Once in a while, like most people, I like to get away from it all. However, unlike some people, part of the all from which I want to get away is most people. To truly relax, I need to go somewhere where no one will recognize me and no one will ask for my autograph.
Now, don't get me wrong. I deeply appreciate my career and am dedicated to all my fans who helped me realize my childhood dreams. And because of all the wonderment that has exploded into my and my loved ones' lives, I accept fame gladly.
Autographs are part of the package and I have never turned down anyone's request for one. My only rule, which came after years of not being able to eat until my food turned cold, is to ask the autograph seeker to please return after I've finished my meal. I don't think that is unreasonable, and I do make exceptions for children and veterans of the Spanish American War.
But when it's vacation time, I want to leave the career and the fame at home. I want to escape to places I once dreamed about while lying next to my big brother in our unheated and barely furnished closet/bedroom in our row house in Philadelphia. I especially want to escape from David Brenner, the comedian, and all the baggage that goes with him, including--and I repeat that I appreciate and love them--the fans. Far, far away to places where the only time I write my name is on a traveler's check. Ahhhh, free at last. Or am I?
I am standing silently on a cliff at the border between Israel and Lebanon. I am lost in thought about the profound history of the place, from biblical days to bitter armored battles of recent years. The warm winds of the hamseen seem to carry with them the voices of the men and women who have lived and died on this hallowed ground.
Suddenly, my thoughts are broken by a voice--a grating, whiny voice, a distinct call native to the Bensonhurst region of Brooklyn.
"Whatcha doin' here, David?"
"I live here. I only go to America to do TV."
I sign her kibbutz cap and seriously consider driving my Jeep deep into the Negev desert, never to return. "Salaam, Bedouin Brenner."
On another visit to the Middle East, I approach the registration counter of a Cairo hotel. The clerk looks at me, widens her eyes, opens her mouth and screams. My first thought is that the Camp David peace accord has been revoked and she is signaling the arrival of a Jew. It turns out she once lived in Washington, D.C., where she became a die-hard Johnny Carson fan. As requested, I fill the entire page of the guest book with my signature.
In a small, remote Arab town, I am walking through the marketplace, where Arab men and women sit in front of cubbyhole- sized shops and hawk their wares. I file the sights, sounds and smells into my memory bank. Then . . .
"The Philly Kid!"
I can't believe my ears. Someone with a thick Arabic accent calling out the name of my birthplace?
"The Philly Kid!" the voice repeats, louder.
I turn to see a dark-skinned face smiling from inside his Arab headdress. The man is squatting in front of a small stall containing thousands of brass items.
"Yes, you are he. You are the Philly Kid. I lived in your hometown for two years with my brother who is going to the University of Pennsylvania and my sister who is married to a policeman."
Then, without taking a breath, he adds: "Would you like to buy a pot?"
He settled for my name written with black marker on the side of a large brass kettle, which I'm sure he's since sold to another Philly Kid.
Some years ago, my older brother and I left Dublin and drove to a desolate spot far up along the Irish coast. We got out and strolled along the water's edge, tossing stones into the sunlit sea and ideas into the air. After we had walked about half an hour, a young couple appeared atop an embankment 30 yards or so ahead of us. They climbed down and started walking towards us. Obviously young Irish lovers walking hand in hand, whispering intimate expressions of love, I thought. Now they were directly in front of us.
"Excuse me, David, we are students from Michigan State. We saw you in concert two years ago and would love your autograph."
"What a wild coincidence that we should meet here," I said.
"Well, actually, we followed you from Dublin. I hope you're not angry."
How could I be? I have often wondered if those young lovers ever married, and if they did, if they still have the flat stone from the Irish coast that has my name written on it.
Probably the place I dreamed most about seeing was the Great Wall of China. From the moment in grade school when I saw a picture of it and read of its history, I wanted to stand at the top of one of its towers. I wanted to let my mind race back through 5,000 years of time. I was wildly jealous when I once called my father on board the Queen Elizabeth II during one of his world cruises and was told that my brother wasn't on the ship because he had gone to see the Great Wall.