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Up close and personal

February 4, 2013 - Carrie Olson
Being around famous people isn't a new concept to me. Working at a summer stock theatre in Massachusetts, I had loads of experience with it. From sitting near Samuel L. Jackson at the local Thai restaurant to seating Bradley Cooper in a crowded theater – it became a bit commonplace to see these familiar faces.

My favorite experiences included conversations with actors that had meant a lot to me growing up – the grandfather from Gilmore Girls and a very pregnant Mary Stuart Masterson (Idgie from Fried Green Tomatoes). I ended up being around Mamie Gummer so much that I would awkwardly stare at her face, fascinated with the resemblance to her famous mother, Meryl Streep. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) always played fetch with his beloved dog right outside my sleeping quarters.

But did it feel like a normal day in the park? Uh, no – it never did. Every time one of these experiences occurred, I would freeze up a bit in my body and then begin rehearsing short responses to the actors in case they ever asked a question. (Trust me, the conversations never went as planned. I always looked quite idiotic.)

At my last bartending gig, I worked at a festival where I served drinks to the likes of Olivia Wilde, Billy Crudup, and a couple stars from 30 Rock. It was a bit weird, to say the least. And a few months ago, outside of the East Village Comedy Club, I witnessed comedian Jim Gaffigan entering through the door. With all my experience, I just stammered, “You’re Jim Gaffigan.” He looked up at me, obviously puzzled and a bit preoccupied by the Twitter on his phone. Then, he walked through the door and that was that.

This weekend, I attended a writing conference that I had been to a year before. But this time, Julie Andrews would be there. I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw the news pop up on my computer screen. And while her hour-long speech was delightful, I was most looking forward to receiving her autograph on one of her children’s books.

I don’t usually hound people for their signature, but when it is Mary Poppins/Maria von Trapp, I couldn't help myself. While I waited in the line for 45 minutes, I was able to contain my enthusiasm. I mean, only a couple hundred people would be receiving them - no personalization, no photos, and no autographed memorabilia – so I figured I’d get the book, say “thank you”, and done. Uh no, instead she signed the book while talking to you and only you. Oh no. As the line grew shorter and shorter, and my time ever nearing – I realized that I had about thirty seconds of awesomeness with your highness. I tried to think of something to say, something clever, and all of my freezing-up antics returned. For some reason, the words “hot dog” seemed to come up (I may have been hungry). I worried that I would utter that or something else bizarrely unexpected.

“Your turn.” I had been furiously trying to figure out something to say when I was called up to the table. She asked me how I had enjoyed the conference. I said I had enjoyed it immensely. She asked me my name, and I somehow remembered. Then it came to me. “I don’t know really what to say, but I have been fascinated with you ever since I played Brigitta in The Sound of Music in my hometown production.” What? Why would I even mention that? There were way better things to say, and that is what I had come up with. “How lovely,” she replied. I thanked her for my book, and went on my merry way. At least I didn’t say “infatuated” or “obsessed”, but I easily could have.

During the walk to the subway and on the train ride back to Jersey City, I thought of sentences that I could have said. I thought of phrases that would have been more appropriate or thought-provoking. But I couldn't beat myself up too much about it. When put on the spot, I'm guessing that I am one of many that stammer out such nonsense.

I am greatly honored to have a book on my shelf signed by someone who has meant so much to me during my childhood. Julie Andrews is one person on my “celebrity bucket list” that I have wanted to meet during my lifetime (and by the way, she looks fabulous.) I doubt that this will be my last encounter with a celebrity, but even if I become more comfortable being around these people, I doubt I can shake my fear of having to speak with them. And I certainly doubt that is the last idiotic thing I will say in front of one them, either.


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