Ten Close Encounters of the Famous Kind – Part Two

My husband says I have a special talent for “running into” famous people. Last week I shared with you some stories of how I met five famous people. As promised, this week I bring to you Part Two, five additional famous people I’ve encountered in my past.

In 1983 I visited New York City for the first time. Traveling with a close friend, we stayed in the apartment of a childhood friend of hers, Nancy Purser, who had moved from Hammond, Louisiana, to NYC with her sister, Dorothy Ann, in the 1950s. Dorothy Ann, who lived in the apartment next door, was a bit of a recluse, and we did not see her during our week-long stay in her sister’s apartment. Whenever we knocked on her door to see if she wanted to visit or join us for dinner, she would shout through the door, “I’m writing.” After working as ticket agents for the airlines, both sisters had pursued more creative careers, Nancy as a photographer, and Dorothy as a writer for daytime soap operas. She wrote for all the great ones at one time or another, Days of Our Lives, Another World, Guiding Light, Ryan’s Hope, The Doctors, As the World Turns, and One Life to Live. Dorothy Ann was not my brush with celebrity on this trip, however. There would be three others.

6. Karl Lagerfeld. While on this trip to NYC in 1983, we tried to see all the major landmarks like the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Modern Art, etc. Being a lifelong avid reader, on my “to see” list was the world-famous Rizzoli Bookstore. Needless to say I was overwhelmed by the experience. It was packed with both books and people. We browsed for a while; I made a few selections and started toward the checkout counter. I got into the long line and inched my way to the front. At one point, while alternating between looking at my books and people-watching, I accidentally bumped the man in front of me, whom I had noticed only because of his silver white ponytail and black cape-like coat. He stumbled forward and as I was trying to say “excuse me”, out of nowhere appeared two very large men in black leather jackets and jeans. They firmly placed themselves in between me and the man in front of me. One of them said in a foreign accent, “Back up, you are too close.” I said, “I’m so sorry” and backed up. The man with the white ponytail approached the counter and the sales clerk said, “Good afternoon, Mr. Lagerfeld, can I have these sent to your home?” No money exchanged hands, no credit card, no writing of an address or phone number. And with that, Mr. White Ponytail and his two bodyguards sauntered out of Rizzoli Bookstore leaving me aghast at having “run into” the legendary fashion designer, Karl Lagerfeld.

7. Maria Shriver. This story has already been documented in my previous essay, “The Eyes Have It” posted on January 18, 2015. I will recount it here for you:

While on my very first visit to New York City, I had an interesting encounter with the steel tip of an umbrella. Not just any umbrella, mind you, but the umbrella of Maria Shriver. My friend, Ann, and I were walking down the streets of New York in the rain after a full day of sightseeing, heading back to the apartment we were staying at to change for dinner. It was rush hour and the sidewalks were jammed with people bustling about. Visibility was poor due to the rain and dark skies. The clump of people in front of me stopped short and I didn’t. And, that’s when Maria Shriver’s umbrella poked me in the eye. I screamed and she turned around and when I saw it was her, I screamed again. I had my hand over my eye and she grabbed at it to see if I was bleeding or if maybe my eyeball was missing or something. I assured her I was fine and we parted ways. It was a bit “bloodshot” the next morning but otherwise okay. Later the next day Ann and I were walking up the steps of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to take a look at the lobby and down the steps came Maria Shriver. She actually recognized me and stopped to ask how my eye was.

8. Pelé. I’m not much of an athlete; in fact, I’m not even much of a sports fan.  It goes without saying that there are very few professional athletes that I could actually name, let alone associate them with a certain sport. On this now infamous trip to NYC, my friend Ann and I were on our way to Zabar’s, the legendary deli and specialty food store. While crossing the street in the throngs of people, the strap on my shoulder bag broke and my purse fell to the street. Because it was unzipped (I know, I know), all of the contents flew out and began rolling in different directions in the middle of this intersection. I bent down to start recovering my things and the light changed. Immediately horns began to honk and drivers began shouting from the windows of their cars, “Get out of the street!” Cars were inching toward me as I scrambled to grab at my personal effects. A man crouched down next to me and began helping me, holding out the items he was picking up for me to take and put into my purse. Suddenly, the horns stopped and the shouting now became a chant of sorts, “Pelé, Pelé, Pelé”. Oblivious as to his identity, I thanked him profusely as he helped me up and escorted me across the street with people obviously gawking at this world-renown Brazilian soccer player.

9. Gerald Ford. Before I became a teacher, I was a real estate paralegal. My work mostly involved drafting and negotiating legal documents between the landlord of shopping centers and malls (my employer) and future tenants of those retail environments. Once a year, all of the people in the industry who did this sort of legal work gathered together for a national conference to discuss the issues, network, and finalize deals. The ICSC Law Conference was one of the few perks of my job, and I loved attending it. It alternated each year between the west coast and the east coast. On the west coast one year the conference was being held in Palm Desert, California, at an unbelievable resort complete with several swimming pools, fine dining restaurants, and a man-made lake smack dab in the middle of the desert. The networking and wheeling and dealing included dinner parties hosted by law firms who were courting the future business of the real estate developers and shopping center owners. One night my firm was invited to a dinner at a restaurant in nearby Rancho Mirage. We arrived and waited in the lobby to be seated. The restaurant was packed with people and there were several dining rooms, all heavily trafficked by waiters, busboys, and patrons.  As we were being escorted to our table, a very tall man stopped short in front of me. He was not only tall but solid. It was like running into a wall. Again, two men appeared out of nowhere, but this time, he said, “It’s okay, it was my fault.” They backed away and he turned around and said to me, “Are you okay?” Flabbergasted, I responded, “Yes, I’m fine.” Considering how it felt to “run into” the 38th President of the United States, I can see why he was the star of his football team at the University of Michigan in the early 1930’s.

10. As promised, I have saved the best for last. In 1984, single and trying to get by on a legal assistant’s salary in small town Hammond, Louisiana, I could not afford to live alone. Rather than take in a roommate, I agreed to become the manager of an apartment complex in exchange for reduced rent. On paper it seemed like a good deal. In reality, it was a royal pain. Something was always broken in some apartment. My phone rang off the hook with complaints. Each day when I returned home from my day job as a paralegal, tenants would actually be watching for me and come running out to tell me about some issue they were having in their apartment. People moved out and left their apartments a complete wreck. They would leave behind all sorts of personal items but take one of the appliances owned by the landlord instead. And, this was a really nice apartment complex. I can’t imagine that job in a run-down, low-rent, high-rise building.

Obviously a high priority was finding a tenant for vacant apartments as soon as possible. So, no matter what time of day or night that a prospective tenant wanted to see an apartment, I was to be there, with a smile on my face while I told them the many wonderful things about the apartment. One Saturday, I was asked to meet a prospective tenant at 7:00 AM. On a Saturday! So I rolled out of bed at 6:30, threw on some clothes, and stumbled out to the vacant apartment just as a car was driving up. Out came two of the largest men I have ever seen in my life. The driver stepped forward and introduced himself as the prospective tenant and advised me that he had brought along his brother to take a look. I introduced myself, unlocked the apartment, and gave them a tour of the two-story townhouse. After we returned to the first floor, the prospective tenant asked if he could run back upstairs and take another look. And, so, I stood there in the vacant apartment’s foyer, all five feet one inch of me, standing next to this enormous man with shoulders so wide I could not imagine how he found clothes to fit him. He was at least a foot taller than me. Being a talker, I said to him, “So, what do you do?” He replied, “I’m kind of between jobs right now.” I answered, “Well, I’m sure something will come up soon. Don’t give up hope!” He smiled sweetly at me and was about to say something when his brother came bounding down the stairs, thanking me and saying he would be in touch with a decision in the next few days.

Later that day, I drove to my parents’ house for a visit. My dad asked how the apartment complex was doing and I told him I only had one vacancy but I thought I might have found a tenant that morning. He asked me about it so I proceeded to tell him the story of the two brothers and how enormous they were. He asked me their names and I told him. I then told him that the brother of the prospective tenant was unemployed and wouldn’t be living there, in my high-rent townhouses. My dad’s face froze as I was telling him the story. When I finished he said, “Michelle, that man was not unemployed. That man just retired from professional football. He was the star quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He helped them win the Super Bowl four times. He was born and raised in Louisiana! Don’t you know who Terry Bradshaw is?”

Embarrassing as it is looking back on it now, I will never forget how sweetly Terry Bradshaw smiled at me when I told him to not give up hope while looking for another job. He could have informed me that he was famous and acted offended that I didn’t recognize him, but he chose not to, and just smiled at me. In fact, all of my close encounters with celebrities have been positive, even when I “ran into” them and caused bodyguards to appear out of thin air. I wonder, who will I “run into” next?

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