I believe it was John The Baptist who said, “Holy shit! Do you know who that is?”
Celebrities come from California. They’re born and raised there before being set loose on an unsuspecting public who thought they wanted John Cusack but end up with Carrot Top. (By the way, for those keeping track, Carrot Top is the new Gallagher.) There are celebrity farms where celebrities are bred (from other celebrities, obviously) and raised on strict diets of TV and hair care products. There are different types of celebrities just as there are different types of cats. There are beautiful celebrities who are nearly always stupid. There are funny celebrities who are only allowed in public for short periods of time or they become obnoxious and want to host awards programs constantly, which is why we have so many awards programs. Unfortunately, the number of awards programs have grown much larger than the stable of actually funny people so now they’re hosted by Tom Selleck and Regis Philbin.
Once celebrities pass from the pupae stage into mature Celebrities, they are given a People Magazine cover and a chance to have their own Fame Vehicle in popular media. This might be a television show (most commonly) or a feature length movie or a book. Some celebrities don’t quite measure up to expectations and must appear on game shows or billboards. But you know a celebrity when you see one.
The celebrity farms produce massive amounts of celebrities in every conceivable shape and talent size. Some come out looking all glossy and muscular like thoroughbred racehorses but stumble at the block and never go anywhere. Others have incredible fame almost immediately which burns out like a firework after media saturation dooms them to obscurity and local radio commercials where you recognize the voice but you can’t place the face. Then there are those who simply simmer on the warm, constant flame of actual talent. These are, by far, the most rare of celebrities.
So when you see one, you have to cherish that moment.
Shauna Wright was in Boston doing some work for one of her clients and asked if I was free for dinner. Since I’m currently doing some stuff for a customer that brings me into the city about three times a week, I told I’d already be there and I’d meet her at her hotel. She normally stays at the historic (but apparently tiny-roomed) Boston Park Plaza which has lovely restaurants and bars and a lovely lobby and is just lovely. But there were no available rooms so she’d be installed instead at the Radisson around the corner.
Then, as luck would have it, I had to travel out of Boston back to my office in Wellesley so I wouldn’t meet her as early as I thoughtit would be around 2 1/2 hours later.
So these two factors came together in such a way as to lead to what would became our brush with celebrity that night during dinner. I parked down the block from her hotel and as I approached the very ritzy Park Plaza section of Back Bay near the Public Garden and Boston Common, home of not only the Park Plaza Hotel but also two of the other most expensive hotels in Boston, The Four Seasons and The Ritz Carlton, I noted that the nearby corner housed the big three tourist restaurants in the city also, including the overrated Legal Seafood which somehow manages to attract huge crowds inside for watery chowder and decidedly bland dinners. Take my advice; if you find yourself in Boston and someone says you should go to Legal Seafoods, they’re only saying that because they don’t know where you should go. Think of Legal Seafoods like an overpriced Denny’s with lobster bibs. A taste of Boston it may have been in its past, but all it is now is assembly-line entrees. Blecch!
However, right next to the Radisson was Jae’s, a restaurant I was very familiar with from its outlet at the Atrium Mall in Chestnut Hill. Eclectic doesn’t even begin to describe the menu, which includes many Asian dishes from Japan, China and Korea as well as tappan yaki barbecue and wood-fired pizza. They make odd combinations of food that work. Alexis and I used to frequent Jae’s and it became “our place” if only because she loved the Pad Thai and I was a sucker for kimchi and pibimbap. So I knew where I wanted to go.
Still, when I ascended to the 12th floor and met with Shauna, I allowed her the option of doing the tourist thing and hitting Legal across the street. But she trusted my judgment and was in the mood for sushi anyway so Jae’s was it. I was happily looking forward to my steaming stone bowl of brown rice, vegetables, beef and fired egg with hot red sauce (which, for the uninitiated, is what pibimbap is). If you like spicy food, I cannot recommend it enough. When you’re looking for “something new” when out for dinner, find a Korean joint and try it out. Korean barbecue is also excellent.
We were greeted and pointed upstairs to the second floor, seated at a table for two at the near end of the floor and presented with the intimidating menus. Jae’s, like any good Asian-themed restaurant in an American city, offered overpriced fruity rum drinks designed to knock you on your ass delivered in ridiculous ceramic mugs you get to take home as a souvenir. I ordered the Pineapple Palace and Shauna got something with banana liqueur and we ordered our respective bits of foreign culture to stick in our mouths and settled in on some catching up and shared bitching about our jobs.
My drink, by the way, came in a mug that was evidently the wrong mug for my particular drink. The waiter who brought it said some words so thickly accented that I wasn’t sure what they were, but in typical WASP style I simply nodded and smiled and thanked him until he went away. It was a short time later than I noticed that while Shauna’s mug was easily recognizable as a panda, mine seemed to be a sort of mutant bear-raccoon thing with huge testes and a tiny dick. I mean, I looked at the front of the mug and the animal, which seemed to be wearing a sombrero (so… a Mexican mutant bear-raccoon hybrid?) was, I had assumed, sitting on a stone or something but upon not-too-much closer inspection the stone was split down the middle and there was a teeny, tiny something jutting out from between the bearcoon’s legs atop the two huge round, um, balls.
Well, I did most of the bitching, truth be told. So I’m sitting there blah blah blahing at her and I casually look over and see a head topped with gray hair and a pair of glasses and a face that looks extraordinarily familiar and instantly I feel frozen and I excitedly-casually turn to Shauna and say, “am I wrong, or is that Harold Ramis sitting three tables over from us?”
The restaurant was fairly deserted, this being a Monday night and nearly 8:30 (downtown Boston pretty much closes at 7PM. This ain’t Manhattan, kids) and there were only four parties seated for dinner. Next to us was a table of three twenty-something women dressed in business chic casual, cackling and meowing like a barnyard. At the far end of the room a quiet couple was having what was either a romantic evening out or a night away from the kids at last. And between these two groups was a table of four and in the chair by the window facing us sat, and there was simply no mistaking him, Egon Spengler from “Ghostbusters”. Russel Zisky from “Stripes”. The guy who co-wrote “Animal House” and “Caddyshack” and starred in SCTV.
Sitting. Right. Over. There.
Strangely and amazingly to me, I was having a physical reaction to this realization. I was feeling all flushed and excited and awkward. Now, let’s face it, Harold Ramis is no Harrison Ford. Not a huge star, not someone one would normally think about during a given week or put on one’s list of “people I want to meet while eating Korean food,” but I really admired the guy because he pretty much defined comedy for me. Well, probably Bill Murray defined comedy for me but Ramis at least drew the outlines.
There were a few minutes of “Do you think that’s really him?” “No, that’s probably not him, what’s he doing in Boston?” “Does he live in Boston?” “I think he lives in San Francisco or Marin or something.” “Do you think it’s him?” “Sssh! I’m trying to hear his voice.” Because Harold Ramis has a very distinctive voice. Nasally and colored with humor. I kept looking over knowing it was him, but the noise from the barnyard and the weird jazz they were playing was covering up his tones.
Then, finally, and quite distinctly, I heard Harold Ramis’s voice stab through the noise and knew positively absolutely 100% that there he was. In that chair. Over there.
I am not usually star-struck. I outgrew it living in Southern California where you might be strolling on Melrose or shopping at Century City or trying to park near Tower Records on Sunset and you’d see celebrities released from their pens and walking among normal people. They had spheres of invulnerability around them because when you’re in L.A. and you’re not famous you have to sign a release form promising not to bother famous people, and everyone knows who’s famous there. There’s never any doubt. They have daily famous releases in the newspapers and on TV with accompanying photos telling you whom yo may not bother today.
But it had been a long time since I saw anyone I actually admired. I mean, Dustin Hoffman’s an interesting actor but what’s he ever done for me? Tom Cruise, Shauna reported, is amazingly short and his wife, Nicole, is amazingly beautiful but put them together and, eh, what would I even want to talk with them about? “Wow, Tom, that Kubrick. I mean, just, wow, huh? Funky or what? And, shit Tom, what are you, 5-4? 5-3?” But I could see myself sitting down with Harold Ramis and shooting the shit, laughing with this guy who gave me lots to laugh about. It was a weird feeling, frankly.
Because I knew that even though I felt like he was someone who could be a friend, I didn’t know him at all. I knew his work, I’d seen his face, it made me feel like I could use his first name when talking to him even though I have no idea if he goes by Harold or Harry or Har or Ramis. He was sitting next to a woman I presumed to be his wife, but maybe she was his agent. And who were the other two people? He may have been sitting with a Nobel Prize-winning author and his nuclear physicist wife for all I knew. Maybe that was John Grisham and Madeline Albright sitting there with their backs to me, but they didn’t matter.
So as dinner progressed over the next couple of hours, I kept wondering if I could screw up the courage to do some simple act like walk the twenty feet over there and say thank you to him for the funny crap he made and shake his hand and then fade back out. Or buy him a drink. Or something. Do something. Do something now because you’ll never have this opportunity again.
But what right did I have to interupt a dinner with friends? No, that wouldn’t do. That would annoy me if someone did that. Maybe hes a really private sort of guy. Maybe he doesn’t like being recognized and he’d go Daytrader on me and start screaming or shooting or something.
Nah! Judging by the characters he plays (which are undoubtedly a direct reflection of the actual man, right?) he’s a friendly sort. Down to Earth. Grounded. Always smiling. He’d like hearing from someone like me, some smart guy who’s not a wacko, right? And he’d know that immediately, that I’m not a wacko, because I’ve been sitting over here slurping fried egg in my mouth gesticulating wildly about a client and looking like a total doofus drinking out of a mutant, huge-balled bearcoon mug.
The restaurant cleared out except for them and us. The waiter at one point (who hated me and refused to clear any of my dishes, swear to God) came to our table and asked if we knew who that celebrity was over there because he recognized the face but couldn’t remember the name and we, as if reporting to a child that Santa really isn’t real but not wanting the other children to hear, whispered “Harold Ramis” to him, thereby verifying that others were also honoring the sphere of invulnerability by pretending not to know that they knew that there was a celebrity in the vicinity.
Then horror of horrors, the Ramis party was getting up. They were leaving. It was now or never.
The mystery couple, Grisham and Albright, passed our table. I studiously avoided eye contact. Mustn’t let on that I know… anything. Then it was golden time. Here he came, and what would I do?
The obvious thing, of course. I reached for his crotch.
Such was our relative positions that when I summoned the courage to let down the curtain and reveal that I knew who he was, deciding that all I wished was a simple handshake, I thrust my hand straight out toward where my bearcoon had his huge balls. I said, “I just wanna shake your hand!” He laughed slightly, said, “Okay,” and did so.
Then his wife/agent/girlfriend/rabbi stuck out her hand at me and said, “and I just want to shake your hand! I love all your work!”
And that was that.
So, a brush with fame. If Shauna had not moved to a different hotel and I had not been late in getting there and we had not decided to eat at Jae’s, none of it would have happened. In retrospect, of course, it was all “meant to be.” How else to explain that fate would arrange things like that? I was meant to meet Harold Ramis! Of course! Because he would be immediately struck by my unique brand of humor, my looks and talent, my innate ability to judge a good film from a bad film, we’d hook up, write screenplays, develop properties that would be spun off into cartoons, lunchboxes and comic books.
I’m still waiting his call. Maybe I need some “people” his “people” can call. Hmm.
August 9, 1999