I’m leaving work, headphones jammed into my ears and a large box under my arm. I’m in that vague, annoyed space of not paying attention to much of anything, of wishing I was home already, and feeling like every step I have to expend to get there is a personal insult. It’s a little after 6pm. The early evening is a little windier and chillier than I anticipated. I wish I’d worn a jacket.
A few blocks up on Hudson Street, I spot a woman in a red tank top, revealing a few tattoos on her upper back and arms. I haven’t seen her face yet, and still she looks vaguely familiar, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. She must feel me looking at her, trying to figure this out, so she turns her head, in that I’m-not-trying-look-behind-me-but-I’m-totally-turning-my-head-so-I-can-see-this-person-peripherally. That’s when I figure out that this person is Janeane Garofalo.
In the span of nanoseconds, this revelation brings to mind a few distinct memories from my misspent youth. The first is that, during my college years, I had the habit of running into random celebrities in the streets of Manhattan and somehow scaring them to death.
Were these people superstars? Not really, just recognizable stars of stage and screen and the occasional band dude or lady. Rarely did I come across someone I genuinely liked, which made the encounters even weirder, forcing me into the uncomfortable space of “yes, I know who you are but I kind of don’t give a shit”. Henry Rollins supposedly lived very close to the NYU “campus,” and other students would report sighting him, but I never ran into Rollins, someone I might’ve actually worked up the courage to talk to.* (*No, I wouldn’t have.)
Whenever I spotted a famous person, said famous person would inevitably look at me with a look of complete and total fear on their face. Years later, I realize this was just the sign of a celebrity realizing s/he’d been recognized and fearing they’d be accosted by a stranger. But back then, I thought it was someone taking me for a hideous monster. Thanks, high school!
Case in point: 10-12 years ago, I’m on Lafayette Street, near the Public Theater, and up the block I see Paul Giamatti, walking briskly, gaze trained on the sidewalk. He was not a huge star yet, I don’t think (if you could call him one now), but I knew who he was. And my expression must have demonstrated that I knew who he was, because he looked up, locked eyes with me, and got this look of abject, unspeakable terror on his face. As if I not only knew who he was, but also knew his deepest, darkest secret, the one that he planned to take to the grave and never tell another living soul. The incident unnerved me so much, I thought I might have secret powers that not even I could comprehend.
This memory of random celebrity encounters, in turn, reminded me that during my aforementioned college years, I ran into Janeane Garofalo twice. And when I say “ran into,” I mean that I almost literally ran into, and over, her.
Incident #1: 13-14 years ago. I’ve just left Weinstein, easily the most popular of NYU’s dining halls. It is a spring evening, around dusk. I spot an abandoned swivel chair with wheels. (In this instance, abandoned = in a pile of trash.) Back then, I had this obsession with abandoned chairs, bordering on OCD. If I saw one in the street, I had to bring it back to my dorm. Only the presence of four roommates (one of whom would surreptitiously ditch my finds when I wasn’t around) kept me from becoming a Collyer Brother. Looking back on it now, I think I may have been mentally ill. Ah, youth!
For whatever reason, I considered a swivel chair with wheels the ultimate prize, one that I could not possibly pass up. A few of my roommates are with me and, in this one instance, decide to indulge my mild insanity. One of them even elects to sit in the chair as I scoot it up University Place, all the way back to the dorm. I keep my head low while doing so, to cut down on wind resistance, because I’m smart. Just past 8th Street, I nearly collide with a lady walking her dogs. I never get a good, full glimpse of her because I have my head ducked below my passenger. I mumble an embarrassed “sorry,” but can’t quite bring myself to meet her glare, though I can sort-of see her scowling at me out of the corner of my eye.
It is only a block later that my brain puts together all the visual cues that my eyes had only gotten a few brief glances of during the near collision. Sheepishly, I mutter to my roommate/passenger, “Was that Janeane Garofalo I almost murdered?” He confirms, “Yes, definitely.” To say I am mortified would be a gross undestatement.
If you asked College Age Me for his ideal woman, Janeane Garofalo would’ve easily have been in the top 3. Funny, sarcastic, dark hair, glasses, tats? Looks like she would not put up with any shit for more than two seconds before eviscerating you? Yes, please. I promise all current and future readers that this concludes that brief window into the world of My Type. I promise never to open it again. I’m married now, so whatever My Type is remains irrelevant to the entire world, including me.
I only mention this so you know that College Age Me doesn’t just like Janeane Garofalo, College Age Me loves her. I’d loved her since I was one of 5 people to watch The Ben Stiller Show during its original run. (Yeah, that’s right, I’m playing the Precocious Comedy Nerd card.) She was the epitome of a very early-to-mid 90s brand of hot, hip lady. To me, anyway.
The idea that I’d almost leveled her in one of my rare moments of unbridled, unconscious silliness fills me with an unfathomable amount of guilt and dread. See what you get for trying to have fun? I think to myself.
Incident #2: Less than a year after Incident #1. I’m walking through Washington Square Park. A chunk of the park is walled off for a film shoot. I never gawk at such things, and yet I feel compelled to do so on this occasion. Not only do I gawk, but I also do something else that I never do, and which drives me nuts whenever I am victimized by it: I walk in one direction while having my gaze trained in a completely different direction, gaping at the film shoot.
I soon think better of this idiotic move, but not quite quick enough. I turn my head forward just in time to see myself almost walk right into a woman walking her dogs. Again, I mumble a terse, embarrassed “sorry” and move on. Once again, it takes me a full 30 seconds to piece together all of the clues: glasses, scowl, disturbingly familiar dogs… Christ on a bike, I almost clotheslined Janeane Garofalo twice in one year. I return to my dorm, fully intending to never leave my bed again.
FLASH FORWARD! I’m transported back to the present, where Ms. Garofalo has turned her head to the side and I realize who she is. I have a sense of brief panic, remembering these incidents, before I realize that she surely does not. Also, the look she gives me is only one of mild inquisitiveness, like Do I know this guy?, which is easily the least soul-crushing look a Random Famous Person has ever given me.
Do I say hi? I almost feel an obligation to College Age Me to both 1) Proclaim fanhood, and 2) Apologize for almost running her over, twice. But I also know that this will not come across as cute or complimentary in any way. I think the affect would be more in the Lumbering Man-child Category. I almost kil’t you oncet. Tell me bout the rabbits, George.
So I satisfied myself with receiving a look of non-terror from a famous person I liked, and moved on. And also managed to not plow into anyone while doing so.