My weekend of celebrity photos reminded me of an email conversation I recently had with a woman who just graduated college. She lives in a small Midwestern town and wants to move to either New York or Los Angeles.
"What is it like?" she wants to know.
She doesn’t have a job, friends, or family in either of these places. Of course, I told her that big city life is great and has many cultural advantages, but I was concerned about her reasons for wanting to move. She seemed to mostly buy into the media image of the glamour of these cities. Let’s stop the urban legends right now. Most young New Yorkers do not live in the apartments you see in "Friends." Real New York women do not live "Sex in the City" lives. Few Angelenos shop in Beverly Hills ala "Pretty Women." Ask any New Yorker living in a tiny apartment on 123rd Street for $2500 a month or any Angeleno driving in a rush hour traffic (or trying to buy a house) and they’d tell you the truth: life here isn’t all that glamorous.
College girl was most excited with the prospect of meeting celebrities. All she seemed to care about was which celebrities I have met. She loves reading blogs from the big cities, where bloggers write about all the celebrities encounters. She especially loves this popular LA blog, which frequently talks about celebrity encounters. I like this blog, too, but I also know that the glamour of Hollywood life is as real as the women in Playboy.
By living in these big cities, I’ve encountered many different celebrities. Some at work, some at the car wash. Sophia, in particular, has worked with many famous actors as an actress and a Russian dialect coach for TV and films. She recently was the coach for Nicolas Cage in his next movie, where he plays a Russian-born arms dealer.
Celebrities are not any more exciting than anyone else, just a whole lot more pampered.
It’s true that the first time you accidentally bump into Michael Douglas in the shopping mall, you call all your friends. But gradually, you are taught that what distinguishes you — a hip urbanite — from the Midwestern tourist, is that you must always act cool and make believe that you hardly notice the person’s celebrity status. Only tourists and desperate people ask for an actual autograph. I completely ignored David Schwimmer when we both reached for the same box of Cheerios in Ralph’s. He would think I was a total dweeb if I went "Oh my God, it’s Ross from ‘Friends,’ the show with the giant New York apartments! Please sign my Cheerios box!"
I think other bloggers sometimes mention all these celebrity encounters to make others "envious," as if there was something wrong living in Kansas City. The truth is that most big city dwellers would be much happier living in a nice big house in a small town in Wisconsin. Instead, we put up with all sorts of shit just to feel like we are somehow more important because Pamela Anderson visits the same dry cleaners we do. Every dry cleaners in Los Angeles has a hundred glossy photos on the wall. Is this the new casting central?
Creating envy is the sole purpose of New York and Los Angeles magazines, two rags which create a total bullshit image of these cities. I read both of them. Don’t take any media about big city life seriously.
I’ve only had four celebrity encounters that are even worth mentioning.
1) I once got drunk with Tim Allen, where he said things I cannot mention in polite company.
2) I once had a very funny conversation with multi-billionaire best-selling author Sidney Sheldon (I know, not exactly ‘celebrity’) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and then lent him the three bucks for parking because he didn’t carry money around with him.
3) I was alone, late at night, in the gym, with Bruce Springsteen. If you live in Los Angeles, you probably know the small cheapo ‘Beverly Hills Health and Fitness’ on Beverly Drive. The place was empty, except for me and … someone who looked like Bruce Springsteen.
"Could it be? Why would he be at this crappy gym? Should I say something to him? Should I say that I own every one of this albums?"
This was finally someone who I would ask to sign my Cheerios box.
Suddenly, the Boss started to walk over in my direction. He was in great shape. He pointed to some dumbbells sitting next to me.
Bruce: "You using those?"
Me: "Uh, no."
I handed them to him. Our hands brushed against each other. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S HAND!
That was it.
4) The last encounter was interesting only because it got me in trouble with my entire family.
Sophia and I were in New York. We were going to a production of "Uncle Vanya" at Lincoln Center with my parents. The show was starring Kevin Kline, one of Sophia’s favorites. We were eating in an Italian restaurant before the show, when Kevin Kline, his wife Phoebe Cates, and one of their children, sit at the booth behind ours. I’m the only one who notices them. Kevin Kline and Sophia are literally sitting back to back in their respective booths.
Since I know of Sophia’s obsession with Kevin Kline, I wanted to tell her about him, but my parents have a reputation for being somewhat "overfriendly" and I was concerned that if I told everyone at my table, my parents would go over and talk to him — and embarrass me for the rest of my life.
I decided that I would just tell Sophia. I was already living in Los Angeles at the time, so I was already indoctrinated in the "being cool with celebrities" attitude necessary to be considered a hipster. How can I tell Sophia with being overheard by Kevin Kline?
Neil: (whispered) "Sophia. Twelve o’clock."
Sophia: "Twelve o’clock?"
She looked at her watch.
Sophia: "It’s seven o’clock. What wrong with you?’
Obviously Sophia never used this code when out in a bar checking out the opposite sex with friends. No, she was probably talking to the opposite sex, not just standing there all night with loser friends, like I did.
I came up with a new plan.
Neil: "Do you have a pen?"
Sophia: "Why do you need a pen?"
Neil: "I just want to write something down."
Neil: "I dunno. An idea for a screenplay."
Sophia: "Now? In the middle of dinner?"
Neil: "Just give me a pen."
Dad: "I have a pen."
My father hands me his prize possession — his Parker pen that he’s kept in his shirt pocket for 30 years. I try to write with it on a napkin.
Neil: "It doesn’t work."
Dad: "It has to work. It’s a brand new refill from Staples. You need to shake it."
Mom: "Artie, when are you going to buy yourself another pen?"
Dad: ‘They don’t make pens like this anymore."
Neil: "Because they don’t work."
My mother dumps the contents of her pocket book onto the table, and hands me a Bic pen.
Meanwhile, a waiter brings a birthday cake over to Kevin and Phoebe’s child. A group of waiters come over to their table and start singing Happy Birthday. My parents and Sophia, still not knowing who they are, start singing along.
Everyone: "Happy Birthday to you…"
Everyone claps. I write a note to Sophia on a napkin. It reads "Kevin Kline" with a arrow. I slide the napkin over to her. She reads it, getting annoyed at my behavior.
Sophia: "I know who’s in the play. Are you in a rush again to get there? It’s not like it’s a movie where you need to watch all those boring trailers. We already have seats."
Neil: "No, read it again."
Sophia: "You’re acting really weird."
My father finished shaking his pen and scribbled something on his napkin.
Dad: "Look, it’s working!
The Kline family left before I got a chance to tell the rest of my family. After they left, I finally told them. My family was upset at me.
Sophia: "How could you be so selfish not to tell me? You know I love Kevin Kline!"
There are many reasons to move to New York or Los Angeles. Just don’t make it because of the celebrities.