At Least We Recognize the Fish

I have a friend named John who sees famous people every time he comes to New York.  They’re everywhere in the city, he told my husband and me before we left Austin.  You just have to look around.

Well, ha.  It might work for John, but it doesn’t work for us.  We’ve been here for five weeks and are still waiting to see someone famous.

My husband is terrible at facial recognition.  He’s even morphed it into some kind of physiological syndrome that he drags into the conversation now and then, as if some minute part of his brain (that would be the Center of Facial Recognition, I believe) had blown a fuse.  I’m a little better, but not much.  But at least I don’t go around claiming I have some kind of syndrome or anything.  I just squint a lot and introduce myself repeatedly to the same people.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure at some basic level I don’t truly believe that celebrities exist in real life, that they share the same supply of oxygen and sidewalk space with the rest of us.  They just live on TV screens and in magazine spreads, gorgeous and unapproachable and not quite human.  That’s why, on an earlier visit to New York, I failed to recognize Halle Berry at a restaurant, even though the friend I was with kept digging an elbow into my ribs and whispering, “There she is!  What do you mean, you can’t see her?  What’s wrong with you?”

What’s wrong with me?  Oh, everything, probably.  I would find it really helpful if celebrities wore name tags, for example, preferably with very big print, since I’ve gotten kind of nearsighted.  That way, I wouldn’t be subject to the withering criticism of, “Well, I can’t believe Halle Berry was sitting there, five feet away, eating oysters on the half shell and you still didn’t recognize her.  Everybody else did!”  Like I really need that kind of insult to my self-esteem.

So, my husband and I just bumble around, knowing that we’re on the Upper West Side, for God’s sake, and it’s practically teeming with celebrities we never notice.  Worse, we went to the East Village Friday night and didn’t notice anybody famous there, although the Ukrainian food was delicious and — my very favorite food description — very stick-to-your-ribs.  Don’t the Olsen twins live around there?  We probably saw them and thought they were a couple of homeless waifs who looked alike.

Then, we went to Chelsea yesterday, to the High Line, which is an incredible urban park built along what was formerly an elevated railway through the West Side of the city.  Native plants line the walkway, and you can see vistas of the Hudson River and Chelsea.  It was the kind of day that was so gloriously sunny and warm that people kept smiling at one another.  None of them looked famous, though.

In the Chelsea Market, my husband dragged me into the fish store (from hemisphere to hemisphere, he insists on frequenting food markets and grocery stores so he can ogle the products).  He might not be able to recognize anybody famous for the life of him, but he did tell me the price of the stunningly gorgeous fresh fish wasn’t much higher than we’re used to.

To be truly alive, you need to be a person upon whom nothing is lost, Henry James supposedly said.  Obviously, a lot gets lost on us, but we do know the price of fresh fish.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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8 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    One odd thing I’ve noticed about famous men. A lot of them are surprisingly short. Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenneger, Lance Armstrong, Michael J. Fox, William Shatner — all vertically challenged. It’s like they had to make up for being short by being tall on the screen.

    Maybe that’s why you’re missing the sightings. Expecting someone bigger.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    It’s true.  I once saw Walter Cronkite in person and he was practically a dwarf.  I did recognize him, though.

  • I never notice anyone around me, so don’t feel bad. We were on Duval St in Key West at night and I didn’t notice a single drag queen. I must be blind. Relatives and friends think I am being rude, but I just never see people around me – I’m so focused on where I’m going and what I’m doing. I practically walked over Tony Shaloub (from Monk) on Martha’s Vineyard until my husband and daughter got my attention and made me see him. I think he’s the only big celebrity sighting I’ve ever had.

  • Sheryl Link

    I enjoyed reading this, Ruth. I spot a lot of celebrities when I’m in NYC – but I miss a lot, too. So many times my husband or sons will point someone out that I completely miss. One time , my husband and sons went gaga over a big sports celeb that we spotted in a restaurant. They wouldn’t even go over to him, they just sat there staring with their mouths agape.Well, since he was just another *person* to me, I walked right over with my younger son, who was about seven at the time. The guy couldn’t have been nicer!

  • Too funny!

  • For me, the key to spotting famous people is to read publications like Us and People. You’ve gotta see snapshots of celebrities in their natural habitats before you’ll recognize them there, kwim?

  • Ha! I think it’s more important to know your non-human wildlife. I don’t even know who famous people ARE let alone ever recognize them!!

  • Roy Link

    Dan Rather must roam around hoping to be recognized.  I saw him strolling through Penn Station one afternoon.
    I sat next to Marvin Hamlisch at Phantom.
    But, the best famous people sighting ever was Mary Martin and Larry Hagman at Return of the Jedi… really!

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