Ben Folds is not a rock star. In fact, he drives a station wagon. I know this because I live two doors down from him and walk my dog, Molly, by his house multiple times a day, even in the pouring rain, because dogs have not yet learned to hold it during bad weather. I see Ben Folds from time to time, climbing into or out of his station wagon, sometimes with his guitar, sometimes with his wife and two kids. I keep meaning to introduce myself, but I know from experience that what in my head sounds like, "I like your music, keep up the good work," will inevitably come out a jumbled series of disjointed words that more closely resemble the phrase, "Weee! Music! Heh heh heh." And so, when I see the station wagon pull up, I smile and walk the other way. I have a bad track record with celebrities.
It started when I was 12. I lived in Chicago at the time, and my best friend had a cousin who was working on a movie set with Keanu Reeves. The movie was called Chain Reaction, a timeless classic about planet-friendly alternative-energy scientists framed for murder. Cinematic genius? I think so. The cousin promised to sneak us onto the set, and so one day I found myself in the middle of a fake science lab, face to face with the monotone, "whoa"-ing Keanu Reeves. I shook his hand and giggled uncontrollably.
Later the cousin introduced us to Reeves' co-star, Morgan Freeman. Unfortunately, Freeman had never appeared on the cover of YM and Seventeen magazines, and so we remained unimpressed. Upon meeting him, I asked, "Are you in the movie too?" He smiled and the cousin laughed nervously. Years have passed, but still I feel the need to track down Morgan Freeman and apologize.
My next celebrity faux pas came in high school, when my parents took me to a classic car show. My father ran off to look at vintage Ferraris while my mother and I walked around the less testosterone-filled exhibits. At one point, we happened upon a late-1940s car called the Tucker.
"What's a Tucker?" I asked my mother, who lived through the late 1940s and thus seemed the right person to ask.
"Oh, it was built by a man named Tucker," she said, helpfully. "He eventually went bankrupt, I think. They made a movie about him, starring...starring...one of those Bridges brothers. Whatshisname."
"Who?" I asked.
"Oh, you know, the fat one," said my mother.
Just then, a man turned around, stuck out his hand and said, "Jeff. Jeff Bridges."
My mother and I stared at each other. Neither of us had insulted a celebrity to his face before. We each shook hands with Jeff Bridges, who then left as quickly as possible, probably to call his personal trainer.
Other, less embarrassing encounters have included stepping on Kurt Vonnegut's toe during a book signing, distracting Conan O'Brien during his monologue, and saying the phrase, "Who is he? I've never heard of him," a little too loudly when Richard Marx performed at my junior high. And so, I refrain from bothering Ben Folds, limiting myself to his concerts and public appearances. This is why, when I went to the Blair School of Music last week to hear Folds speak, I sat in the back and kept quiet. I have learned my lesson.
Luckily, the moderator, Deanna Walker, is not a celebrity, so I can say with a clear conscience that she was one of the worst interviewers I have ever seen. Not only did she seem unfamiliar with Folds's music, but she didn't pay attention to his answers and jumped from question to question with no indication of where the conversation was headed. And she actually said, "We're not going to let you out of here without playing 'Brick.'" I have always wondered if Folds regrets that his biggest commercial hit is also his most depressing and emotionally draining song, and whether he minds playing it over and over, year after year. If I ever write a hit pop song, I think it will be called "My Life is Awesome and I'm Really Happy," so that I will never be put in the same position in which Ben Folds finds himself at every concert.
The event was billed as a "conversation series," but Folds played a handful of songs to satisfy the audience. While he played, I caught myself thinking, "Maybe I should learn to play the piano." Then I'd remember that I have the musical ability of a dead cat and hated every piano lesson my parents ever made me take. And yet it's still nice to dream.
One day I will probably talk to Ben Folds. We'll round the street corner at the same time and I'll spill my Frothy Monkey coffee all over him. Instead of cleaning it up, I will just yell, "Weee! Music! Heh heh heh," and run away. But at least I won't call him fat.