I got a big thrill yesterday when my husband and I were at Flavour Cooking School for the Intimate Vegetarian Dinner cooking class. We were perched on our stools at the big table, watching the other students filter in, when an extremely familiar-looking woman sat down across from me. It was Elizabeth Berg, best-selling author of many books, including one of my very favorites, Joy School. Her most recent book, Home Safe, is on my “to read soon” list. And she was actually one of the subjects of my very first blog post, because I saw her be interviewed Mary Schmich at the Printers Row Lit Fest.
So, how did I behave? I tried to be cool. I wrote a note to my husband and slipped it over to him. He scanned the class and then nodded seriously, acknowledging the depth of my experience. Through the course of the evening, I beamed benevolence her way, and took pains to be particularly witty with my few, but well-placed comments. I noticed that she took notes and asked good questions. Also, she ate sparingly of the bread pudding with maple syrup, although it appeared that she enjoyed it. (I, on the other hand, managed only with great restraint to not actually lick the little ramekin it came in.) At the end of the class, we were alone together in the coat room. I thought about saying, “I love your books!” or “You’re my neighbor, want to be my friend?” But instead, I just said, “Have a good night,” and left her in peace. I imagined that sometimes famous people want to do what they are doing in that moment, not deal with fans.
However, empathy did not keep me from telling everybody about it at work today (or from blogging about it, obviously). It reminds me of being totally bowled over when I first met Barbara D’Amato at an Midwest Mystery Writers of America chapter meeting… I am such a huge fan and here I was meeting her in a social setting where she actually talked to me as a fellow author. That was a positive experience – not embarrassing at all.
I also remember encountering Huey Lewis (of Huey Lewis and the News) at a hotel in Baltimore. I was there for a conference; he asked me where the business office was. I walked him over there, with the nagging feeling I should know him. I actually thought that he was a dentist that I wasn’t placing. The end result? I made the poor man tell me who he was. (“I’m Huey Lewis. My band’s playing a concert here tonight.”) Duh! Even worse, my response once he introduced himself was to say, “Oh, I loved you in Back to the Future!” Double duh. But I do have his greatest hits on my iPod and I did love him in the movie, so perhaps I am forgiven.
It’s funny how everyone has their story about the famous person they’ve met. My friend Tracy shared french fries with Oprah once. My husband saw the guy who played Trapper John on M*A*S*H at a bike race in Denver. My whole family saw John Mahoney (who keeps a condo in Oak Park and hangs out here when in Chicago) having breakfast at a diner here in town. He smiled and nodded when we grinned at him. The bar at the Ritz is well-known for athletes, actors, and other celebrities, and some dentists I know rubbed elbows with Michael Jordan there. My friend Debbie saw Beck at Mity Nice, and I saw Jerry Springer lunching there. And, of course, at this time of the year, there are numerous Santa Claus sightings.