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March 9, 2011

This one's for you, Ed Begley, Jr.

In the 15+ years that I have lived in Los Angeles, my brain has never fully accepted the idea that celebrities are real human beings who do things like sit in traffic, go to the grocery store, and shop in the Valley.

Perhaps it's just my rural roots showing. In a small town everyone who looks familiar actually is familiar. That friendly-looking face belongs to my old pal from the fourth grade, or you're that guy I met on a hayride, or his cousin, or you look familiar because we used to work together at that bar in college. Yay! Let's reminisce!

Whatever the case, when my eyes see a celebrity doing some everyday Joe kind of activity my brain gets confused. I don't think, "Look! that's Sandra Bullock right here in the Studio City Bookstar and she is with Dweezil Zappa, hurry, appear nonchalant and cool!"

No. What my brain says is, "That girl looks so familiar! I must know her. Did we go to school together? Did she used to work at Disney? Was she in my Tae Bo class that one time?"

And that is why the one time I saw Sandra Bullock in the Studio City Bookstar I scared her. My brain was all, "Maybe she worked at the Daily News? Did we ride the bus together? I think I know her from the bus. OH MY GOD THAT BUS. Breathe! Breathe! That's SANDRA FREAKING BULLOCK..."

And just then she turned and looked at me and I let out a little squeak and turned and fled from the home decor aisle at Bookstar. Smooth move, Laurie. Real smooth.

- - -

A couple of years ago the Book Expo came to Los Angeles. It was a wacky and ridiculously busy week. All the East Coast folks from the publisher were coming out and there were events and lunches and dinners and I was doing a few days at the show, too. I was still working full time at the Bank and trying to maintain my undercover writer status so you know. I was crazy.

The Wednesday before the Book Expo I was in Woodland Hills doing some after-work grocery shopping. I was still dressed in my work clothes and I was rushing up and down the aisles because everything those days was a big old rush. Hurry! There's more traffic for you just ahead!

As I turned the corner from the pasta aisle into the vitamin aisle I almost ran my cart into a tall man setting up a little table. And this man looked really familiar to me. My brain, in its rushed and frazzled state, immediately decided I knew this man REALLY WELL. Because out of my mouth for no reason at all popped out the following:

"Oh my God! Hi! How the heck are you?"

And I said it so warmly, so honestly! My voice sounded as if I were greeting my long-lost nephew. It was so real, because my brain actually thought I KNEW this man.

Responding to my completely authentic and obvious intimate relationship with him, the man looked up at me, smiled and spoke.

"Oh wow, I'm great!" he said. "It is so good to see you!"

And that is when my brain kind of caught up with itself. Because who the heck was this strange dude that was so happy to see me?

In that split second of confusion, I looked at the table he was arranging and I saw the stack of books and fresh sharpies and I saw his name on the book. And I realized I was having a very warm and engaging conversation with Ed Begley, Jr. I was chitchatting with him as if we had dated or done shots together or something.

Suddenly I knew I'd made a serious social error. But rather than pretend the earth was about to explode and I had to get a move on, or act like my phone was ringing, or even just apologize for being a dork and move to the next aisle, no, I decided the least embarrassing choice was to continue the charade.

"Well, it's good to see you, too," I said. "It's been a while! Hey are you in town for the Book Expo?"

"Yeah," he said. "I'm going to be there, definitely." His face was smiling but in his eyes I could see him scanning me, trying to place me. And it's hard because I have one of those faces. You know the kind, I always look like someone you've met before.

"Great," I said. "I'll be signing both Saturday and Sunday so I'm sure we'll bump into each other."

At this point my panicked brain realized I had to LEAVE. NOW. I motioned to my groceries like they were in a hurry.

"Have a good one tonight," I said. "Talk to you later!"

We smiled. Warmly. Like old friends.

"See you this weekend," he said. But I could tell he was confused. Who is this woman? How do I know her? Why are we so friendly?

I abandoned my cart a few aisles over and fled the scene of the grocery store. I was so embarrassed. I was sweating heavily in one armpit. I had just made a total ass out of myself.

Later that night after a nice glass of wine or three, I thought about my embarrassing run-in with Ed Begley, Jr., and I decided it was probably funny. Wine said I should get over myself for feeling like a complete dumbass. Surely celebrities have this happen all the time. Surely I am not the first person to ever have this response to friendly-looking Ed. And anyway, he was in my store in my Valley. How was I supposed to know he was a celebrity? He was in the vitamin aisle, right next to the hemp tank tops at Whole Foods on a weekday. How could I have known?

- - -

When the Saturday morning of the Book Expo arrived, I got up and showered and tried to pull myself into a reasonable facsimile of what I think an author might look like. I wore makeup and did up my hair and put on my high heels and as I was on my way to the Convention Center I remembered the little mid-week incident with Ed Begley, Jr.

My embarrassment had faded. Now The Begley Situation felt kind of hilarious. In fact, I wondered if it might be a good idea to finagle a writer's schedule from my publicist and figure out when he would be signing in the main auditorium. I could line up and get an autographed copy of Ed's book. We could chitchat like old friends.

This idea amused me to no end.

But unless you really are a celebrity the Book Expo is just a churning line of work and gladhanding. My publicist had me in the booth all day and I signed books and got sharpie stains on my hands and smiled until I thought my face would fall off. By mid-afternoon I had forgotten all about Ed. When I was just about ready for quitting time I was told to fix my lipstick and haul ass to the green room. My main auditorium signing was in 15 minutes -- at the other end of the building.

The green room is just a big tent set up in a smelly corner of the Convention Center. Authors about to sign books in the main cattle call booths go to the green room to check in and get bottled water and wait for someone to herd you around. I half-ran, half hobbled down to the other end of the auditorium, hoofing it as quickly as one can in three-inch heels. As I pitched myself into the green room GUESS WHO I RAN INTO.

"Oh, hi!" I said to Ed Begley, Jr. I was flushed and a little out of breath. "I think I'm late! Did you sign already?"

"I'm just on my way out there," he said.

"Oh, great!" I said. I grabbed one of the bottles of water out of the cooler. "They need to stock these things with alcohol, you know? Like there should be a rule that all green rooms come with a chardonnay slushee machine."

My friend Ed laughed.

"That's a good idea," he said. "I don't think anyone back here would argue with you."

"Well I gotta run and check in," I said. "I'll try to come by and get an autographed copy of your book. It's great by the way. Seeyoulaterbye!"

Just before I turned to leave I saw the look cross his face. The look of dawning horror that he may be asked to autograph a book to this woman who clearly knew him so well yet ... what was her name? Why can't I remember her name? Where do I know her from? Did we used to work together? Did we go to school together?

Even though my cheeks hurt I smiled ear to ear. A little secret smile. I was totally messing with Ed Begley, Jr.

- - -

I never got in his line that day, there wasn't time. When the afternoon ended I packed up my bag and headed to the parking garage, back to life, back to reality.

Time passed.

Eventually I left the West Valley and moved back to Studio City. I even left the Bank and stopped rushing around all day long like a crazy person. I had more star sightings in the months that we were apart, but my time with Ed had taught me a valuable lesson. Now even when I run into someone I actually know I keep it nonchalant. Just in case.

A few months ago I was buying cilantro at the Farmer's Market. I paid, I put my cilantro in my hippy dippy cloth bag, I turned to walk away and look for grapefruit. Across the crowd we locked eyes.

It was Ed. Ed recognized me.

And people, HE SMILED FIRST.

We waved at each other across the crowd like old friends do and then I hurried off to my car. I was taken off guard. I was sweating again, under my left arm.

Damn him!
I thought. Ed Begley, Jr. just EdBegleyJuniored me!

Now I know it's just a matter of time. We're not done, me and Ed. I'm sticking with this ruse until the bitter end and apparently so is he. Sometimes when I'm bored in traffic or standing in line at the DMV I imagine what I'll say next time I see him. Maybe I'll tell Ed I'm writing a screenplay that's just perfect for him. Or I'll mention in a casual, offhanded way that my business partner and I are thinking our new line would be a great endorsement vehicle for his brand.

On bold, brazen days I imagine myself saying, "Ed! It's been so long, we should have lunch at that place we went to that time..."

It's not over. I'll see you soon, Ed Begley, Jr.

Posted by laurie at March 9, 2011 5:57 AM