Champagne Wishes and Calamari Dreams

Nantucket Island, being both world renowned and tiny, is a Mecca for celebrity sightings. Each summer, whispers of VIP encounters drift through the community: Jim Carrey downing espresso martinis at the Summer House, Steven Tyler kite-boarding off Pocomo, and Meg Ryan browsing nonfiction at Mitchell’s Book Corner. In my very first week on-island, I witnessed a grown man completely lose his composure after catching sight of Jerry Stiller. “Honey!” he yelled from the middle of Federal Street, a line of vehicles forming behind him. “I just saw Frank Costanza!”

Most likely, this man is a loving husband and respected member of the community, but after one unsuspecting run-in with a revered celebrity, he was transformed into a ludicrous, traffic-halting spectacle. Having never witnessed a real-life VIP, I contemplated my likely reaction. What if I bumped into Claire Danes at the Atheneum or glimpsed Sly Stallone taking a dip at Miacomet Beach? Would I resort to dimwitted groveling or conduct myself with dignity?

What if (and this thought sucked the breath from my lungs) I ran into Trey Anastasio of Phish, a band that single-handedly shaped my taste in music and continues to reign supreme over my iPod playlist fifteen years later? I would, truth be told, lose my shit. As I watched the crazed Stiller fan, cringing in secondhand embarrassment, I resolved to never fall victim to such an undignified display.

Thus, I formulated the Celebrity Intrusion Index, or CII, as a yardstick for rating VIP encounters. The CII employs a sliding scale between 0 (complete disregard) and 10 (obnoxious and extreme molestation) with anything above 5 (casual handshake or calm autograph solicitation) being inherently undignified. I determined that a CII rating of 2 (zero corporeal contact, minimal intrusion) was the most honorable approach and adopted it as my official celebrity policy. This way, one could respectfully acknowledge a VIP with a knowing glance or slight head nod without compromising their self-respect in the process.

My first test came during the 2006 World Cup Finals when Mr. Bill Paxton poked his head into the Rose & Crown Pub, a halo of afternoon sunlight emanating behind him. He studied the room, blinked a few times, and vanished. In those five-seconds, I didn’t yell, point, or awkwardly wave, but simply stared: I’d stayed true to my principles and earned a noble score: 1.

After that, the CII took on a life of its own…

***

Massachusetts Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry striding up Broad Street as I devoured a late-night slice of Steamboat Pizza. I wiped a hanging thread of cheese from my chin, recalled unenthusiastically filling in the oval beside his name on my 2004 absentee ballot, and averted my gaze in an impressive act of political snubbery: 0.

Actor Paul Giamatti mumbling his thanks after I graciously held open a screen door for his son at the Even Keel Cafe. Luckily, he was unaware that I’d been loitering on the brick patio for over an hour in hopes of completing this very task: 4.

Head Coach Bill Belicheck enduring a horde of Pats fans beside the organic avocados in the produce aisle of Stop & Shop. To be fair, however, Mr. Belicheck was overtly advertising his superstar status by sporting a Patriot’s Super Bowl T-shirt, earning the marauders a slight amnesty: 5.

Will Ferrell sipping his Straight Wharf clam chowder as patrons in the adjacent barroom chanted “Frank the Tank!” in a collective violation: 6.

Tiffany Faison, the Top Chef Season 1 runner-up, tolerating a drunkard at the Brotherhood Restaurant. “I know your name,” the man slurred, staggering a bit, “so I think you should know mine.” Faison smiled politely and bolted immediately after the intrusion: 7.

***

The most ignoble CII ratings ever recorded belong exclusively to my dear friend Chris. In his years working at Captain Toby’s Chowder House, he served many celebs such as Wayne Knight (who he called “Newman” to his face: 8) and Monica Lewinsky (who, in a moment of insanity, he hit on: 9). But one evening Chris had the pleasure of clearing Mr. Brian Dennehy’s half-eaten plate of calamari. As he ducked into the kitchen, Chris popped a remaining morsel into his mouth to savor the briny ambrosia of a B-list acting god. A truly deviant, disturbing, and chart-topping act: 10.

Last summer, my ultimate test arose. “That guy from Phish is here,” my friend Cara whispered into the phone at the Boarding House Restaurant. “Anastasio?” I stammered. “Yup, he’s having dinner.” I wanted to hightail it down there, commandeer his booth and tell him “Billy Breathes” is my favorite song of all time. “In fact,” I’d say, nudging his shoulder, “that entire album guided me through a really tough time.” “That is fascinating!” Trey would reply with genuine interest and, after motioning for the waitress to bring me a cold beer, his eyes would narrow in earnest.  “Bryan, is there any chance you’d be interested in joining the band?”

Right then, I knew I couldn’t go down there. After all, this wouldn’t be some chance encounter, but an orchestrated scheme to accost my most-beloved idol which, I reasoned, would be the most grave violation of my policy and the height of hypocrisy. “You’re seriously not coming?” Cara whispered, shocked. “I’m seriously not coming,” I replied and, unable to stop myself, asked, “Did he order the calamari?”

Looking back on that evening, I no longer see a strong-willed man retaining his self-respect, but a haughty moron bound by a foolish set of self-imposed rules. VIP sightings, I now realize, are not about the Big Namer, but about average folks like Chris who acquire the tale of a lifetime in that unsuspecting moment when their ordinary lives cross paths with a superstar. Chris, however demented, isn’t concerned with some harebrained intrusion index conceived to safeguard his self-image, he simply does what comes naturally: he follows his heart.

Next month, I’m spending a week following Phish’s first tour in five years, beginning with opening night at Fenway Park. As the event nears, I find myself regularly visualizing that moment of rapture when the four silhouettes appear beside their instruments onstage. And when those first notes reverberate around the stadium and the kaleidoscope of lights streak across the euphoric faces, I’ll think back to that regretful evening last summer and try to imagine savoring a succulent morsel of Trey’s discarded squid, if only I, too, had followed my heart.

Then, I’ll pray for a Billy Breathes encore.

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~ by Bryan Bourgault on May 5, 2009.

6 Responses to “Champagne Wishes and Calamari Dreams”

  1. I liked your last couple of posts. You had me going for a while there. Now I see you’re just another trust fund kid living on Nantucket but this time Jerry is replaced with Trey.

  2. Hah! you’re spot on Jared! I’ve seen his kind throughout Mass and beyond. I bet this kid debates episodes of Lost every Thursday with all his other trustafarians.

    Oh and by the way… Phish sucks!

  3. clever jared… but i think you ripped that line from “the west wing” and tried to pass it off as your own. classy move, though. give yourself a pat on the back.

    i thought the article was hilarious.

    also, jared, maybe you’ve never worked a day in your life, but as a blue collar guy, i can say not too many house painters i know have trust funds. i doubt the author does either. most of the crews on nantucket work six days a week. people who work hard should be able to spend their time and money as they please without being judged by you.

    • Pete, i don’t know what the “west wing” is, all I know is that I caught Jerry back in 77 at the Garden and it was the best show of my life. Scarlet into Fire. Have you ever been to a show? Have you ever watched a kid spare change and then walk back to his parent’s Jetta that they let him borrow for the night? I’ve seen this and more. Harry is definitely right.

      Spare me your “blue collar” attitude. I grew up in Southie, my dad was a fireman and died when i was 10. i have been working ever since.

      I have all the right to judge. The minute you blog, is the minute that the iron turns ironic. Crippled but free my friend. I shot Marco Esquandolas.

  4. jar-bear, my grandmother was a security guard. died when i was nine. i dropped out of the third grade and have been working her post at the independence mall in kingston ever since. we should hang out.

  5. I, personally, thought the article was nothing short of brilliant.

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