“I stood next to General Westmoreland at a urinal once.” So declares my husband, John, while we are watching Ken Burns’ latest documentary, “The Vietnam War”. Say what? I had to pause the program to be sure I had heard correctly. Indeed, John’s graduate school had invited General Westmoreland to speak at some leadership symposium (apparently, Ken Burns’ portrayal of Westmoreland had not yet hit the general public). At some point, John found himself standing next to the General at the urinal. Afterwards, as they were washing their hands, John, who was raised in a military family, and therefore knows what to say, said, “Good afternoon, General”.
This got me to thinking of my globe-trotting-celebrity-sighting husband. He has traveled a lot in his working life, and while he is traveling, so are all the celebrities. And because he knows he has an enthusiastic star-struck audience, namely me, he delights in telling me all about it.
It started when he was 12 years old, and his mother took him and his brother to get their yearly eye exams at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Along comes President Richard Nixon (before everything went to hell-in-a-handbasket), news crews following closely behind, as he arrived for his annual physical. The President shook John’s hand and asked him if he was going to be in the Navy like his dad, to which John responded enthusiastically, “Yes sir!” He tells me it made the news that night.
In his adult life, John’s celebrity sightings have grown impressively. Let’s see: Donald Sutherland (airplane), Lesley Stahl (NYC restaurant), Bryant Gumbel (again, New York City restaurant), “Mr. Bean” (Perth, Australia), Jane Seymour (Ft. Lauderdale hotel lobby). He stood next to Dr. Ruth on a transport bus going from one terminal to another in Amsterdam, and he reports she barely came up to his arm pit, she was that short. He witnessed Andrew Dice Clay and Chris Farley exchanging very funny and very loud banter across the aisle in first class.
He saw the Bee Gees, but claims he cannot remember if there were two or three of them. He saw Doris Roberts, the actress who played the mom in “Everybody Loves Raymond”, in Boston (“She looked just like she does on the show!")
Once he sat next to a woman who was blind. They got to talking about what each of them did for a living, and she said she was a jazz singer. John asked, “Have you had success?” She replied, “Well, if winning 2 Grammys is success, then yes.” Her name was Diane Schuur, and she is in fact a very well known jazz singer/pianist.
He talked to Billy Crystal in an airline VIP lounge in Rome. Really friendly guy.
OK, here’s the absolute premium sighting. John is sitting in the aisle seat in first class. The flight attendant asks him if he would be willing to switch to a window seat in another row. John says “No”. Soon after, a very large man asks him the same question, which, based on the man’s size, convinced John that perhaps a window seat would not be so bad after all. In walks Prince, who, while taking John’s vacated seat, gives him a barely perceptible nod of appreciation. Oh, the thrill of it.
It is all just pretty darn exciting. But then I worry. I mean, while I appreciate being able to ride the coattails of this celebrity spotter, I have to wonder who he has missed. My husband really has zero interest, and therefore, zero knowledge of pop culture. It is painful to sit next to him as he leafs through our daughter’s discarded “People” magazines. I have to explain to him why it is important that we know all about Drake’s house or Kate Hudson’s dogs, to which he responds, “Who are they?”
Still, while his sightings have gotten a little dated, he has given me a respectable number.
Oh, did I mention that one day in London, John was riding in a cab, and at the stoplight, a Rolls Royce pulled up next to him? In the back seat was the Queen Mum! There she was with her white hair and big hat. I asked if she waved to him, he said they really had not made eye contact. I’d like to think that as she pulled away she gave a smile and a wave, but I really don’t know.
What I do know is that John couldn’t wait to get home to tell me.