A Brush with Celebrity
I readily admit my knowledge of popular culture is about as current as that issue of Reader’s Digest every dentist seems to keep in their office waiting room. Therefore, when a friend asked me recently if I had ever met a celebrity in person (from the context of the discussion it was clear they were referring to any well known television or movie actor or actress) my first reaction was to think, I’m not so sure I would even know if I did. I have only ever known one actor/actress in real life. We met in college and it was not until fairly recently that I found out about her acting career post graduation. Her name is Brandy Burre and she played the role of Theresa D’Agostino in the third and fourth seasons of the award winning HBO series the Wire. Having never seen the show myself (I know, I know, I will someday) I can’t comment on her role. I just remember her as the girl I had a not so secret crush on in college. In any event I have not been able to stop thinking about the question since I was asked, and have been racking my brain the past few days attempting to recall any examples. From what I can recollect, the answer seems to be no, but for the one name noted above (who was not a celebrity at the time, though much like a celebrity did she did have at least one obsessed super fan), and one other notable exception. To say that this event was a “meeting” is a serious stretch, however, the strangeness and intensity of the encounter was such that the memory of it has stuck with me to this day. Why should you care about all this? I can’t answer that question for you, but consider this, how much time have you already wasted reading to here? Way more then you probably should have, so at this point you’ve already blown 20–30s of your life you could’ve spent on something useful, interesting, or fulfilling e.g. playing with your kids, studying, telling your spouse you love them, etc. Anything really would’ve probably been a smarter use of your time then reading this. Seriously, an article about the time some unknown idiot met somebody famous, possibly? Why would anybody even start reading an article with that premise let alone continue as far as you have? And, what’s the deal with the title picture? First the dude looks nothing like Hitler, second wtf? But guess what, you are stuck now, committed, no matter what you aren’t gonna get the time back you have already wasted so why not continue on just a little bit longer to see if it get’s any better? I am fairly skeptical myself, but I am even more stuck then you.
Shortly after I graduated from college (undergrad) I was awarded an infectious disease fellowship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How I came to receive this (what would one day become) very prestigious fellowship could make a long (boring) story in its own right, but all that matters for purposes of this piece is that the research opportunity I decided to pursue during the 1 year tenure of the fellowship was in Boston, MA. While living in Boston I spent a good deal of time walking and running through various parts of the city, often including the area around Back Bay and Newbury Street. As I could not afford to live anywhere near this expensive part of the city, it was my one and only chance to see how the other half lived, before heading home to sleep in my cramped house with four roommates on the red-line in Davis Square. That house was slowly collapsing into the T line beneath it, and, on more than one occasion I found myself going to sleep on one side of the room, only to awaken the next morning on the other side as the vibrations from the trains passing underneath would slowly move my bed (it was on a frame with wheels) across the floor while I slept. Suffice to say it was loud and not all that conducive to a good nights rest. There were many shops along Newbury street including Urban Outfitters which, at the time, was still a relatively small brand with only a few stores scattered around major urban centers in the northeast like Philadelphia and Boston. Back then it was still a hip, young, dare I say cool, place to shop, far from the bland corporate behemoth it has become today.
One day as I walked down Newbury Street and passed the Urban Outfitters I glanced in through the windows along the street and saw a man looking back at me through the glass. It took a moment but slowly I came to recognize him as someone I thought I knew though I could not give the face a name. Something in the back of my head said actor or movies, but beyond that I drew a blank. After a few seconds more of serious introspection it dawned on me that I was actually looking at the face of the actor Ben Affleck.
The Ben Affleck of that time was far from the mega movie star pop culture sensation he later became. There was no J-Lo and Ben or Jen and Ben aka Bennifer, and if there had been any Batman roles available at the time he would not have been considered for the part of Bruce Wayne. Ironically, in that particular year he would have done a far superior job to the terribly miscast George Clooney who did star as the crime fighting billionaire in the truly craptacular movie Batman and Robin which was released in 1997. For those who were not yet alive or have blocked all memories of that horror show from their mind this was the one featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a terrible pun spewing Mr. Freeze, and Chris O’Donnell as a Robin who‘s crimefighting get up appears to be made out of dollar store plastic, and features laser carved stripper pasties as accouterments. Good stuff. Batman and Robin aside there were some decent movies released that year including Good Will Hunting which took place in Boston. Some sort of promotional event tied to the picture could be the reason he was in town. When I saw Ben he was mostly known for a few pretty good indie movie roles (Dazed and Confused and Glory Daze) and his friendship with Matt Damon, who was much more well known at the time, though still not exactly movie star famous. It seemed from the setup around him in the store that the intent was for him to be signing autographs or meeting people at the very least. However, at the moment I saw him the area around him was utterly and totally deserted. Not a single person was anywhere near where he stood though a healthy number of shoppers perused the aisles shopping elsewhere in the store. As all this information flashed through my head our eyes met. It was the strangest thing then what I saw and felt. It was as if he knew me, like he recognized me somehow from somewhere or somewhen, just as I had recognized him. The feeling of recognition passed in an instant and the look on his face became something totally different. His eyes and body language suddenly conveyed a look of such sadness and desperation that it shook me to my core. I mean it physically hurt me to see it. Maybe this is the hallmark of a really good actor, the ability to convey emotion in such a powerfully visible way, but it was as if he were pleading with me to change places with him, screaming in my mind that he would give anything to be anywhere but where he was just then. The “meeting” lasted only seconds but it felt much longer then that, and it had such a powerful effect on me that I remember it to this day and have told the story several times over the years. Usually when I do, at the conclusion their is a collective sense of befuddlement and disappointment. “You mean that’s it, that’s the story, that’s the end?” I have been asked more then once.
What about you? Disappointed? Are you glad you stuck it out? Another two minutes of your life blown on the hope that maybe, just maybe I would have something interesting to say. If you think it was worth your time to make it all the way to the end then I am glad I could meet your expectations, for those I let down (no doubt the supermajority) I can only say, surely it wasn’t as bad as Batman and Robin, was it?