My brushes with celebrity have been airy to say the least. I waited on tables in Sydney for years, served various ex-politicos and wannabe TV sleazes—their names barely resonate with the locals, much less with US readers. In LA, Pat Benatar’s people bought some earrings from us for a comeback tour, except that I wasn’t in the store at the time, but was nursing my daughter in the rest room, so my sister had to tell me all about it. Steven Seagal pulled up beside us on the freeway. Billy Connelly’s wife Pamela came into a Sydney fashion store I was working in (Billy waited in the car). I shook hands with cardboard cut-out of Sonny Bono in Palm Springs without realizing it was a cardboard cut out. Elizabeth Taylor came up to me on Rodeo Drive and admired my baby daughter. Sandwiched between two minders, Ms Taylor reached out and touched my daughter’s hand. ‘Beautiful child,’ she said. Tremulous, lovely. Her minders, grim young men, waited politely for me to step aside.
For a time, we lived next door to Nicole Kidman’s parents in suburban Sydney. Our Nik. Her father, Anthony, is a psychologist who runs seminars at the local hospital and has a practice nearby where he specializes in family issues. Nik comes to visit occasionally. They go for walks at dusk around the beautiful peninsula. Tall, slender as a whippet, she leans on dad’s arm—we strain to catch a few words, a bit of fairy dust. We try not to make any sudden moves.
Did I feel anything in their presence? Disappointingly, not much. Except with the cardboard Sonny Bono. But with the rest, I wanted to. I really did. I have a friend who talks about celebrities as if they’re her friends. Meg this and Meryl that. ‘The goddess,’ Virgil wrote, ‘can be recognized by her step.’ Nik walks in beauty, granted, and so (eternally) does Elizabeth Taylor, but I felt neither fear not trembling in their presence. I waited for the rush, for the encounter to change everything, or even just one thing, about my life, but all I was left with was my life, an after no different than before (on another note, I remember once on a modeling job the make-up artist was told to make me ugly for the ‘before’ shot. ‘Right, she said. I’ll just leave her as she is then.’ That still smarts.) I think it was the realization that there really is no mysterious divide between my $100 ASICS and Nik’s $1000 Blahniks or Liz’s $10,000 glass slippers. Just a couple of zeros.
Speaking of which I hate the z00. I have managed to avoid many of the world’s most famous animal parks. I just don’t get off on animals in captivity. I get really hungry at zoos. All those lines. All those tables littered with ketchup-soaked napkins. I feel guilty walking past all those cages, all those eyes on me. Wanting to rip my free throat out.
But watching the dolphins play off the southern coast of NSW, or the right wales making their way across the beaches to the North, spinning around, their wing-like flippers reflecting the sun, well for me, it’s kind of rapture. My skin burns, my heart cracks, tears sting my eyeballs, and it is all I can do not to jump in after them. To be in the presence of something at once so alien and yet so familiar. Unlike waiting in the supermarket line behind Hugo Weaving—yeah, I forgot that one—there is a strange pull to the wild. At least for me. Much more so than the time I shook Ian McShane’s hand at work. In contrast, there is that aha moment in which we recognize an almost human quality to the whale, or an almost animal quality in us, but it is a frontier, as philosophy tells us, that can be grasped only in flight. Still it tugs— the Melvillian lure of an alien world, and yet one to which we ‘feel the tie.’ Two species of mammals on either side of an uncrossable divide which we cannot help but imagine crossing. Imagine. Yearn. Return. Same thing, because what we feel during these encounters is a kind of separation anxiety. Homesickness, yeah, or what Freud called, Unheimlich—the uncanny.
Believe me there was nothing uncanny about my close encounter with Oprah in the ladies room at the Sydney Opera House. And nothing true either. But it could have been—Oprah-sightings abounded for a couple of weeks here—and I wondered what all the fuss was about. I wonder if the celebs do too. There can be a great deal of hard work and talent that goes into all those zeros but once you’ve seen, or been, one trapped mammal you’ve seen them all. Not so with the dolphins or the whales. They know, and seem to revel in the fuss. Look at us, they seem to say, we’re the ones that got away.
P.S. BUT. Put me a room with either Mick or Keith and all bets are off.