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PHOTO: The gorgeous Sam Rockwell in Matchstick Men
I have never been one to go in for celebrity crushes. Maybe it is because I grew up watching old films with actors who were, by the time I saw them, either geriatric or dead. Or maybe it is because I grew up with no television, no magazines, no media. To this day, I barely keep up with who is who as far as movie stars go, I still have no TV, and the only time I ever look at People Magazine is when I get a pedicure, which it is not that often. When my girlfriends were swooning over New Kids on the Block or Leonardo DiCaprio, I was ravenously consuming books. Reading and rereading classics, stuck in a time that my great great grandparents wouldn’t even remember.
Sure, standing in line at the grocery store, I saw the Brad Pitts, the Harrison Fords, the Johnny Depps. The sexiest men alive, or what-have-you. Sure, I thought, “I wouldn’t kick him out of bed,” but the reality is I just never have thought of it that much. I have overheard women say they would leave their husbands, children, entire lives for so and so and I always wonder are they just being silly or would they actually do it?
Then one day, it happened.
I saw Matchstick Men. It is about conmen, coming of age, karma. There are clever plot twists. The dialog was good, the acting was better. And there, onscreen, was Sam Rockwell. This sarcastic guy with a goofy smile and really great clothes.
Now I know this character is not Sam Rockwell the person, nor would I want to marry, have babies with and run away from everything with the character in that movie. But he was there, Sam. Charismatic, kind of a dick, perfect.
Now I am not going to get into the finer points of Mr. Rockwell’s acting, nor bore you with my take on each of his films. I just want to talk about my first—and hopefully only—celebrity crush.
He seemed like that laid back celebrity who might just be somewhere I would be, who might walk up to me and ask directions and be smitten by my witty banter and fall for my almost-good looks and my not too quirky, but not too trendy attire. I never Googled him to stare at paparazzi pictures or tried to find out if he was dating his costars or was a monk or gay. He occupied this place I didn’t know existed. This spot reserved for Faraway Fantasy Man. I never went in for fantasy men before, it seemed like a waste. To fall for someone attainable always seemed like a better plan. I kicked myself for thinking about him but I knew one day I would meet him.
And I did.
It was my last semester at San Francisco State where I was getting a degree in Journalism. I was interning at the Onion and at Curve, a S.F.-based lesbian magazine, and working as a hostess at a restaurant in North Beach. With my long reddish-brown curly hair, I was often mistaken for a Milanese girl, and my manager liked me to play it up and would have me hollering at potential customers “Bella!! Bello! You like-a spaghetti? We have-a fresh-a house-a made-a spaghetti for you and the nice-a wines!”
It was demoralizing. I was a barker, a carney, a used car salesman. Of the plethora of restaurants the Minnesotans and Texans and Long Islanders could choose from, I had to use my wily ways to get them in mine. I stood outside, whatever the weather, and enticed the passers-by.
That night, a very cold night, I recall, a couple of girlfriends of mine came in to eat. They sat at the only outside table, near my heat lamp and were a few glasses of prosecco in, when they both got this look on their faces. It was a look I had seen before, in videos of Beatles concerts and Elvis performances. It was the look of a girl dumbstruck by the very appearance of the Faraway Fantasy Man.
I looked around. There were a few guys standing out front at Buster’s Cheesesteak which was next door. An all-American looking guy, like one who might be on a high school baseball team, a guy in a pea coat and beanie, and a guy in a very ‘80s looking denim jacket. There may have been another, but I can’t remember.
I look at my friends and they look at me with this expression which has now changed into, OMIGOD, do you KNOW who that IS?
I didn’t. It was Justin Long, a newer younger version of the old teen heartthrob, someone who yes, now that I looked at him looked familiar, but familiar like you could have seen him on T.V., or he could have just been that kid with the locker next to yours in junior high. He wasn’t too appealing to me regardless and I would probably have not given it a second thought except Mr. Beanie turned around, and my stomach dropped out from under me. It was him. Sam.
There are moments in life when the unexpected happens. When all of the time spent acting composed and pretending you have a handle on things just disappears and you are like this big, drunk baby, helpless and without direction. That moment came. It passed.
I then did the only reasonable thing I could think of. I sauntered over to them, avoiding both Mr. Long and Mr. Rockwell, looked at the other guy and said, “How’s it going boys?”
They sort of glanced sideways at each other, not sure if I was a hostess, a hooker, a fan, a crazy person. Or E, all of the above. I think they eventually realized I worked next door and they muttered niceties as they kept stuffing the Cheese Whiz drenched sandwiches into their mouths.
“Why eat cheesesteak when you could have a delicious Italian meal at only ten times the price?” I said, hoping the slight self-deprecation would be somewhat charming.
They kind of chuckled and we go on like this for a few minutes, not really saying anything, the whole time I am pretending I have no idea who they are, that I am just doing what I always do, talking to the people on the street. Which is incidentally true.
Then you know who, who has not really said anything turned to me and said, “Excuse me?”
This is the moment in the film when the music starts to swell and things get a little brighter and he takes me, presses me firmly against the wall and kisses me passionately, gazes into my eyes and says, “You are the one I have been waiting for,” and then the music crescendos, there is another kiss, and the credits roll, leaving the audience with the feeling of a perfect ending to a film and a perfect beginning to a bright future.
Then the next movie moment happens, the screen gets fuzzy, the music drops out and I realize I was having this dream and the fact of the matter is he is standing there, looking at me and saying “Excuse me?” again but this time slower, like you would talk to a child, or a foreigner, or someone you think may be mentally retarded.
“What? Hi. Yes?” I stammer. I am trying so hard to act like this is normal behavior, yet wanting him to think this erratic foolishness is not at all normal behavior.
“Do you have a restroom I can use?”
Under no circumstances was I ever to allow anyone at all who was not a customer to use the restroom. I turned away kids, pregnant women, cops. Once on St. Patrick’s Day, a drunk guy called me a fucking cunt because I wouldn’t let his girlfriend, who looked like she had already peed herself, into the restaurant.
“I am sorry,” I said, blowing my chance to be the future Mrs. Rockwell forever. “Restrooms are for customers only.”
“Please?” he asked.
I wanted to hear him say please again, with that pleading look in his eyes, but his other friend jumped in.
“Come on,” he said. “He will just be a minute.”
“It’s just that you know, we like to maintain a clean environment for our customers.” I say this differently somehow than I talk to typical non-customers who are trying to take a leak in a city that is unfriendly to the bathroom-challenged tourists.
“I am clean,” he said.
“Well, sure but you just never know,” I say, starting to feel small, like a student who has been called on to answer a question he hasn’t studied for while the girl of his dreams waits to determine if she will think he is cool forever or a total lame ass.
“I mean there are homeless people, they use the bathroom to shoot up, take a shit on the floor, you know. You can’t be too careful.”
Wait a second. Did I just say that? Did I just suggest that Sam Rockwell, star of Moon, who played Zaphod Bebblebrox, who acted in Safe Men, a spoof about the Jewish Mafia, did I just suggest that he would crap on the floor of a restaurant? The only consolation prize I could muster up at the time was that maybe he would remember me, that maybe by talking about excrement, he would think “well there was a girl who didn’t put on a show for me, who didn’t get all flustered because I am a big fancy star—“ like that is going to win him over.
He just stared.
“Fine, but be quick, I don’t want to get in trouble.”
I had given in, I had acquiesced. I had become what I hated. Someone who affords privilege to a star. And why? Because I thought there was a chance me and this total stranger would work out? That Sam Rockwell would give up Hollywood hotties for a chance to make it with a mediocre looking undergrad who worked at a shitty Italian place in North Beach and liked to talk about feces?
Not bloody likely.
His friend, the same one who encouraged me to let him use the bathroom, turned on me.
“You shouldn’t have let him use it, he is a slob.”
He was out in less than five minutes. He said thanks and walked away. My world, now that there was no chance of love with Sam, felt different somehow. I got off work and wandered the streets, popping in at this bar, then the next, the whole time telling myself I wasn’t looking for him, no that is absurd, I just wanted to barhop. Alone. For no reason. My friends who had been eating while this whole thing was going on and who had never heard of him had left, after laughing their asses off.
I went home defeated. I got into bed. Just as I was drifting off I thought to hell with it, who knows? Maybe somehow, somewhere, he will remember the curly haired weirdo who talked about poo.