For many, the first occasion of stumbling upon someone famous is an exhilarating time. It becomes an instant go to memory for sharing at parties or other social engagements. Who wouldn’t be impressed to hear about the time you saw Will Smith walking in the mall, or the time Alan Titchmarsh sat across from you on the train? Those are fun, extraordinary moments of chance. My own first experience with meeting a celebrity was not quite as enjoyable.
At the time, I was working at a cinema in Mansfield, Connecticut. I was running the till, doling out tickets and concessions. The popcorn machine was sizzling, the occasional seed shooting out under pressure, lightly burning my face. A layer of melted butter covered every surface, congealing into yellow paste, turning the linoleum floor into a slip and slide. I couldn’t tell you what film Hollywood was pushing on the public that week, but it was enough to draw a sizable crowd and send my blood pressure skyward.
It was a weekday, so staff was limited to me and two other employees. It was about half an hour before the next showing cycle began when he arrived. Peter Tork of the Monkees came strolling in. Peter lives in Mansfield with his wife and kids. He’s a local celebrity, but the height of his days as a musician have obviously faded long into memory. He really must resent that fact, because believe me, he is not a pleasant man. At the very least, my experience was less than enjoyable.
My manager watched him approach as he neared the glass doors at the front of the building. “It’s Peter!” she yelled. “Oh God, it’s Peter! Get ready everyone!” This may sound like the set up for a sitcom, but I assure you this is real life. I was born in 1995 and thus had absolutely no idea who this fellow was, but there he was strutting up to the counter. His wife walked beside him, and their two kids dragged their feet behind. Out of three till stations, which do you think he went to? Peter walked right up to me.
I didn’t have to worry though because he didn’t speak directly to me once during the entire exchange. Instead he spoke in a sort of general outward direction, like an actor on a stage trying to be audible to those in the nosebleed section. My manager ran over and handled the schmoozing while I did all the gritty work. When he ordered his drink, he asked for “the usual.” I’d been working there for four months and this was the first I’d seen of him, so it was beyond me how he could expect me to know what of five choices for soft beverage comprised his “usual.” This was a movie theater not a sports bar.
“Uhm, what exactly is your usual?” I ask.
“Oh, a Pepsi mixed with a splash of Diet Pepsi.” Is that a joke I thought to myself? This guy fit the bill for pretentious on every mark. I asked exactly what ratio of Pepsi to diet he was looking for and poured it, but when I handed him his drink he looked down with suspicion. He gave it a taste and scoffed. “No, this isn’t right.” My manager rushed to my aid, and poured a new one herself.
“He’s new,” she said, handing the “usual” over to his majesty. Then came the matter of payment. He payed by credit card, and therefore needed to supply a signature.
I handed the slip and he said, “Oh you just want a free autograph, don’t you?” His family rolled their eyes behind him. This must be the celebrity version of a dad joke. I gave a fake laugh, and watched him walk away pleased with himself. If you thought that would be the end, you’re sadly mistaken.
Not five minutes later he returned. He walked up to my manager. “My wife says I need to apologize for my behavior last time I was here. I’m sorry. I was out of line.”
“Oh, it’s no problem,” my manager replied with a tremor in her throat. My coworker whispered in my ear to explain. Apparently, Peter had made our manager break down into tears during his last visit. Well, at least he had the decency to apologize I thought. It wasn’t long, however, before he ruined any molecule of a good impression I had of him.
No longer than a few seconds after apologizing he said, “Now that that’s out of the way, I think there may be a problem with the screen. The aspect ratio seems like it may be a bit off. I know a bit about film you know.” He tried to impress us with his mediocre understanding of cinematic technical jargon.
“The aspect ratio is fine,” my coworker piped in. “That projector is designed especially for this format of film, and I adjusted the lens myself.
“Well,” Peter gusts, “I guess it could just be my eyes. It’s only the previews still, so maybe it will resolve itself for the actual movie. I’ll just get back then.” Off he stormed, fuming that someone might know more about something than he did.
At the end of his film he stayed in his seat until the very last word of the credits faded to black before leaving. The cleaning staff was forced to stand by the door, patiently waiting with a growing crowd behind us. At last, he stood with his family, and left without another word to any of us, not a hint of a thank you on his mind.
I had experienced my first taste of celebrity, and it was, in a word, bitter.