The Only Celebrity I Ever Met

You’ll never catch me reading People magazine or watching an Oprah rerun – even if I did have a TV, which I don’t – but I’ll admit it, occasionally I’m a sucker for clickbait. Maybe I just need a break now and then from trying to solve the world’s problems. So when I see something like “25 Celebrities Who Are Horrible People in Real Life” pop up on the computer screen, I’m usually hooked for a little while, even though there are a lot of celebrities these days I’ve never heard of. It’s just a matter of curiosity, an urge to sweep away the glitter and see famous people as they really are behind their fake media images. Actually, the truth goes public often enough when we learn of their problems with alcohol or drugs, or their sexual perversions, or grown children reveal how abusive they were as parents, or when they make a scene, like little spoiled brats, at an airport or in a hotel or restaurant and get arrested. No, I don’t thrive on this material and I don’t search it out, but I do get a kick out of it now and then.

One of the meanest people in show business, I recently learned, is Ellen DeGeneres, the fairly attractive lesbian talk show host who, more than anyone else, made homosexuality mainstream with her friendly, relaxed style seen by many millions on television. Turns out she treated her staff like dirt. Many former employees came forward with horror stories, which put a huge dent in her image. But not all the stories are bad. One blogger wrote that he was having a drink at some fancy bar when a woman took a seat next to him and ordered a white Russian. He recognized her. It was Reba McEntire, one of the top female vocalists in country music. He started a conversation, telling her that his wife was a big fan of hers. “What about you?” she playfully replied. They chatted a bit, and she struck him as a warm and witty lady. I’ve also read that, offstage, Willie Nelson, another country music legend, is one of the nicest people you could ever meet. At the other end, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about the real Bill Cosby, fobbed off for years as “America’s Favorite Dad.”

It’s impossible to separate the late Carroll O’Connor from the uncouth character Archie Bunker he played in the subtly subversive 1970s sitcom series “All in the Family.” But in real life O’Connor wasn’t like Archie at all. He was a cultured man, described by an obscure actor on some movie set as “polite but distant.” And for many years he was consumed by his son’s drug addiction, which led to his suicide, and O’Connor living out his remaining years a broken man.

Anyway, have you ever met and interacted by chance with a celebrity? I did. Once. It had to be 1978, and she had to be 17, probably a senior in high school. I confirmed this by checking out her Wikipedia page and seeing that she’s seven years younger than me. She was unknown at the time, but in five years she would be world famous, and her fame would grow through the 1980s. She’s still famous, though well past her prime. I was living in Williston Park, about to move out of my parents’ house, and she lived in upscale East Williston, across the tracks, same zip code but a different school district and a different community that never mixed with ours. I’d been working part-time on and off for years at a Sunoco gas station and repair shop right near my home, pumping gas and doing simple mechanical jobs. I was sitting at the desk in the small office when she walked in and said, with a pleasant smile, “Hi, I came to pick up my father’s car.”

I was blown away. I almost fell out of my seat. She was the loveliest woman I have ever seen, and there was a natural charm about her that told me she was also beautiful on the inside. I don’t remember what I said to her, if her father’s car was ready, if she paid me, or anything else. I just remember gazing into her blue eyes, transfixed. It was one of those moments in life that you never forget.

Can you guess who it was? It was Carol Alt, who would go on to become one of the world’s top models – the word “supermodel” originated with her – and appear on the front cover of all those fashion magazines like Vogue, Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, and twice on the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover, not to mention hundreds of appearances in ad campaigns for a whole slew of major corporations. Playboy magazine publisher Hugh Hefner called her “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Such superlatives, like “The crime of the century,” or “The greatest movie ever made,” annoy me because they’re so subjective. But I’ll tell you what: I have to agree with that statement, because I simply cannot picture a more angelic face. (To digress, going back to what I wrote above, Hugh Hefner coasted through life with a casually libertine image – you know, morally loose, but not such a bad guy, his Playboy empire a happy, glamorous world, the rich and famous regularly attending the lavish parties he threw at his mansion near Beverly Hills. Well, that’s crap. People who knew him well, including some of his bunnies who lived with him, attested that he was a hideous person with weird sexual hang-ups. A disproportionate number of these unfortunate young women ended up dead from accidents, drug overdoses, suicide and murder. I read elsewhere that the sick bastard had a large collection of bestiality videos.)

Look, I’ve never had an obsession with Carol Alt. The line of work she went into treads on the edge of degeneracy, and attracts some very messed-up people. She has done a few things that would not make me proud if I were her father. But on the whole she seems to have lived a clean life. She was married once to a professional hockey player, divorced, and never had children, apparently because she went through a bout of uterine cancer. That’s sad. These days her pursuit is raw food nutrition, a worthy activity. I guess she still has lots of fans.

So why did I bother writing this? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just a cute little human interest story, my only face to face meeting with a celebrity. Maybe I wanted to show you once again how the world depicted by the media is not the real world. Maybe it’s because I have a thing about perfection. Maybe I wanted to remind myself and you that inequality will always be part of the human condition, on an individual and collective basis, and inequality breeds envy, and envy breeds problems. Why should Nature endow some people with such incredible beauty, and so completely and cruelly deprive others of it? It ain’t fair. Life ain’t fair. Life will always be problematic.

Then again, maybe I wrote this to play a joke on myself, to crack a smile and ask myself, “Do you think the most beautiful woman in the world remembers our little encounter at the Sunoco gas station?” Answer: “I doubt it!”