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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