[Names have been changed to protect the innocent]
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Karen hands back my wedding invitation and smiles. I feel guilty not having invited her to the affair—I’ve limited the work guests to three—but her eyes light up as she wishes me the most sincere congratulations.
Back at my desk in the Book Room, I return the invitation to my pocketbook, placing it right next to the invite to Ethan Hawke’s book release party. I still can’t believe I’m going. When a galley of Ethan’s new book circulated into the Book Room, I had asked Mitch if I could review it. He had looked at me with a wry smile and said:
“Only if you do a Q&A with him, too.”
After retrieving my jaw from the floor, I said: “Uh…are you sure?”
I wasn’t reluctant so much as skeptical. This phone interview was my first major assignment. I was surprised that Mitch would trust me with someone so high profile.
That was already a couple months ago. And now, here, I consider both events—the party and my wedding—and am grateful to have tomorrow’s distraction. It will keep my mind off Thursday and occupy my nerves.
I sit at my desk, quite literally twiddling my thumbs as I download random songs off Napster. Anthony walks in carrying a couple books tucked under his arm just as I’m wobbling my head to the opening riff to “Sweet Home Alabama.” He nods approvingly and, almost dropping the books, joins me on air guitar as he goes over to the shelves in the back. He places the books on one reviewer’s pile, then comes back around and holds out his hand so I can slap him five. He lip-syncs as he heads toward the door.
As Anthony exits, Mitch passes through and immediately rolls his eyes. I lower the volume, then think better of it and shut off the music completely. Mitch, him being head of the book review department, is one of three people from our office, including myself, who’s been invited to the book release party. The Executive Editor isn’t attending, and neither, originally, planned Mitch. He simply isn’t interested, is unfazed, him having already met his fair share of celebrities. He’s been in the publishing business for quite some time, and in this business it seems that everyone and their mother wants to write a book. Celebrities are no different, though they’re the ones with a better shot at publication.
The problem: I need Mitch to go to the party. My mom won’t let me go anywhere by myself the day before the wedding. My sister-in-law, Talia, plans to join me at a book reading in Central Park tomorrow afternoon. But my mom insists I have a guardian everywhere I go, even to the party, especially the party, like I’m some little kid.
After I had begged Mitch the other week to be my chaperone—as a wedding present, I stressed—he finally agreed. Actually, it was more of a sigh, then an “Okay, fine,” followed by another simultaneous sigh and smile, completed with an exasperated expression that said “oh that Esther.” Which was certainly good enough for me.
Mitch, standing in front of my desk, clears his throat.
“Are you excited about tomorrow?”
“Of course. I’m going with my sister-in-law to see him speak in the Park first. Jonathan Safran Foer’s doing a reading there, too. And there’s a book signing.”
Mitch nods, then grins.
“So, what are you going to say to Ethan at the party?”
“I don’t know, uh…” I look down at the open pocketbook on the floor next to my desk and smile. “Maybe I’ll invite him to my wedding!” I joke.
Mitch laughs, gives me the “oh that Esther” expression, and then looks at the clock.
“You can head out for the day.”
“For the week!” I say as he exits the room.
“See you tomorrow,” he calls from the hallway.
Ah yes, tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 24, 2002
Today is the day. Well, it’s really the day before the day, but it’s the day I get to distract myself while meeting a famous movie star. I’m a fan of Ethan’s earlier work—Reality Bites, Dead Poets Society. Well, mainly Dead Poets Society. It’s my favorite movie. I mean, as in, I’ll watch it every time it’s on TV/favorite movie. And it’s not just Ethan’s character, but everyone, and the whole story, and the movie as a whole, and its individual pieces. I feel a strong connection to this movie, see the art behind the subtle details and expressions. The boys rushing up and down the stairwell. A flock of birds launching from the trees at dusk. A lone owl sitting on a branch in the shadowy woods. The boys escaping the dorms to go to the woods and, in their own way, continue the tradition of the Dead Poets. I capture Todd’s expression as he struggles with an English assignment, catch the mischievous sparkle in Charlie’s eyes as he comes up with another scheme, am captivated by Mr. Keating’s lively class lessons, feel Neil’s despair at his father’s disapproval and Knox’s longing as he pines over his love at first sight. All these things become a part of me whenever I watch this movie, and I am enthralled. This is why I like Ethan Hawke—if only because of this movie alone.
Talia and I, having sat through the readings in Central Park—first Jonathan Safran Foer’s excerpt from Everything Is Illuminated and then Ethan’s—join a long line of people, mostly women, and wait to get Ethan’s autograph. It occurs to me that it’s just a scribble on a page in a book, but I want to meet him before I actually meet him. When we finally reach the front, I hand him a reviewer’s copy of Ash Wednesday. He looks up quizzically and I explain that I work at Publishing World. His publicist, or publicity manager, or whomever she is, leans in and smiles during this thirty-second exchange. Then Ethan signs the book, I leave, and the trail of book-toting fans continues.
Later—after Talia and I trek to the west side of the park and then say our goodbyes and see-you-tomorrows and “Have fun!”—I meet Mitch outside the party venue. He’s half smiling, half “let’s get this over with.” After a feeble attempt to shake off my nerves, we go inside.
I scan the room for any recognizable face, but nada. I suppose I had expected it to be filled with artsy celebrities, Robert Sean Leonard and the like, but for the moment I see none. I stand uncomfortably next to Mitch as we wait. Finally, after half an hour, Ethan walks in. I watch him weave through the crowd of guests, him with his untucked, dark button-down shirt, him with his stringy, brown, shoulder-length, face-framing hair. As I stand there and gawk it occurs to me that, oh, well okay yeah, he’s really just some person after all. I start to feel a little less star struck, a little more sensible. Then Mitch catches Ethan’s eye and introduces himself.
I don’t pay attention to what they’re saying. I have no idea what they’re saying.
“…and this is my coworker, Esther…”
I flinch and smile nervously when Ethan extends his hand. Seeing that there’s no one else around, I figure it’s meant for me, and we shake. And then, just as we’re doing so:
“…You spoke with Esther on the phone,” Mitch explains. “And now she has something to ask you.”
My hand drops.
No. Fucking. Way.
I stand there, stunned, more than just a deer in headlights. This expression does no justice to the situation. I stand there, motionless, like I’m watching some alien starship land within inches of my paralyzed face.
Oh no he didn’t.
Seriously? Ask? Something to ask you? What the hell am I supposed to say now?
I panic, am speechless for what feels like an eternity but is probably only a matter of seconds. And then, put on the spot like this, not having enough time, being in a once in a lifetime situation, wanting to strangle Mitch, literally strangle Mitch…
“Hi,” I say sheepishly. “Well, um, I want to thank you for inviting me to your party…”
As I speak, I unzip my pocketbook and reach in. Might as well go all out.
“…and in return…”
I feel for the wedding invitation I had shown off the previous day, pull it out.
“…I’d like to invite you to mine.”
I hand Ethan the invitation, and for a moment he does nothing but stare at me, completely dumbfounded. I imagine he’s trying real hard to hide it. He squints his eyes and tilts his head in a sort of smiling, sort of skeptical way, and I have no idea what he’s thinking other than that, surely, this girl is bat-shit crazy.
Ethan looks at the invitation, then back at me, then considers the invitation again.
“Oh, wow,” he says, again the half smile, again the half disbelief. I’m vaguely aware of Mitch, now off to the side, grinning his ears off.
“Well, uh, thank you,” Ethan continues. He reaches out to shake my hand again, and then, what I imagine is him switching into fan mode, he says:
“Wow, thanks so much. You know, I’d really love to attend, but, it being the kickoff of my book tour, and now my wife’s in China, so you know…”
Embarrassment doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel. I am absolutely, positively beyond mortified.
“…But, you know, I’m going to take this invitation…”
“…and show it to my wife, and put it up on my wall…”
Are you fucking kidding me? Seriously? What am I, like, twelve?
And yes, it occurs to me that this forced fan-like behavior, at a professional event no less, does, indeed, make me look like some teeny-bopper gushing over her movie star idol. But the situation was forced, and I couldn’t think, and I went all out, and I want to kill Mitch, seriously kill Mitch, and—Ethan extends his hand yet a third time.
“It was really nice meeting you.”
As he cups my hand in both his own, he looks at me almost thoughtfully, like this is one for the history books, but that maybe amongst this craziness he’s found a little respect for my brazenness. Or, at least this is the silver lining that my mortified self is trying to believe. Then he lets go of my hand, smiles at me, nods at Mitch, and—our worlds having collided for what was only a few bizarre minutes—moves on to the rest of his celebrity/author existence.
I scowl at Mitch. I don’t bite my tongue because there are no more words that I can possibly say at this moment. I look at Mitch and then walk right past him to the exit.
Outside, we say our goodbyes as I spot my parents’ car up the block.
“Well, how was it?”
“What was it like meeting him?”
“It was fine.”
“Did you say fine or fun?”
I trail off, still in shock, wondering what the hell just happened, what kind of drugs I’m using, how I could ever tell this to my friends. Then, I think:
Some crazy fucking wedding present.