Monday, May 22, 2006

Brush with Fame

Years ago I drove to a neighboring city where the author Pat Conroy ("The Great Santini", "Prince of Tides") was doing a book signing for his new book, "Beach Music". I took with me my very ragged copy of Santini and stood in an incredibly long line for my turn to have his signature on it as well as the new book.

The line took a long time to make its way to the table where Conroy sat and as I got closer I was able to see why. Pat Conroy took time to chat with every person. It was more than just a book signing. Conroy was a studier of people and talking to them seemed to make him light up from within. One man who was just ahead of me wanted to tell the author that he was--like Conroy-- a graduate of The Citadel and this sparked a warm conversation.

When it was my turn he took the books I offered for his signature and asked me what I did. Now, at the time I was the at-home mother of three boys who were 1, 5 & 6, but I was also a regular reviewer for a large newspaper as well as for a university press literary journal. I told Mr. Conroy that I reviewd books. He was immediately interested. I told him I had lost my bid to review his book as several other reviewers had already rushed to claim the privilege.

He said, "So what are you reviewing right now? I'm always interested in what others are reading and I'm making a list of their suggestions." I told him I was reviewing Gabriel Garcia Marquez' "Love in the Time of Cholera". Conroy scribbled the title on a list next to him and then asked if I had ever read Marquez' "One Hundred Years of Solitude". I said that I had and that I loved the magical imagery and the author's obvious love for food and its preparation. His books were riddled with it. Conroy--a man whose books include a similar tendency-- agreed and then right there quoted the entire opening paragraph from "One Hundred Years of Solitude". FROM MEMORY!!! I went home and checked it out.

A French couple stood right behind me and had their picture taken with Pat Conroy and then snapped this one of me. I got it in the mail about a month later. It hangs in my office.

Of course when I told my dad about the encounter he couldn't believe that I didn't tell Pat Conroy about my children. Hu-what??? It was a book signing. There were time limits. We were there to talk about books. What did kids have to do with that context?

"Dad...he asked me what I did. I interpreted that to mean he wanted to know what brought me to that bookstore. Books!! Books are what brought me there. "

"Yes, but he asked you what you did, didn't he?"

"Yes, and I told him that I was a book reviewer...because I am."

"But you don't spend the greater percentage of your day writing. You spend it taking care of children."

"Yeah...but I don't think taking care of kids is what made me want to stand in line. And I don't think it would have been the best answer to his question. Is there a rule about how I spend my day that dictates how I can define myself?"

"I think there is...yes."


So....aside from my sweet father's incredible and totally exasperating need to see me as nothing more than June Cleaver with a college degree, I was still able to file that brief conversation with Pat Conroy under the AWESOME column when tallying up "Life's Experiences".

Have you had a brush with fame? Did that person turn out to be better or worse than you thought?


Blogger toyfoto said...

I have had many brushes with fame, although none as exilarating as yours was. I have to note, before I tell you my stories, how interesting I found that conversation with your father. ... It's like someone in my life (not me) who's dad ALWAYS refers to his daughter as the mother of his grandchild. Ugh.

Anyhow, my brushes with fame include the Bush family (kennebunkport). My husband is from Kbunk, and we go there every year in the summer to visit his mom. My first encounter was with Barbara (post presidency) in the early morning on the public beach. One of our two dogs ran after her dog, and acted like she was going to eat it. I though the SS agent with her would shoot it. As I tried to pretend I didn't know the dog while calling her off, some power intervened and she came back to me before reaching the "millie clone." The good news, Barbara was magnanimous about the incident. I take that to mean they are really "dog" people.

Second brush with fame was at a Kennebunk video store where we were renting a movie. I excused myself and squeezed past an elderly gentleman and his two granddaughters twice in the narrow aisles while making selections.
We waiting in line after the group, and when it was our turn my husband asked the clerk: "I have to know; What did he rent?" ... "Usual suspects." ... we get back to our car and as soon as we get in I ask my husband: "Why on Earth would you care what that man rented."
"Oh, my god. I thought you were beeing so COOOL. That was Bush senior you nimrod."

12:41 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

I've had a lot of BAD experiences meeting writers (I worked for a bookstore and there are a LOT of divas, you wouldn't believe). Martin Amis and David Sedaris were both kind of weird (and Amis was clearly pained at having to read to a group of *sigh* Americans). But the best experience was meeting Richard Ford, who was signing Independence Day. He was so warm and friendly. He shook the hand of everyone who had a book signed, and introduced himself as "Dick Ford." He was smiley and his eyes sparkled, and he chatted with everyone in line. While he read, he paused for a moment as his wife walked from the coffee bar of the store to take her seat in the audience, and he watched her progress with almost-palpable love in his eyes. He was awesome.

My aunt met Pat Conroy in Charleston, and her story was a less-exciting version of yours. He is apparently an amazing guy by all accounts.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Binky said...

Pat Conroy is my favorite author, with Beach Music topping my list of favorite books. You have convinced me that I must meet the man. And I must write something substantial by that time so that when he asks me what I am, I can say "writer" and really mean it.

2:42 PM  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

I'm more interested in your dad's comment than to try and titillate you with a fame story of my own.

Why would your dad have focused on that??? Of course, you are a mother but that isn't the only thing that defines you. Like you, I would have assumed Pat meant what brought you here which was your love of books and writing.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

I recently read My [Our?] Losing Season, my 3rd Conroy book and I really enjoy his writing. Honest and conversational, but at times completely gripping and profound. I love your story. I love thinking good things about the authors of books I enjoy.

I met Madeleine L'Engle when I was in 7th grade and she signed 4 books for me. I was completely star-struck because I had read everything she'd ever written and was inspired to become something of a story-teller by her. She was gracious and encouraging. Exactly what she should be. My mom remembers that she asked a lot about me and my interests and what were my favorite books and so on. I just remember watching her hand magically moving across the page, writing MY NAME.

4:34 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

Debbie- I think my dad sees "bad mothering" as greater failing than anything else a woman could be bad at. It's not that he's not proud when we do something besides reproduce, but he's very focused on what he perceives
as the more important quality. If I didn't have kids he could focus on my being good at something else. And celebrate more it publicly. I do think that my dad believes the rest of the world sees things the way he does and so to describe me first, foremost and always as a mother his own way...a compliment. It's just the way he is. Even though I don't see it that way. You can't teach an old dog...I've tried.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Rock said...

As I have said - I met Mickey Dolenz in a bar. What can be better than that?

5:43 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

I don't know. I'd like to meet him in a bar, too. He was my favorite.

5:49 PM  
Anonymous LetterB said...

I will share my sister's recent brush with greatness because it's so good. She got a gig working backstage at FarmAid this year and met a lot of cool folks (including Dave Matthews, which was the original draw - she was essentially working for free to meet him). But on the last night she was standing around with Wilco (!) and chatting about their set and told them how cool it was that Barack Obama introduced them. One of them said, you know he's right over there. She was like, see you losers later, and went up to talk to him. She introduced herself and told him how much she admired him. He was very gracious and asked what she did. She said "I'm a mom" and he went into how important moms are blah blah politician-speak but then started to ask her questions about her kids and what she thought about certain issues. She said he was exactly what she expected and was so happy that he seemed as genuine in person as he did in interviews. Now isn't that a better story than me running into (literally) harvey keitel?

6:09 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

Barack Obama...some day I hope to see the word "President" in front of his name.

6:29 PM  
Blogger SUEB0B said...

I have had some brushes with fame. Some funny (Dave Barry consoling me because I was so nervous interviewing him), some stupid (Bill Cosby is kind of a jerk IMO) and some just lovely (I could follow Rosalynn Carter around like a puppy. And Anthony Bourdain I would like to eat up with a spoon!).

I love that Pat Conroy took the time to interact with you. So few authors do.

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Izzy said...

Wow! What a great experience! I had many brushes with fame and most of the time, they were not what I expected. But a few times they were better!

It kind of sounds like your dad is actually proud of what your being a mom, hich is kind of sweet, if I'm interpreting it correctly :)

8:04 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

LB!!! More on Harvey Keitel, please. To hell with Barack! Was he naked in The Piano? I think not!

8:11 PM  
Blogger Janna said...

The closest I've had to a brush with fame is that my former next-door neighbor was Bush senior's body guard. Then he got promoted to W's bodyguard and moved away.

I also went to summer camp with some of Hugh Hefner's sons, and a girl who's an actress. But at the time I hadn't seen any of her movies so I don't know if that counts.

I would love to meet my favorite author but I know I would just start jabbering and make a fool out of myself, so it's probably best that never happens. :)

8:21 PM  
Anonymous average blogger said...

I have a bunch of celebrity encounters -- collateral damage of having gone to USC, been in the marching band, and bounced around L.A. in general for about 10 years. But my favorite story is this one: My friend and I were in a Baskin-Robbins in 1991, and in walks a group of 3 or 4 guys. My friend kicks me and says, "That's James Spader!" I look. There's a passing resemblance, but ... "Oh, it is not," I scoff. "You're always seeing people where they aren't." This degenerated into a "yes it is!" "No it isn't!" argument, til the guy walked up, leaned over to me and said very softly, right in my ear, "Actually, yes, it is." And then he stood up and walked out. Heh.

8:32 PM  
Anonymous Neil said...

I've worked in the entertainment business in Los Angeles and I've encountered several celebrities -- and they are always much less interesting in person -- but I don't think I've ever heard of a story like yours, where Pat Conroy actually seemed to care more about others than his own fame.

9:15 PM  
Blogger Mary-LUE said...

Hello, new commenter here. I bloghopped my way over here via a comment you left on... shoot, I don't remember, Lucinda or Mel maybe? Anyway, this post was perfect for two reasons:

1. My friend was just telling me last week that Beach Music is one of her favorite books of all time. I'm also a fan of Prince of Tides; and,

2. I do a meme called Booking Through Thursday. The question this week had to do with authors that you've met. I hope you don't mind, but I posted the URL for this post over there. I guess that is asking for forgiveness instead of permission. Kind of tacky. I'm sorry. :)

Anyway, enjoyed the post and look forward to reading more Half of the Sky.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once got lost in the airport with Morgan Freeman. I now feel like we have some sort of close personal bond and whenever I see him in a movie I think, "Ah, there's my old buddy, Morg."


3:18 AM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

My encounters with authors have been pleasant but uneventful--Larry McMurtry, Naomi Wolf, Rosamunde Pilcher, Garrison Keillor, and others I've forgotten.

My interesting celebrity encounter stories all involve my sister's kids. My sister and her family were featured in a segment on MTV when her son won an award for having pulled off the best senior prank ever. MTV came to his school and home and did some filming.

My sister's daughter, a University of Georgia sorority girl, was pulled onto the stage to dance at a Rolling Stones concert in BUDAPEST. She ended up at a backstage party, and later in a limo with Ben Affleck on the way to a club where the party continued. No details on what transpired at the party. I imagine my niece spared her mom the pain of that.

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Kvetch said...

Gee whiz, after reading all your comments, I feel pretty boring and non-impressive leaving my first comment-ever on your blog. Hmmm. I haven't had brushes with fame, but I know people who have. For me, that's gonna have to count. I do not define myself by mothering alone, although I used to. It's hard not to, but I'm glad I don't anymore. I think everyone benefits when we are multi-dimensional and know it.

4:38 AM  
Blogger Antique Mommy said...

I have a friend whose family is from Archer City, TX and once when she was there visiting, she ran into Larry McMurtry who was just kind of hanging out there in his massive library. He really engaged her in a similar manner as Conroy did you. I was impressed.

As for myself, I sat around a Las Vegas pool with Andy Gibb and his tribe once back in the 80s. What. Ever.

5:13 AM  
Blogger Marcie said...

That was a cool story. I read Prince of Tides, haven't read Santini. Maybe I will put it on my reading list for Summer.

5:26 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

I love this story. I have never read any Pat Conroy, but now I will. What a cool guy.

5:43 AM  
Blogger Arabella said...

I've actually had quite a few brushes with fame, mostly by virtue of living in New York.

Ok....two quick stories....

1. A LOOOOONG time ago, post-Stand by Me but very much pre-Rebecca Romijn, my mom and I were on line for coffee behind Jerry O'Connell. He only had a large bill, so my mom treated him to the coffee. He chatted with us for a few minutes and was very nice.

2. This is my favorite brush with fame story:

When I was a teenager, all I wanted for my birthday was to take a tour of the Mad Magazine offices. My mom found a general phone number for them, and chatted pleasantly with the older-sounding gentleman who answered. She explained the situation, and he said it would be fine for me to come by, and they agreed upon a date, and she said, "Who should I ask for when we arrive?" The guy said, "You can ask for me. I'm Bill Gaines."

William M. Gaines is the now-deceased founder (and then-publisher) of Mad.


5:53 AM  
Blogger The June Cleaver Diaries said...

I've been pictured in the local paper three times, and interviewed on the news here and in Canada one time each. At no time was I doing anything unusual--- I just happened to be walking by when a reporter would grab me.

One picture of me was taken at the beach when I was pregnant with the twins--- and supposed to be on bedrest. I was picking my two yr old up by the hands and swinging him in the air. I got 2 angry phone calls: One from my OB, demanding to know why the hell was I on my feet and liftin more tht 10 pounds, and one from my former boss, who wanted to know why, as an OT who used to specialize in arm and hand rehab, was I swinging my son by the arms???

6:25 AM  
Blogger Nilbo said...

I know this is an exhibition, not a competition, but Arabella's BWF is pretty hard to beat.

What strikes me about these stories is that we are always so delighted and surprised when people who have managed to collect the requisite number of Fame points (ok, who played "Careers"?) actually behave and respond to us like ... well, normal people.

I've met more than my share of famous people, but my favourite, I think, was standing backstage at a sound check for an awards show where I was a presenter, and chatting with Sarah McLachlan. The concert was in Halifax, her old home town, and as we talked she said something about having to find a phone to call a cab.

"Where are you going?"

"My parents' place."

"I have my car, I can give you a ride."

As we drove, we chatted and laughed like old friends - she was wonderfully warm and engaging and every bit as interested in what I had to say as in the sound of her own voice.

When we got there, she thanked me with a kiss on my cheek. I have forever taken that to mean "I'd invite you in and we could take this to its natural conclusion, but ... you know ... it's my parents' place and all and they're home ..."

And if you have an alternate theory, please keep it to yourself.

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Nic said...

My mother (who lived in Austin at the time) called me up and asked me who Mathew Mc Conaughey was. I explained that he was a rather famous actor and asked why as she doesn't follow the celeb scene. She was driving around with a friend and turned a corner and nearly clipped the man who was out jogging. The friend recognized him, my mother had no clue. I cringed, can you imagine the publicity? Ouch.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

I have no real brushes, but man am I jealous you met Pat Conroy. The descriptive quality of his writing makes me swoon. He is amazing.

8:52 AM  
Blogger Dawn said...

In 1992, I worked at a camp in New Canaan CT. I cared for the children of the rich and famous. David Letterman lives in this town, as did Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere ( who were married at the time) So you were always seeing Somebody.

But my favorite was Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon - they had Jack Henry who was three and just had their second son. She dropped Jack Henry off every day and she looked like a Mom. No makeup, exhausted with a new baby. She always wanted to know how his morning was, was he playing and making friends? Tim was on a Tour for Bob Roberts at the time, so he showed at the end of the week - in a ratty old Ramones T-shirt.
I decided that I loved both of them. Never had a nanny or au pair tending their children. Both of them came to our final sing along celebration.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Maliavale said...

I went to USC, and I thought Conroy was just a big-deal South Carolina writer, not a big-deal national writer, until I sat down with "My Losing Season" and was completely blown away by his way with words. I read "Lords of Discipline" soon thereafter and have "The Great Santini" and "Beach Music" sitting on my to-read shelf.

Oh, and a Spanish teacher I had, who had actually been an English major, said he'd read about 5,000 novels in his lifetime and that "100 Years of Solitude" was his favorite book. He said this in Spanish, however, since we were in class, and I always translate the title to Spanish in my head. It's a beautiful phrase: "Cien anos de Soledad." (Anos with a tilde, that is; not 100 anuses.)

11:41 AM  
Blogger Lisa Ann said...

I've the singer Rosanne Cash (yes, that's Johnny's daughter) on several different occaisions. Very warm and gracious. If you didn't know she was famous you wouldn't know she was famous.

1:06 PM  
Blogger Ben Dolan said...

I was boarding a plane and I noticed someone familiar in first class as I passed through. With a moment of sheer ecstasy, I realized it was my favorite ball player, Jeff Bagwell.

I wrote this stupid note (I was young) about how I thought he was the best and if he still liked Mike Hampton and I asked the flight attendant to give it to him.


He sent a note back. I was excited. It had his signature. I was more excited. He wanted me to come up and meet him. I did. It was definitely in the AMAZING category as you so skilfully put it.

1:40 PM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

What a neat story! I've stood in line to have Eric Schlosser sign my copy of Fast Food Nation, but as I found him very cute, I could do little but stammer and turn red as he signed my book. I met Mary Alice Monroe at a writers conference a few weeks ago, too. She was very gracious & nice.

I'm really nervous about the whole author thing because I get to be on the other side of the desk next year. And believe me, I've been a "rejected writer" for so long that this still hasn't sunk in! I will feel like a rock star if ANYONE shows up at my readings. And hoo-boy will I be grateful. :)

2:19 PM  
Blogger lildb said...

I've run into a few in my time, but the ones that stand out are:

Bill Maher. Ho-hum. Love his gigs involving his hilarious take on all things political, not so much on the personal front.

Jeff Goldblum - ridiculously pleasant. to this day, I have an honorary crush on the man, based solely on the experience. well, that, and his performance in Earth Girls are Easy.

I'm both pleased for your experience with Mr. Conroy, and saddened by your father's lack of appreciation for you as an individual. I'm glad, though, that you are reconciled to it, recognizing that it just happens to be your dad's brand of validation.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Budd said...

I live in Nashville and have run into many a famous country music entertainer over the years, but the most memorable brush with fame is someone that works as a voice actress.

Debbi Derryberry (voice of Jimmy Neutron, tinker bell in peter pan and the pirates, and much much more). She was really down to Earth and was extrememly funny and entertaining.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Lucky Lum said...

Well I got to meet Prince, barely, it might not even count, as it was only a quick hello exchange.
But still... I can say I met Prince!

I would have loved to have met Capote!

6:26 PM  
Anonymous LisaP. in Naples said...

How about a brush with pre-fame? I knew Sheryl Crow for a few years when we were schoolgirls in Kennett, MO in the mid-70's. I noticed in your profile that you like her music. So do I, of course--actually LOVE is more like it. Just so you know, she was always clearly so beYOND that patch of cotton that is the MO boot heel. Destiny had her in its sights all along.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Mary said...

While researching family history, I found something that made me believe we may be related to author Maeve Binchy. I wrote to her in Ireland and she answered me. She wrote a postcard and said that she is not good with family history, but her cousin Lil is and she gave me her cousin's address. And cousin Lil was happy to help me.

7:50 AM  

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