Humiliation 360

After my all-too-brief 15 minutes of fame from yesterday's NPR article, I decided to post a story I wrote in June 2006 about my own encounter with a celebrity.

I’ve never been one to swoon over celebrities and have always been of the opinion that they are just like me but with better clothes and an endless Botox reserve. Of course, I can count the number of celebrities I have seen in person on one hand. I was bewildered to see Rod Stewart driving a very small British convertible as his puffy hair trailed in the wind. I saw Christina Applegate walking in Boston’s theater district surrounded by, what I assume to be, hired muscle. I met David Sedaris at a book signing where he pointedly asked if I enjoyed his monkey, he was referring to his primate friend that sat on his shoulder while he read. And, last night I met Anderson Cooper.

Anderson Cooper was scheduled for a lecture at the Boston Public Library to promote his new book Dispatches from the Edge. I have a lot of respect for Anderson and daydreamed about having a conversation with him since I first spied the announcement that he was coming.

While on my lunch break three days ago, I scooted off to a nearby Barnes & Noble to purchase his book. A book of this nature is not something I normally would enjoy, preferring tomes by the likes of Judy Blume or the adventures of Amelia Bedelia, but since he was coming to Boston, I desperately wanted an excuse to meet him and getting my booked signed was the ticket.

That night, I stayed up late to read his book cover-to-cover in case the universe smiled on me and I was allowed to meet him. I wanted to be prepared when he asked what I thought of his book or insisted I reveal my favorite parts. I was resolute to be astonishingly articulate and charismatic; I wanted to leave him thinking, now that’s a guy I want as a friend. I imagined he would say something like, “Gosh Conor, you should be on CNN, why don’t you be my co-host for 360?” I knew that if he met me we would be best friends forever.

Yesterday morning I picked my clothes for the office with Anderson in mind. I paired my gray trousers with my favorite shirt, a white button-down with thin vertical blue stripes. I navigated the length of smart blue and white diagonal striped tie that I thought Anderson himself would wear. The weather yesterday morning was cold and drizzly so I completed my ensemble with a charming black wool sweater. My hair fell in all the right places, my skin was especially clear and I just had a handsome glow. I imagined people would nudge one another on the street and whisper, “Is that a Ralph Lauren model?” I was ready to become Anderson’s best friend.

I wasn’t disappointed when I got to the library. They were selling Anderson’s book in the lobby, a good omen that ensured Anderson would be signing copies. Upon entering the lecture hall, a dowdy young woman (surely not the kind of person that should be around Anderson) greeted me and asked if I wanted my booked signed. I shook my head vigorously unable to form any sort of audible confirmation. She handed me a numbered card that would designate my position in the book-signing queue. I heard the couple behind me grumble, “That asshole got the last card.” I beamed; I was the asshole that got the last card, which meant I was the last person he would talk to. Without a line behind me, it wouldn’t be awkward when he invited me for cocktails.

I grabbed a seat in the exact center of the room, reasoning this would be the best seat for viewing no matter where he was on stage. I sat in my seat silent and waiting with sweating hands and rehearsing my talking points for when we met.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Cooper, I really admire your frankness when writing about your coverage of Bosnia.,” or “where did the government go awry when responding to Katrina?,” or “I found your book to be a riveting memoir about loss and survival. How did you find the courage to weave your own personal story of grief into the plot?”

Anderson gave a brief lecture, and to my disappointment, he regurgitated excerpts from his book, but it didn’t matter. The real magic would happen when we met.

After the lecture, the frumpy mess handing out cards began calling numbers by groups of 20. I waited anxiously and wondering what he would say to me. “Numbers 110 through 130,” the woman at the podium finally called. I was up! I was 130! I waited what I thought was a reasonable amount of time to join the line and hoping to be last. Unfortunately, a few others were even slower. Apparently, an oxygen tank makes one really pokey. Six or seven people stood behind me, but it didn’t matter, Anderson would surely have the courage to invite me for drinks in front of a few people. I would then turn to them and smirk slyly as if to say, “He could have asked you, but he asked me, bitches!”

The woman in front of me was getting her book signed and I began shaking nervously. When it was my turn, I handed over my copy, turned to the title page, with a trembling hand.

“What’s your name?” he asked extending arm for a handshake and I grabbed his hand and he gave a firm squeeze. “Cah— Conor,” I managed while still holding his hand.

“That’s a cool name,” he said, “C-O-N…?” “C-O-N-O-R,” I said, still squeezing his hand.

“Are you from Boston, Conor?” “Nah— no, I’m from Illinois, orig—originally,” I stuttered, becoming self-conscious and finally releasing the death grip I had on his fingers.

“Where in Illinois?” “Between Chicago and Decatur—um wait—I’m from Decatur—St. Louis—no wait—between Chicago and St.—well if you draw a line… Central. I’m from central—central Illinois!” I cried. I wasn't prepared for the question. Damn your ruthless interviewing tactics, I thought.

The blood drained from my face and I began giggling uncontrollably while trying to push my extraordinarily short hair behind my ears. The couple behind me earlier in the evening was right. I was an asshole. He handed back my signed book and with a large smile on his face, said, “Thanks for coming out Conor,” in the tone of voice one uses to thank a child who put away his toys without any help.

I let out an odd shriek reminiscent of a dolphin distress call, a sort of “ea-a-ooo-a-ewww” in a decibel that I’m sure only a dachshund could hear. I finally composed myself and managed a guttural “thanks man” while walking backwards and leering at him. I felt like I was out of my body and witnessing the entire painful exchange from the ceiling. It was like a conversation between Sandy and Flipper—Anderson, impish and good-looking while I flailed my flippers and squealed.

Anderson and I did not become fast friends, but just to make certain, I laid in bed with the covers tight over my head and replayed the entire excruciating incident in my thoughts until sunrise. Cool and charismatic I was not, but at least I got my book signed.

I imagine one day Anderson and I will sit in a swanky Manhattan bar and laugh about the whole episode.


No comments: