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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

When The Artist Met His Muse, Part II

OK. So I shared with you all my fascination with and admiration for actress Jamie Lee Curtis, leaving you in a cliffhanger as I was about to meet my muse. So how did it go, you ask? Well, that Tuesday night in the early fall of 2006 was the culmination of 28 years of fan worship. Expectations were met and exceeded. The tale begins like this…

3:10 pm ~ My ever-patient partner and I board a Long Island Railroad train bound for New York City. I’m armed with our new digital camera (purchased conspicuously just days before our sojourn), copies of Autograph Collector magazine that contain my previously published pieces on Curtis (ironically, my first cover) and her late mother, Janet Leigh, and a hardcover copy of The Literary Six. I’m decked out in black pants, a grayish wool blazer, sneakers, and my favorite "Property of Jamie Lee Curtis" t-shirt. I look like a psychotic yuppie.

4:35 pm ~ We arrive at Penn Station, which never ceases to amaze me with its frenetic bustling and true New York City flair. My partner takes shameless advantage of my nervousness and convinces me to eschew a comfortable (albeit expensive) cab ride into Lincoln Center in favor of the subway ~ which I’ve never once ridden and am terrified of.

4:55 pm ~ Much to my amazement, I’m not gunned down in cold blood during the mercifully short subway ride. I begrudgingly give my partner credit for his big city savoir-faire. We emerge at the 66th Street station directly in front of the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble at which my goddess will be appearing.

5:10 pm ~ We make our way to the third floor where I purchase several copies of Curtis’ new children’s book, Is There Really A Human Race? We quietly take our positions in a line of patrons approximately 25 bodies long outside of the glass-enclosed and aptly titled “The Writer’s Room”. My partner remarks to me that perhaps the rain that is dampening the New York City skyline is as fortuitous for us as the fact that the book signing is taking place on the same day all New York City schoolchildren go back to school.

5:20 pm ~ I politely point those intentionally dazed-looking people who absently-on-purpose break the line in the direction of the back of the line. I’m bemused by their statements of surprise that there is an actual line and resist the urge to ask them if they think the rest of us are merely propping up the bookshelves.

5:45 pm ~ Some high-ranking, uniformed bookstore officials open the glass doors and the modest crowd files in to the quasi-auditorium in polite fashion. Parents with children are ushered toward the front half-dozen rows, while the adults sans children are seated behind them. One old woman complains bitterly to the store staff about being hard of hearing and insists upon being seated in the front. I silently murder her in my thoughts.

5:50 pm ~ The anxiety is almost too much to bear. My head darts all over the room as I await Jamie Lee’s imminent arrival. I spot a conservative bunch of suits huddled around a door in the back of the room and convince myself that this is the egress through which Curtis will be making her grand entrance.

5:58 pm ~ My partner suddenly nudges me urgently, whispering “Jamie Lee…Jamie Lee!” I turn toward him only to be taken aback by the sight of her…Jamie Lee Curtis…standing not twelve inches from my own chair. With a demonstrative flourish of her hands, she informs us that we are about to partake in a true Hollywood moment called “the photo op”. She motions to a bunch of burly men with ponytails of varying lengths and tells the crowd now rapt with attention that she needs to do the “Hollywood thing” by posing for a few photos, with the promise that this will take just a few moments and that, once finished, she will shoo the pesky cameras away and get down to the business of her book.

6:01 pm ~ True to her word, the impromptu photo session is quickly over and the camera guys are politely dismissed from the room - but not before Curtis asks us to give them a hand. Not wishing to displease our goddess, we clap vigorously for reasons unknown. Curtis is then enthusiastically introduced by the editor-in-chief of Child magazine, whose latest cover Curtis graces.

6:05 pm ~ Curtis takes the podium to the deafening silence of the crowd around her - with the exception of the crying children, of course. She graciously tells the fretful parents feverishly shoving binkys of every size and color into their children’s mouths not to worry about the crying - it’s what the kids are supposed to do. Writing children’s books has made Curtis somewhat of a child development guru now, and the crowd nods appreciatively at her insight.

6:10 pm ~ Curtis explains the poignant personal catalyst and inspiration behind her latest tome before launching into a spirited and expressive reading. She is a delight to watch, and her passion for her craft shines through brilliantly. The crowd is rightfully dazzled. The moment of truth arrives, and she invites attendees up to have their book signed. Enter once again the crisp, uniformed B&N staff who usher us up from our seats, one row at a time.

6:12 pm ~ Watching intently, it appears as if Curtis is in great spirits. She’s signing up a storm, chatting animatedly with parents and kids. My spirits buoy when I see that she’s not opposed to looking up at cameras while fans lean in toward her across the wide table where she’s stationed. Not exactly the intimate arms-around-the-neck shot I’m looking for, but it seems that my chances for a photo with Jamie Lee and me are good.

6:15 pm ~ I’m now a mere three or four people away from meeting my muse. My palms are sweating, and I can feel my throat tightening. My partner casually informs me that all of the color has drained from my face and suggests that I calm down before I have a stroke. Sage advice from the man I’ve loved for the past eighteen years. I have my copies of Curtis’ book in my right hand and my magazines and own book in my left. I momentarily worry that some overprotective bookstore employee will rip these offerings from my hand, declaring them contraband of a terrorist sort.

6:16 pm ~ I’m aghast at the man two people ahead of me. He has just plunked down 20 or more books in front of Curtis, who regards the daunting pile with skepticism. Panic overtakes me. What if my muse is on a tight schedule and her few remaining precious moments are taken up by this buffoon getting his eBay stash signed? But Curtis is kind and generous with the man and makes haste signing every one of his books.

6:23 pm ~ I’m standing before Jamie Lee Curtis. The zenith of nearly three decades deifying this woman’s every word ever spoken, every film ever made, every interview ever given, every rhyming book ever written. She is beautiful, with intimately familiar facial features etched with sage lines that speak of gained wisdom and experience and framed by gloriously defiant salt-and-pepper hair. She is clad in her customary black; the dress is simple yet elegant denoting her own penchant for simplicity in our overcomplicated world. The sight of her up close is momentarily breathtaking.

6:24 pm ~ I begin to speak. I’m prepared and well rehearsed. As the words begin to spill out of my mouth, I glimpse my partner sidling around me to begin his appointed picture taking. I’ve cautioned him against too close close-ups and too far far-way shots. I nervously recall his last stint as designated photographer when he snapped actress Olympia Dukakis and me, the zoom so close that you could count nose hairs. Still, he was the best that I had; it was up to God at this point. I focus back on Jamie Lee, who’s nodding appreciatively at how long I’ve been a fan.

6:25 pm ~ I launch into my soliloquy, each word chosen with precision. I express my admiration for her ability to reinvent herself throughout her career and segue into how much I admired her literary undertakings at the height of her acting career. I tell her how her foray into writing also inspired my own and how, at the height of my healthcare career, I also launched a second career as a writer. Having gained her attention with this attestation, I proudly produce the magazines and present them to her, explaining how two of my first nationally published articles featured her and her late mother as subjects. Jamie Lee is genuinely moved, her brows furrowing in a gesture of disbelief. But there’s more, dear Jamie Lee…much more.

6:26 pm ~ I continue, Jamie Lee now immersed in my adoration and attentive to the symmetry of my words. Beaming with pride, I inform Curtis that my first novel was published last month. Slowly, as I swing the book from behind my back, I tell her that in a gesture of thanks for her inspiration these many years the book is dedicated to her. She gazes down at the open page before her, my words of adulation naked on the page. Her face grimaces in a gesture of pure incredulity; she looks from me to the book and back at me. She asks if this is for her to keep, to which I nod affirmatively. I implore her to read the inscription and the letter tucked safely into the back of the book; she agrees and states that she will do so on her trip to Washington, D.C. later that night. She is genuinely touched. She places a hand at the center of her chest and tells me that she can feel my genuine longstanding support. “I’m sorry,” she says, speaking over my shoulder to my loyal partner-cum-photographer, “but I just have to do this.”


6:27 pm ~ There are no words to describe the sight of Jamie Lee Curtis rising up from her chair and leaning across the table toward me. Nor are there words to describe the appreciative kiss she planted on my cheek. Words are also inadequate to describe the sensation of having a woman I have so adored for so long wrapping her arms around my neck and looking toward the camera. My holy grail. My photo with Jamie Lee Curtis! I’m dizzy with delight…delirious with the intoxicating closeness to my muse. I can feel the fabric of her dress as my hand rises up to touch her sleeve. One photo is taken, and then Curtis in her characteristic take-charge way, instructs my partner to take another…from farther away this time. A second glorious image captures the moment I’ve waited a lifetime for.

6:28 pm ~ A few more pleasantries are exchanged while Curtis and her illustrator, Laura Cornell, finish signing my books. Curtis regards me bemusedly when I have her inscribe both books to me. “Afraid you’re going to lose one?” she asks with one of her patent smirks. We briefly discuss my partner’s misstep earlier that day with the VCR that resulted in me missing most of her Today show interview, with Curtis then enlisting the help of an associate in giving me the name of a service from which tapes can be obtained. We chuckle when my partner informs Curtis that after eighteen years living with me, he, too, has fallen in love with her. “I’m sorry for you,” she remarks good-naturedly with a wink. Then, with final sentiments of appreciation, we walk away from my muse, leaving her to greet her next admirer.

6:30 pm ~ We are almost at the store’s exit, my feet barely touching the ground as I delight in mentally processing the experience. Suddenly, a voice speaks to us from behind. We stop and turn. A young blond woman approaches, her own copy of Curtis’ book tucked securely under her arm. “That guy behind you?” she says, referring to the unobserved patron in the line behind us. “Yes?” I reply, confused. “He told Jamie that he’s been a fan for ten years, and she told him that you’ve been a fan for 28 and had him beat.” I smiled. Jamie Lee’s number one fan – with a bullet – with an arms-around-the-neck photo to prove it.

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