Monday, April 10, 2006

Brief, unimpressive brushes with the important and well-known...

I used to work at the information desk of a store that sold fancy art books. One day, I came back from my lunch break ten minutes late. I was afraid that the manager who was covering my place would be angry with me, but when I got there he had a great big smile on his face. I know that could only mean one thing. He had just helped a celebrity and now he was going to gloat. I came right out and asked: “Who was it?”

“You’ll never guess!” he taunted.

“Was it the guy from Radiohead again?” The guy from Radiohead had dropped by a few weeks before and that had become the high point in both our careers. My manager shook his head. “It wasn’t Jennifer Lopez, was it?” I guessed then. This was when I was suffering under a serious J-Lo crush, something I have since grown out of.

“Nope,” my manager said, much to my relief.



“Alex Trebek?”


“Bea Arthur?”

“No. Better than any of them.”

“Who was it then?”

“You give up?”

“I give up.”

The manager leaned back in my chair, his chemically-whitened teeth beaming pure celebrity-sighting satisfaction at me. This is, you understand, the highest existential joy of working retail in New York. Only being rude to tourists comes anywhere near it. When his bliss was cresting, he spoke to me through his smirk: “Monica. Fucking. Lewinsky.”

I almost had to sit down. We saw some random movie star or half-assed rock musician every other week, but this was history. I’m afraid I was a little staggered. I should probably mention that this was early 1999, and that whole scandal was still very much in the public imagination. “Monica...Lewin...Lewinsky?” I managed to stammer out.

“I don’t believe you,” I almost whispered.

“She just left, like, five minutes ago. You were late.”

This was a wound to my soul. All because people couldn’t wait on line in an orderly fashion in the 57th Street McDonalds, I had been denied my rendezvous with history. It took awhile for this to truly sink in. “Monica. Fucking. Lewinsky.” I said.

“Monica. Fucking. Lewinsky.” he said and a moment of silence passed between us. He was basking in the magic of it, I was wallowing in frustration. I had missed my chance to sell expensive coffeetable books to a bona fide historical figure, the she-titan of twentieth century scandal. It was a hard thing to bear, and I’m afraid my heart wasn’t in my job for the rest of the afternoon. Fate is cruel, I was being taught. Life is often a series of vicious disappointments. I was bereft, angst-ridden, cheaten by the capricious gods.

A week later, however, I had a pleasant, twenty-minute long phone conversation with diminutive sex expert Dr. Ruth*. That went a long way towards salving my wounded soul and restoring my celebrity-meeting mojo.

*fascinating fact: Dr. Ruth was once an Israeli sniper. No kidding.