Meeting Famous People
Julie Wiskirchen and Mary Ladd find themselves caught
up in the swirl
On Tuesday, August 28, 2001, Julie and I went to see John Waite's show at the Mercury Lounge in New York City. For those of you who aren't locals and/or familiar with the Mercury Lounge, it's pretty small. So I brought along an Ape Culture T-Shirt figuring if you can't finagle an Ape Culture T-shirt onstage at the Mercury Lounge, a pretty simple tactical maneuver in the right sort of venue, well...I say you've got assertiveness issues. Which I do but that's a later story.
The show in itself was very good. John Waite was very animated and got agreeably sweaty, probably tapping into some juicy NYC energy. It's a good thing. But it was hotter than hell in there and we were steaming like the little white, cooked clams we were. Then the show was over before you knew it and I handed my Ape Shirt over to the crew. Julie looked on and afterwards said of the gent whom I approached, "He looked pissed-off. That shirt will be in the dumpster in about five minutes." And I pictured a brown 100% cotton ape shirt getting pelted by rain while settling on a bed of wilting flowers in a back alley. Well, as Sheryl Crow would say, "I do what I can. I live for each second and...well, that's who I am." Failure of tactical maneuver rationalized. Moving on.
But it was after the show when things got interesting. On a table by the door of the Mercury Lounge sat a stack of flyers for concert attendees who were picking them up on their way out. It said in a nutshell:
We stood on the sidewalk outside wondering what this sort of thing would be all about. Ape Culture has done a few in-store appearances with an assortment of celebrities and bands. We've noticed a strange and mystifying tension surrounding the issue of what you're supposed to say when you find yourself in the path of someone who has heard it all before. Julie's celebrity in-store excursions were pretty much assembly line affairs. But things weren't so easy when I found myself plopped in front of Cher at the 1999 book-signing event at the Chelsea Barnes & Noble. I had been a fan since the age of five. For some reason, I really didn't want to tell her that. But I had no idea what else I was supposed to say. Obviously I was required to say something. Everybody else was saying something. Some fans were actually sobbing. Maybe they had the right idea because, without fail, these fans elicited a sort of knee-jerk sympathy from their idols. Well...I surely wasn't gonna cry. I didn't feel the need to cry. No...whatever I did, I wasn't going to cry. I may have empty bottles of Lori Davis shampoo boxed up in my parents basement, but I still have dignity!
Out on Houston Street, in front of the Mercury Lounge with these John Waite flyers flapping around in our hands, we were left with the same quandary: it's Ape Culture policy not to molest celebrities. Being generally bashful editors, this isn't really much of a quandary but you have to have that policy in place or who knows what insanity will ensue.
Earlier, we had planned on meeting friend and Ape Culture contributor, Molly Denver at a gig for the band Carlton Fisk. Molly wanted us to meet Steve Sykes, the band's lead singer, an actual Ape Culture fan, if you can believe it. Julie used her cell phone to call Molly, telling her we were thinking of going to the Rivertown Lounge for some lounging with John Waite. In theory. Julie wasn't fully convinced this was something John Waite would do. "Why are we doing this, again? He probably won't even show up." But then we figured that a rogue fan mis-advertising a party with a celebrity appearance in the lobby of that celebrity's show would be a pretty brazen act, if untrue and probably not very likely. So I said very irresolutely: "Uhh...I think we oughta go to this." And we trudged off to the bar with the other flyer-holders. We self-herded ourselves down the street and around the corner; it felt like a field trip.
For about twenty minutes, Julie and I sat in the cove by the front window and had a heart to heart about our Ape Culture to-do list. John Waite arrived before long and we watched his fans accost him without hesitation. After ten minutes we decided to abandon our cove for a better view. We moved to the middle of the room where a John Waite queue had formed. But we stood off from the line and watched it ebb and flow. It was very hands-on affair: autographs were signed, pictures were taken, hugs were given.
But we just stood around, pretending we had just dropped in. We had no t-shirt. That had been our main agenda. I think, had we still had the t-shirt, we would have had a reason to approach. As it was, we had coordinated that reason right into a dumpster with our superior skill at winning friends and influencing the crew de Waite. Really, I couldn't think of anything worthwhile to say other than, "Gee, I'm gonna have a whole slew of things to say about this in about 48 hours, John Waite, but right now, I'm dry." We leaned into a large pillar in the middle of the room, sipping our beers. You know those times when you have an opportunity that you're supposed to act upon but you're perfectly content to just stand there and do nothing?
Now I would consider myself a John Waite fan although I have no John Waite fan friends, newsletters, and haven't made any major John Waite ebay purchases. But I would still say I'm a fan. It's still an unexpectedly awkward thing being in this sort of fan receiving line at a bar. You still have that almost imaginary force field that prevents you from talking to strangers. There are only a few ways to go with a possible exchange, possibly simulating real conversation.
Here are the only scenarios I have personally witnessed or as seen on TV:
1. The I want something from you scenario
2. The I want you to know something about me scenario
3. The I can tell you something that will make you feel really good about yourself and therefore feel really good about me by benefit of association scenario
4. Say something shocking!
You'd think with this amazing possibility, a literal smorgasbord of scripts, the two of us would have been able to come up with something plausible to say. Hmm.
Soon, Julie noticed a member of the John Waite entourage moving to whisk him out of the bar. "I guess we should get in this line," I said. I have small talk in me! I know I do! I devised a quick, yet dull contingency plan containing just the facts: "This is Julie Wiskirchen. I am Mary Ladd. We are writers for the humor magazine Ape Culture and we have reviewed two of your shows (1 & 2). We just came by to say hi."
But wouldn't you know, it was a little too little and a little too late. Just as we were cued to the front of the John Waite queue, a woman in a white, Britney Spears-influenced Union Jack tank top stepped up to my right, spoke to John Waite while motioning to me, apologetically saying "but she was first."
"No, no, no," I said, waiving my hand gallantly. "You go ahead."
After all, you did wear the sparkly Union Jack tank top. You get points for theme. You move to the head of the class because you have gone that extra mile. Something I don't think I'm willing to do or I would have done it. I'm in a lowly, mass produced Old Navy t-shirt and I can't imagine a lusty rock star who wouldn't be moved by an appeal to his Nationality superimposed on a pair of breasts. And sparkling to boot! It's an inspired concept and, dammit, I admire it.
And after that, John Waite was successfully whisked to and fro and out the door by his handler. Celebrity logistics at work. We saw it happen.
On our way down the street, we figured we'd make pretty sad groupies. Maybe if I went to more celebrity hangs, I would get the hang of it. Truly, celebrity accosting is a skill.
And someday I hope Julie and I will meet our fan, Steve Sykes. And maybe someday we will have our very own fan queue who will gaggle about until we too are whisked away by handlers and entourages. I can't wait to hear all about that eleventh toe. And I fully expect that hotel key, too. Is that too much to ask?
Somehow I think it is.
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