These Awkward Things I've Done, Part 3: The Time I Saw the Singer in the Crosswalk
A few years ago on one of my many trips to Chicago, some friends and I caught a performance of Eric Whitacre's Paradise Lost Opera at the downtown Auditorium Theatre. One of the singers impressed me especially: a buff young tenor with soulful eyes and a remarkable vocal range.
An hour or so after the performance, it just so happened that as we were wandering the city near the theater district, I spotted this singer a block away, walking towards us, his long grey coat flapping dramatically in the wind.
My heart stuttered.
Our paths converged, our steps falling into sync as we approached one another. We locked eyes. The stars aligned. I saw the timeline of my life stretched out in both directions, every incident along the way drawing me toward this one moment. Everything went into slow motion. (Music may have even begun to play, although it’s hard to remember now. It’s all a blur.)
We stopped at a crosswalk: he on one side, and I on the other.
I gulped deep quantities of cold air, trying to draw enough breath to alert the rest of my party of my sudden conundrum: how to let this singer know just how impressed I had been with his performance without gushing, fawning, annoying him, scaring him, or otherwise slowing him down?
Be cool, I told myself. He's just looking straight ahead, and you just happen to be standing straight across from him on the crosswalk. It doesn't mean anything.
The "walk" signal turned from red to green.
Just walk forward, smile at him, and say, "Good job." You can do this.
By heart stalled. What was I thinking? I couldn't actually talk to him.
My feet slowed. We locked eyes again.
Say it, I told myself. Say it now.
Don't you dare say anything, I answered back in a panic. Just smile and nod at him, and he'll understand.
My brain suffered a complete synaptic collapse. I stopped in the middle of the crosswalk, making intense eye contact while grinning like the Cheshire cat. Not surprisingly, the young singer broke eye contact, looked resolutely down at the sidewalk, and quick-stepped around me, leaving me standing in the street, grinning like a lunatic.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the crosswalk, the rest of my party waited for me, wondering if I'd just had some sort of aneurysm.
That's when I learned the truth about myself: I'm incapable of being cool in the presence of greatness. No matter what I may believe in my heart about celebrities -- that they're people just like us and that I'd never be dazzled by them if I were to meet them in person -- the sad reality is that I'm incapable of handling myself in their presence. Unfortunately, this truth has been borne out on many occasions. Any time I've met a well-known person or someone whose work I've admired, instead of impressing them with my blithe coolness, I've instead panicked and acted like a fruitcake.
Sadly, the harder I'm trying to be normal, the more likely I am to lose it completely. The people don't even need to be famous, per se, to send me around the bend. They just have to be people I admire. Upon meeting people who have intimidated me, instead of acting cool, I have babbled about drug use, rubbed backs, told confusing and impenetrable jokes, asked inappropriate questions, and on one surprising occasion I even threw some money at someone. (Horrors!)
Sometimes I think there's just no hope.
The good news is that on some of these occasions, I've had the chance to meet these people again and redeem myself. The bad news is that in many cases, I have not.
Which means that somewhere out there, there's a Broadway star having recurring nightmares about a grinning, swirly-eyed fan blocking his way on the crosswalk.
C'est la vie.