My first real job out of college was as an assistant on the set of the movie Adaptation. I served Meryl Streep lunch in her trailer on the Warner Brothers lot. I lived in Los Angeles, and my life was a virtual “The Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” So why did I feel so blasé? The thing is, I wanted to get excited about constant celebrity sightings. I wanted to feel thrilled spotting Robert Downey, Jr. at the Washington Mutual ATM in West Hollywood, Coldplay in the mall, Nicole Kidman at the gym. Instead I felt nothing. I thought maybe I was immune to our culture’s particular star-sickness, or was missing the alpha-male-seeking gene because when I tried to think of a celebrity I’d like to date, the only one who came to mind was Philip Seymour Hoffman. Yes, I’d take PSH over Brad Pitt any day.
Am I alone in this?
The other day, while working at my favorite West Village café, I was hunched over my computer at a table with another freelance journalist friend, Glenn. He gathered his things to call it a day, and when I looked up to say goodbye to him, and my eyes landed on Malcolm Gladwell, the New Yorker writer and author of Blink and The Tipping Point, at the table across from us, facing me.
“Oh my God,” I whispered to Glenn. “Come here. I have to show you something.”
He came around to my side of the table as I Google Image-d Malcolm Gladwell on my laptop.
“It’s him, isn’t it!” I exclaimed excitedly under my breath. Glenn looked at the screen, looked over at Malcolm, looked down at me, shrugged, nodded, smiled and said, “yup.” Then he walked out the café door.
He was nonchalant, but my heart fluttered. I wanted to run home, get my hardcover of Blink and ask Malcolm to sign it. But he might be gone by then. My palms were sweating. What would I say? Mr. Gladwell, I’m a huge fan. So cliché. He might hate that I’d interrupted his work. He was clearly doing something important, probably on deadline for his latest 5,000-word New Yorker piece. I was pitching a new line of Pilates clothing to a women’s magazine.
I e-mailed two girlfriends.
Malcolm Gladwell is sitting at the table right across from me! What should I say to him?
Girlfriend 1: Who is he and how did you recognize him?
Girlfriend 2: How did you know what he looked like?
My brow ruffled. Not know who he is? Not know that his big pouf of hair is his trademark? Not know that he commands a five-figure price tag per personal appearance?
In the end, I was too intimidated to approach him, but what I did realize is that it’s brains, not bodies, that do it for me. Maybe that’s why I love New York so much. It just takes a different kind of famous person to make my contentedly dorky little heart skip that oh-so-elusive beat.