One of my few talents—and far and away my most useless—is an uncanny ability to spot celebrities. Like my dog digging a nearly bio-degraded tennis ball out of a neighbor’s packed garbage can, if there are famous people within eye-shot, no matter how random, there’s a good chance that I’m going to find them. Unfortunately, there’s also a good chance that I’m going to make a complete tool of myself.
I saw Ben Affleck once in New York. Most people would be pretty cool around someone as innocuous as this, but not me. I stopped, pointed at him and yelled, “That’s Ben Affleck!” I told my favorite writer—a man named Richard Russo—that I was going to name my first son after one of his characters. This sounded much, much creepier than I imagined it would. When I saw the actor Clive Owen shooting a movie once, I stood as wide eyed as a dairy cow and stared at him until a production assistant politely shooed me away.
Behaving like an imbecile in the presence of a celebrity causes the sort of embarrassment that haunts you. Days and weeks later, you’ll be lying in bed at three a.m. imagining Hugh Jackman telling his beautiful celebrity friends about some skinny dweeb who shouted “Wolverine!” before tripping on a curb and getting run over by a bike messenger.
Of all my many celebrity debacles though, one truly stands out. It’s my own personal Hey Jude of public humiliation. I was jogging in Hyde Park in London when I noticed Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon. They were with a man who appeared to be a personal trainer. Jake was doing arm bends on a park bench and Reese was jogging in place. Most celebrities are good-looking enough to make you feel like The Elephant Man, but two together makes for quite a sight. Their combined beauty created a palpable glow, as if they’d both been airbrushed moments before I showed up.
Amazingly, despite my track record and deeply flawed instincts, I managed to continue running. In fact, I hardly even broke stride. Sadly though, after carrying on about a hundred yards, I decided I wanted to get another look, and so I did a u-turn and headed back. By then, Jake and Reese had begun running, too, and I was startled to find that they were coming right at me. I did then what any socially inept moron would do. I pointed at my Baltimore Orioles cap and shouted, “Hey guys, I’m from America, too!”
I’m not sure what I was expecting to happen. Would we become friends? Did I imagine that they’d stop, catch their breath, marvel at the coincidence of our shared Americanness, and invite me to go eat fondue with them? Well, they didn’t. Reese Witherspoon completely ignored me, and the look that Jake Gyllenhaal gave me—one of complete irritation and distain—has lingered in the part of my brain that regulates self-esteem ever since.
There’s an old saying: it’s better to have seen a celebrity and acted like a douche than never to have seen a celebrity at all. But I don’t know; I’m pretty sure I have enough social anxiety and self-loathing to work with. I could do without the stars of Brokeback Mountain and Legally Blonde 2 thinking I’m a moron.