in the building where Duke Zeibert's was located, so I used to see Larry King from time-to-time. Never an entourage. Just Larry walking to Duke's for some brisket.

One time at that location, during the visit by Gorbachev, I had to do one of my drudgery-filled legal assistant chores. As I came out onto the corner of Connecticut and L, I noticed that the streets were blocked off for the Soviet motorcade that was going to the White House. I thought about waiting just to see, but, feeling the pressure of my onerous duty, continued on to K Street, where I could get a cab. That evening I discovered that, not five minutes after I had been standing there, Gorby had stopped the motorcade at that exact corner and gotten out to shake some hands. That is my great near miss.

And speaking of near misses, I almost got run over by Ted Koppel as he was leaving ABC one afternoon. He was driving a Mercedes convertible and was not stingy with the accelerator. I had just stepped off the curb and actually had to jump back to avoid becoming a second hood ornament. And you know what? Even at those speeds in a convertible, his hair still never moved.

I saw E.G. Marshall walking towards Pennsylvania Avenue on 21st St. I followed Ron Moody (who was appearing in a revival of "Oliver" at the Kennedy Center) on 23rd. I went to see Ian McKellan in "Acting Shakespeare" at the National Theatre--was even part of the crowd that he invited onstage at the end--and happened to see him leaving by the stage door later, alone, head down, pensive.

I ushered what was supposedly the last performance ever of "In Regard of Flight" and got to watch Bill Irwin rehearse a single slap with one of the other performers for about ten minutes before the show. He had a New Years Eve party to attend in New York after the show, and got pretty huffy and cut "The Clown Bagatelles" short when a prop malfunctioned. The rehearsing was impressive, but the rest of his actions made him look like a swine.

I saw Art Buchwald coming out of the building in which he had an office one day.

But I couldn't go see Willie Mays when he did a book signing there. Talk about your regrets.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Brushes With Greatness, Part One

I have come to the conclusion, over the years, that celebrities just like me. They must. After all, for someone who has never lived in either New York or LA, I've had an enormous number of meaningless encounters with people who are well known, either from show business or politics (if there's really any difference), over the course of my life.

The first one, I guess, was the then center for the then San Francisco Warriors, Nate Thurmond. The then owner of the then Warriors was then a parishoner at the Catholic Church that sponsored the school that I was attending. Then. As a result of this connection, Nate Thurmond, all 6'11" of him, sat at the dais in our school gym at the year-end sports banquet. I was there to be awarded certificates for having been ejected from both the 5th grade basketball and baseball teams for refraining from appearing at practices and games. (I was also bounced from being an altar boy for similar reasons. It was a banner year.)

I also that year, as part of the annual Christmas Seal drive, sold the aforementioned seals to the maid of then-Councilwoman Dianne Feinstein, who lived a few doors down the hill on Lyon Street. I know this may not completely count since I never met the lady herself, but I did meet her front door and her maid, which is more than most people can say. And just for the record, pretty nice digs.

Of course, a few members of The Jefferson Airplane moved in about half a block from us on Washington Street in 1969. I don't think I ever saw them, but I might have seen the moving van.

And remember when George Harrison led a procession of Hell's angels and assorted hangers-on around Golden Gate Park in the summer of 1967? Well, I was conveniently located only half-a-block away on 36th Avenue at the time. And I'm sure that, as George promenaded around Spreckel's Lake that day, that he was heard to inquire about that "that lad who lost his boat here." All right. Maybe not sure.

Moving to Rhode Island in 1970 really put a crimp in the activities of my celebrity stalkers, although I did come to know a fair number of local TV and radio folk over time. I did, also, once meet a true player on a national level, former U.S. Senator John O. Pastore, who stopped into a gas station I was working at to ask directions to Bishop Hendricken High School. He was very nice and I was somewhat less than helpful. He thanked me anyway.

I also knew a guy who was Meredith Viera's stalker back when she worked at Channel 10. He also stalked Caroline Kennedy. I fully intend to discuss this fellow with Meredith some day, God willing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Lost Art

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I miss letters. Good, old fashioned, fold 'em up and stick 'em in an envelope letters. Personal letters, ones to friends and relatives. I love both getting and sending, but neither occurs with any regularity anymore.

The letter has been replaced by the e-mail, but e-mails don't really work as well. There is a hurried quality to most e-mails, and most are as dense and cramped as telegrams used to be. "Will be leaving in morning. Stop. Would drop by, but can't. Stop." This, of course, has been exacerbated by the use of pointless abbreviations, such as u for you and 4 for, well, for. Reading some people's e-mails can be a task as daunting as breaking the Enigma Code and far less worthwhile for the fate of Western Civilization.

There is something else about e-mails, the very speed of the thing, that contributes to its pressurized aura. I think that the knowledge that a letter would take a few days to reach its destination removed some of the pressure in its composition. I remember it well: We used to write complete sentences and spell out entire three-letter words. Instead of writing "Things are good. Please send money." followed by a smiley face, stories were told and incidents were elaborated on.

Letters are an expression of a life; e-mails, often, the expression of a need.

My e-mails tend to be too long and loquacious, too thought out and too composed. They're most likely a bore to read on a screen, and, lacking smileys to indicate my intent, difficult to decipher and easy to misinterpret. Just as you don't use a screwdriver to loosen a lug nut, you shouldn't expect e-mail to serve the function of snail mail. You just end up with an unloosened lug nut and a broken screwdriver.