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The Plight of the Uber Rube

There's a reason he doesn't live in Los Angeles. He can't stop himself from staring every time a star walks by.

April 23, 2006|J.R. Moehringer | J.R. Moehringer is a senior writer for West.

She was standing by the fax machine, though she didn't seem to be sending a fax, didn't even seem to notice the machine. She appeared lost, unsure where she was, maybe unable to believe where she was. A Kinko's in Studio City? How in the--?!

She didn't notice me either. Like the fax machine, I was part of the furniture. It took more effort not to notice me, though, because I was flat-out gawking. How could I not? Hours earlier I'd seen her giving false testimony, then cavorting naked in a swimming pool. She was Sandra McCoy, star of "Wild Things: Diamonds in the Rough," an R-rated straight-to-video dud released in 2005.

My friends think the really shocking part of this story isn't that I saw McCoy just hours after seeing her movie, but that I saw her movie. Why, they invariably ask--"Why, man, why!?"--was I watching "Wild Things?"

Fair question. Honestly, it was an accident. It was late and I was supposed to be packing for an early morning flight to Los Angeles, but instead I was procrastinating, reading, watching TV. Flipping channels, I chanced upon McCoy and her costar having a catfight. Next thing I knew they were kissing. Kissing like there was no tomorrow. Next thing I knew it was tomorrow--3 a.m. and my bags still weren't packed.

I'm not proud of it. But I'm less proud of the way I reacted to McCoy the following day. Staring would have been uncool enough; I stopped blinking for a full minute. Afterward I needed a Super Soaker filled with Visine.

Of course, such encounters happen every day in Los Angeles, but not to me, because I don't live in Los Angeles. In fact, this might be the very reason I don't live in Los Angeles. Los Angeles turns me into a rube. A huge rube. The Ruben Studdard of Rubes. What others take for granted I greet with awe. I'm like a guy in East Texas transfixed by tumbleweeds. Let one star tumble across my path and I come to a dead stop, which makes me a hazard to anyone driving or walking behind me.

I once saw Mick Jagger at a bar. I want to say he looked as if he'd been crying, but to me he always looks as if he's been crying. I saw Stephanie Seymour years ago at a wedding. She was so iridescently lovely that each woman who stood beside her looked like Dame Edna. I almost saw Madonna at Book Soup on Sunset. The clerk told me she'd been standing right where I was standing not seconds before. "She bought a copy of Vogue!" the clerk said. We grinned at each other and nearly embraced. A couple of fame fiends savoring the fix.

I remember every star I've ever seen in the flesh. Worse, I store up my sightings and recount them at the slightest provocation. Pathetic. I say that I don't live in Los Angeles, but the truth is, I can't.

I'm barred, disqualified from residency, because I'm a wanton scofflaw who blithely violates those unwritten commandments that everyone else in Los Angeles obeys. "Thou shalt not snap to attention when Beverly D'Angelo is seated beside you at an Italian restaurant." "Upon seeing a star thou shalt glance, one time, furtively, to see if he or she is drunk, drugged out or fat, then go about your business."

I've often tried to reassure myself that my reaction to stars is innocent, reflexive, like a kid playing the license-plate game on a long car trip. In the car trip of life, seeing Natalie Portman on the StairMaster--she doesn't really sweat, but rather mists--was like spotting an Alaska. Seeing Johnnie Cochran at my hotel was like seeing a North Dakota. So rare, I had to stare.

Lately, however, as fame becomes cheapened, coarsened, defined downward by Us Weekly and Omarosa, staring at stars has become less forgivable, and not staring has become a way of making a statement. By ignoring the famous you're striking a blow for substance, for a Thoreau kind of groundedness. I wish I had that kind of inner strength. I want to be the guy who doesn't care, who doesn't phone his buddies and tell them he just saw Jason Priestley eating a T-bone at The Palm. (Even Thoreau would've noticed how much shorter Priestley looks in person.) But I'm not that guy. And there, now I've just told you too. I can't stop myself.

Liv Tyler brushed past me at LaGuardia. She wore no makeup and yet her lips were still the color of vine-ripe tomatoes. Billy Joel was seated behind me in the bar of the American Hotel on Long Island, making such a racket that I almost asked him to pipe down. Hours later he drove his car into a tree. I went to high school with David Spade.

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