Thirty-some years ago, I read in Esquire magazine a humorous piece by Ed McClanahan entitled “Famous People I have Known.” I’d like to get my hands on that essay again, just to see if it’s as funny as I remember it being. This week, Joe Posnanski described on his blog some awkward encounters he has had with celebrities. It reminded me of the McClanahan piece. *
And of course Mr. Posnanski’s blog post touched off a flurry of comments in which his brilliant readers described their own brushes with the famous or infamous. This naturally led me to make my own list, with which I now proceed to regale you. These are not in chronological (or any logical) order.
Kevin Kline, the actor. He and I were theatre majors at IU. We were in a couple of classes and one production together – a radio play based on the Apollo I launching-pad disaster in 1967. Kline was dashing and smart and funny but not yet famous.
Jack Teagarden, the musician. His quintet played a concert in my home town when I was in high school. My mom knew the piano player from their time in the Army together, so we got to go back stage. I shook hands with Mr. Teagarden, but was more interested in meeting Barrett Deems, the drummer. Mr. Deems wasn’t too keen on meeting me.
Quincy Jones, the music legend. Jones was a judge at the Notre Dame jazz festival (1969 or so). My ticket was one of the winners in the drawing for some records, so I got to meet the pianist Billy Taylor and Quincy Jones and take home a couple of their LPs. I think those old records are still in the basement.
Jimmy Carter, the President. Carter visited St. Paul in about 1979 and took a riverboat cruise. A friend recruited me as a crowd control volunteer (she knew somebody who knew somebody in the Secret Service, I guess). Somehow, I got assigned to help check press credentials at the entrance (the companionway?) to the boat. Sam Donaldson, the reporter, just about knocked me aside as he hurried by. The President and his wife said hello (from behind a phalanx of secret service guys and reporters) as they boarded.
Rudy Giuliani, the political dilettante. I went to a conference (1982 or thereabouts) in Denver sponsored by the Department of Justice. Mr. Giuliani was at that time a high-level functionary at DOJ. He gave a very boring speech one morning. Because I was on the discussion panel for the session following his speech, we shook hands as he left the stage.
Rudy Perpich, the Governor of Minnesota. Governor Perpich signed some kind of grand proclamation related to my profession. I and about a dozen others each received a signed and sealed copy of the proclamation and each had our photo taken with the governor. I gave my picture to my mother-in-law, who had been a high-school classmate of Rudy Perpich. She thought that was pretty cool.
John Volpe, the Governor of Massachusetts. My grandmother gave Volpe some money during his campaign so she got invited to a reception at his house. She dragged her darling little grandkids along, which the Governor’s staff clearly did not appreciate.
Dave Winfield and Kirby Puckett, baseball players. At the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, my eldest son and I got to meet Mr. Winfield and Mr. Puckett. Just a handshake in an impromptu reception line, but it was pretty fun. Some years later, I was walking through the Los Angeles airport when Winfield strode past in the other direction. I waved and yelled “David!” About an hour later, I realized that Winfield was flying back to Minneapolis to attend the public memorial service at the Metrodome following Puckett’s untimely death.
Tony Oliva, baseball player. Walking along the Metrodome concourse before a game, my youngest son and I ran (almost literally) into Tony O, who must have been on his way up to the broadcast booth (Tony does commentary on the Twins’ Spanish-language broadcasts). I introduced my son and they shook hands. Tony is one of my all-time favorite players. He is such a gracious gentleman.
Tony Bouza, cop and erstwhile politician. Bouza is a minor Minnesota celebrity, having been a very colorful and entertaining chief of police in Minneapolis. He once threw me out of his office. After he retired and was running for something (governor?), we played on the same charity softball team for one game. Dude could not hit a lick.
My daddy. Ok, he’s not famous, but he’s my favorite character. He’s a very kind, very modest, very smart guy. The epitome of control and class. He rarely swore, preferring some euphemism. If another driver did something dumb, dad would mutter “you hamburger” under his breath. If one of his kids did something dumb, he might say “Judas priest!” Working on getting a stubborn bolt unbolted or hammering a nail into an especially hard board, he’d say “that thing is tougher’n whang leather!” His strongest general-use epithets were “sonofabuck” or “well...hell.”
* The interwebs are so amazing. Ed McClanahan, I learned with just a few mouse clicks, turned his essay into an autobiography with the same title. The sonofabuck even has (surprise) his own web site, where you can get free samples of his writing. He’s wobbling toward geezerhood, but some of you might enjoy his stuff.