A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
Reason #17 that it’s good the tourists have gone home: the celebrities can come out of hiding and resume their daily lives as “normal people, just like us!”
While out-of-towners come to New York City to gawk and spot and point and take photos, residents know better than to acknowledge the presence of a celebrity. We play it cool. It goes without saying that we are to look through and past and over them when we encounter them, pretending that they are as invisible and unimportant and anonymous as any other schmo at the dermatologist’s office. We realize that surreptitious second glances and elbow nudges to our companions and Gawker Stalker submissions are to be done quietly and unobtrusively. It is an unspoken code which we inherently understand. The celebrities, for their part, play it equally cool, and grant us the privilege of living peaceably among gods without being cast out for our plebeian habits and general lesser-ness.
I know as well as anyone else how this game is played. But secretly, I’m fascinated by the rich and famous. Mainly because I’d like to see what kind of real estate they can afford in Manhattan. And since “Selling New York” came out, a large part of this curiosity has been satisfied. Nevertheless, envy abounds when I see paparazzi photos of New York glitterati taking a casual stroll after lunch in the West Village on a Wednesday afternoon as I sit at my desk drinking my fifth cup of Diet Coke and grappling with the decision of whether or not to go for that bag of Pirate’s Booty from the vending machine. Oh, hell, why not? I work hard. I deserve it!
Well, a few weeks ago, I had an eye-opening experience. It was just before the holidays, and my family and I had enjoyed a celebratory dinner down in TriBeCa. We were stomping around the streets angrily in a desperate and vain attempt to hail a taxi, all of which were off-duty (perhaps more on this another time). As we approached a corner, we noticed a big crowd and lots of flashbulbs going off. We knew, of course, what this meant: another red-tailed hawk was spotted in the city. Oh wait, no. A celebrity of grand proportions was in our midst. When we arrived to the fray, I casually asked a paparazzo standing next to me whom they were photographing. He gave me less than no answer. No answer would imply that he had acknowledged my existence on the planet as it pertained to him. He looked through me not like he was ignoring my question, but like he had not nor would ever be capable of seeing me standing there or hearing me speak.
Okay, whatever. Fine. Another, equally bemused couple sidled up next to us and we all conjectured about who it might be. The woman said she was pretty sure it was Katie Holmes, and then she and her husband proceeded to (unwittingly, I’ll assume) steal the only available cab that we wound up seeing all night. I looked across the street and saw only a large, black-clad man hunched over something tensely. I could see the ear of a teddy bear peeking out from behind his enormous frame. I heard him yell, “HEY! FIFTY FEET BACK, GUYS!”
The paparazzi went into a tizzy. “FIFTY FEET BACK, GUYS, COME ON! WE CAN DO THAT. WE’RE NOT ANIMALS! COME ON, YOU GUYS, LET’S MOVE BACK,” they screamed to one another while remaining glued to their spots.
Honestly, it was scary. The bodyguard and a woman who we had now identified as Katie Holmes were frozen in place, crowding protectively around little Suri. Flashes were going off everywhere and everyone was yelling. It was bedlam, and I couldn’t figure out how anyone was going to make the next move so that we could continue on and find our damn taxi home.
I heard very faintly the bodyguard whisper something to his charges, and then one of the paparazzo standing near me changed his chant mid-sentence from “FIFTY FEET BACK, LET’S BE CIVILIZED” to “they’re headed for the park! Everybody, this way!”
Like a swarm of bees, the group zipped off in another direction, leaving the street clear for Katie and Suri and company to cross. We remained on the corner, hoping lightening would strike twice and another cab would pull up soon. As they passed us, I got a better look. The bodyguard looked mean and serious. Katie was wearing sunglasses and looked incredibly stressed out. And little Suri looked up and gave us and the few straggling photographers an enormous, toothy smile as though this were the most normal thing in the world.
It wasn’t. I felt badly for them, even if they are wealthy and privileged and probably have an apartment to die for. The whole scene was pretty terrifying and hideously ugly, and for that to be something to which a person must become accustomed seemed a little sick. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t going to shed any tears over the Holmes-Cruise family misfortune. But it did make me grateful for our utter anonymity. Even when we were forced to take the subway home (which is never a fun activity after pounds of food and liters of wine at 11:30 p.m.), I felt lucky that it was even an option for us.
No, that’s a lie. I was mad and indignant and would have loved to have had Katie and Suri’s chauffeured SUV pick us up and drive us uptown. But you know. We’re free, they’re prisoners of their celebrity, etcetera, etcetera.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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