Fame. Recognition. Most of us crave it, whether we acknowledge it or not. And to be recognized by a total stranger in a crowd of Los Angelenos, well, that’s a taste of something else. It’s a fleeting taste of Warholian Utopia – that fluttering fifteen minutes that guys like The Situation (who?) are dying to hold onto. Last weekend, in a moment far less awkward than being recognized by Reverend Smedley as I was leaving the Adult Extreme Gift Store, it happened to me…I was recognized as being a speed skater.
I’ve always wondered what that would be like, to be called out in a crowd. When it happens to you, it doesn’t seem real. Especially in LA. When you hear the classic conversation opener, “Excuse me, are you…” you just assume they’re asking B-movie legend Leo Rossi, whose standing behind you waiting for his turn on the captain’s chair at LA Fitness. Or character actor and financial planner Benjamin Lemon, whose standing at the urinal next to you at the University Club, or soap opera star and fishing show host Réal Andrews, who’s teaching the local kids how to throw a football. So when I heard the phrase uttered as I was waiting in line to use the restroom with my son at The Huntington Library & Gardens, I just assumed some other legend of the silver screen was within proximity. I’ve become so “LA” that I’ve tuned this opener out to the extent that I barely heard the woman finish…”Excuse me, are you… a speed skater?”
Most of it went by me, but I must have caught that all-too-familiar two syllable word at the end of that phrase, cause I turned and looked in her general direction, but honestly, it was because I was expecting to maybe see Apolo Ohno or Alison Baver standing nearby doing the “gotta go, gotta go” dance with the rest of us. But then this woman and her friend were looking at me. I saw her mouth move in slow motion as she again asked, “Are you a skater?” It was at that point that a few more women in line turned and looked at me, and I suddenly found myself in the spotlight of celebrity. They were all looking at me, the way America witnessed Tom Cruise unraveling on Oprah…or at least that’s how it felt.
And here’s where I’ve been reliving the moment since this star-crossed encounter. Man…I’m no where near as cool as I like to think I am. Is it any wonder? I see myself one way, but I know the world sees me in another. Like, you know, of all the celebrities in our modern day Gomorrah, I think I most like Gene Simmons’ style. He’s the guy I’d most like to see myself as. The man is the King of Cool. He never looses his composure, knows how to speak to anyone, and always has something cool to say. Even if it’s, “You know, I’ve never signed a spleen before.”, if it’s Gene uttering it, it’s cool. That’s how I’d like to be with “my public”. But the reality, I’m just a dork like anyone else, and when I’m put on the spot, I got nothin’. Like mini-KISS without the make-up, I’m just a (mental) midget in a wanna-be world.
So there I am, standing downwind from nine aromatic public toilets, and sweaty crowds that have been feasting on ribs and chicken, and I’m like, “Yes!” And here’s where my ego takes over…I’m getting ready to be told how much of a difference my blog has made in her otherwise meaningless and unfulfilled, void of a life, and how great I am and how much she wishes I was getting paid to write this blog. How I’m King S#!t on top of Turd Mountain, when she points at my shirt and says, “I wore Simmons boots for years!”
Ah! That was it…the big reveal. It wasn’t me, but another Mr. Simmons – Dave Simmons – and his world-famous logo shirts that had been spotted. Not my monster calves. Not my incredible quads and athletic build. Not my handsome face that’s been hacked onto a host of unflattering images in the name of comedy. No. It was my Simmons Racing T-shirt.
Caught in the moment, it didn’t matter why, it was just that fact that I’d been recognized as a speed skater that took me by surprise. So I say, “Yes, I am!” And she tells me she how she’d worn Simmons boots for years.
I was like, “Right on!” and gave her the two thumbs up sign.
And that was it.
There was this awkward silence and exchange of looks, both with her and with her friend. Then a waft of what was waiting for them in that restroom they were waiting for, followed by a heaping helping of the urge to get out of there quickly. I nodded, grabbed my son’s hand and split.
As I’ve mulled it over, and over and over, I so wish it had been in another place, like maybe just outside in the Pavillion. I could have had a conversation with her, instead of being distracted by ladies waiting to use rank toilets. I could have been really cool, like Gene, and said, “You know, you’re the first person to ever recognize me in a skating shirt.” But no…I was just, me. And don’t get me wrong, it’s good to be…me, but, you know, it would have been cool if she’d actually known who I was. I’m so vain, and I know it. I could have asked her how long she’d been a skater, who had she skated with, why did she stop, and I could have encouraged her to get back out there. But no, I was a weenie. A socially awkward nerd with a need for speed.
But you know what? It’s all good, cause at the end of the day, I don’t do this for the glory. That ship sailed long ago, before I even knew what inline speed skating was. So I’ll just keep doing it for my main reason, so I can keep eating pizza and wearing spandex. Bully for you, chilly for me. Fame. You can have it.