Sunday, May 17, 2009

Meeting Michael J. Fox: A dream 23 years in the making

In writing this blog, I am essentially giving away the final chapter of my book about my life of being a fan girl. Since I have no idea when that will be finished, and even so, if it will then be published, I figure it's better to ride the excitement train while I can and share this important life story. I'll try to keep it concise as the detailed version has been and is being written for the book.

Michael J. Fox has been incredibly important to me for 23 years. I discovered him when I was 8 years old and took to fast track to lurrrve upon seeing a cute picture in a magazine. Not long after the discovery, I was catching up on all the details of his career to that point as best I could given that I was so young and resources were scarce.

I had so many pictures from this photo shoot. *melt*

My devotion lasted through my single digits and carried me all the way to my early teens. On a trip to America when I was 12, I was on constant alert should he pop around from behind any corner. It soon became apparent that LA did not have a celebrity posted on every street corner as I saw exactly zero during my three week stay. While they are always lurking about, in the past six years I have lived here, I have probably seen less than 20 out and about. Furthermore, I have learned that celebrities don't tend to hang around on Hollywood Blvd on the Walk of Fame or the Chinese Theatre where us tourists all end up.

Best t-shirt ever. Glad he lost though.

That trip, as I saw it, was my big chance to meet my hero and it came and went without me so much as being able to see The Back to the Future set (it burned down in a Universal Studios fire just a month before my visit). Back to Australia I went, unsuccessful and feeling like I would never ever meet him.

We walked up and down Hollywood Blvd looking for this star in 1990 only to later find out it didn't exist until 2002.

By the time I was almost 15, I got into music and with it came a whole new type guy to like. Dirty long haired boys that were a far cry from Michael J. Fox who had lovingly looked back at me from my posters for so many years. While my new interest took me away from him, he was never forgotten, for I am nothing if not loyal.

Different bands came (but never totally went) from Ugly Kid Joe (hey, I had to start somewhere), to Faith No More, to Mr Bungle and then oddly from there to Supergrass, my number ones changed a few times over the years, yet I always kept up with MJF and still held a hope that I would meet him. I cried when I learned he had Parkinson's, bought his books when they came out and attended a Parkinson's fundraiser screening of Back to the Future in the hopes that he would be there. He was not which is why this post will continue.

As more time went by, because of his Parkinson's, I figured his days of fan mingling, if they ever really existed, were certainly now behind him. Gregg would, ever on the lookout for events that he might be at, do his best to make this meeting happen and I daresay, keeping better track of these things than I did.

Lorraine, Marty and Doc - together again
After a few possibilities not pursued due to expense and timing, I had more or less resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't going to happen. I had met every other celebrity I'd been enamoured with, and since Michael J. Fox was the biggest star of them all, I was willing to admit defeat on that one.

That was until Early April. Michael J. Fox's latest book, The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist came out March 31st. I was unable to get to a book store that day, but did as soon as I could on April 1st, completing the book by April 7. Shortly after that, Gregg learned that he was doing a panel interview at the LA Times Festival of Books. Which of the two days he would be there were unclear, and the tickets, which were free, would not be available until the weekend before.

Once this news came about, I think it's safe to say I had a knot in my stomach for three solid weeks. I had wanted to meet him for so many years, but what do you say to someone in a public forum when your one chance (if I even got that chance) to ask a question came about? It was a troubling predicament and part of me wished none of this was happening so I didn't have to deal with it. 23 years of anticipation is a little hard to deal with.

Even before I knew what a Repblican was, Alex P. Keaton rightfully made it apparent that it wasn't good.
I pondered it a lot and soon a possible solution arose, though the solution was scary in itself. Over the Christmas break, I had begun work on a book documenting my life and adventures as a fan girl. My fannish ways had taken me all over the world and landed me great friends and a husband so it seemed like something worth documenting. As I got started on chapter 2 which talked about Michael J. Fox, I was reminded how central to my story he has been. That no matter who else has come and gone, he has remained that constant and I realised my long held desire to meet him would provide a nice thread throughout the book. A good portion of this chapter was written before this Festival of Books even came up so that's how I was struck with the idea that in lieu of a question, I would give him my chapter. Rather than alleviate my anguish, it only increased as now I had to rescue it from the shambled state it was currently in.

My anxiety existed for both my quandry over what to do if I met him, but before that, I still had to get a ticket. Gregg had kept aside a $100 bill to offer to someone in line, believing it would be pretty damn easy to find someone who'd prefer the $100 since the tickets were free to begin with.

The lead up to noon, when the tickets went on sale, had me pacing. When the time finally struck, Gregg and I were each perched at our computers, plus my iPhone was ready to go in case there was a connection malfunction. The connection did not time out and we were both able to get two sets of tickets, leaving us with two spare. I had no idea how big the event was, but when I checked again at 12:20pm, the tickets were all gone. That only increased my feeling of triumph. Once I had the tickets in my hand, I began to cry. I realised even if I didn't meet him, I would get to see him in person. I immediately called my sister, Rebecca to fill her in on this success. She was the only person who really understood how important this was, given that she had been along for the ride for all of the 23 years. As predicted, she started crying with joy too. Her deep excitement for me only added to the feeling of importance of all this mania.

The stress of all this kept me paralysed from working on my chapter. The more I knew it had to be done, the harder it was for me to do. Finally, when time was truly slipping away, I got to work. I could see some huge flaws, having not looked at it for a few weeks, so I set about fixing it. I then sent it to my friend Kristen whose valuable advice brought it closer to a presentable standard. I wrote a cover note, explaining it was still a draft, but at least it was not entirely shameful.

The big day came and I couldn't eat. I forced myself to eat some soup for the last thing I wanted was to have some near fainting spell at the worst possible moment. We got there two and half hours before it was due to start and I was pleased to find myself 6th in line. I would be as close to the front as possible, allowing for roped off seats in the front row.

One of my biggest conundrums in my mental planning was where to sit. Clearly I wanted to be as close to the front for the duration of the interviews, but when they announced the audience Q & A, from previous book events like this, I know people quickly file behind the mics. As we were let in to be seated, proximity to the mic left my mind as I sought the best seat. Gregg was right behind me, I suppose, but my focus was only on finding the best seat. I sat closest to Michael J. Fox's side of the stage as his spot was marked with a place marker so I could tell. I was first to file into that row, however I made everyone shift past my knees as I sat firmly in the aisle seat for easy access out. Once I was settled, I looked up. One of the two audience mics was right beside me. In my hustle I didn't even notice I'd shuffled past it, but now I couldn't be any closer. I was set. It now seemed certain that I would get to talk to him so panic ensued.

The next 45 minutes of waiting went surprisingly fast considering how jumpy I was. I mentally prepared for a delay, but they started right on time. Mary McNamara, an LA Times TV critic took the stage and began her intoduction. It was brief since we all knew everything she was telling us about him, and then, before I knew it, Michael J. Fox stepped out onto stage. As as I had predicted, I burst into tears. Not just tears quietly streaming, but the full on, red, distorted troll doll face type crying. Lordy, I'm glad I'd have some time to get use to the idea of seeing him in real life before I'd get to talk to him. The tears lasted under a minute and I was able to compose myself and enjoy the session. After the first question was asked, Michael got a little way into his answer when someone yelled "Is there a doctor in the house?!" Some mania went on on the right side of the ballroom as it appeared a woman had fainted. Might I suggest lentil soup?

I hate to admit it, but once some paramedics arrived and were tending to her there and she seemed to be conscious, I was wondering why there weren't moving her outside. The session had come to a halt and I was worried it wouldn't resume. Soon the woman passed word that she was alright and they should continue and I was greatly relieved.

The interview proceeded without a hitch and I just loved sitting there so close to my hero and just listening to him talk right there in front of me. I wish I could have just relaxed and enjoyed it, but my supposed need to talk to him kept me on the edge of my seat. I peered over at Gregg's watch and saw that it was 3:45 which meant the call for audience Q & A would have to have to be called soon if it were to happen at all. My stomach knot intensified.

Finally, Mary McNamara announced "I've almost lost track of time, but we'll spend the last few minutes taking questions from the audience." I was up like a shot. First in front of the mic. Had I been seated anywhere else, I would not have made it as the lady behind me was on her game also. There was a second mic in the other aisle so the guy that got there went first. This was good as it gave me a moment to compose myself. Luckily there was no urge to cry so the risk of making an ass of myself was greatly diminished.

When my turn came, I took a deep breath and proceeded. I introduced myself and explained how important this day was for me. I said that after 23 years of being a fan of his, when this even came up, I tried to figure out what the one thing I would ask him would be and I realised that I couldn't. I then went on to explain that I am writing a book about being a fan and that while it was about being a fan of a lot of different people, he surfaces early in the story and will run through it, and that by virtue of speaking with him that day, I would be able to write the last chapter. I then explained that I had a copy of the chapter about him with me and I asked if it would be okay if I gave it to him.

"Sure!" he said.

Michael J. Fox listening to my spiel.

So I walked up to the stage to hand it to him and as I did, the whole ballroom errupted in applause for me! That was unexpected. I've been to many of these events where people come up there trying to pitch something or being plain obnoxious on their turn while everyone prays they will shut the hell up. I guess my sincerity, and possibly my sweetness came across as I seemed to have won over a crowd of 1500 - 2000 people. I approched the stage and handed Michael J. Fox my envelope. I reached up and he reached back and we shook hands and he smiled. I mouthed "thank-you" and turned to go back to my seat. The emotion was about to hit and my eyes on the verge of welling with tears when he said "Good luck!" and the applause increased a little more. I said "Thanks." and then thought it was over but then,

"So it's about being a fan?" he continued.
"Yeah," I said as I reached my seat.
"But you're not just a fan of me right?" he hoped.
"No, lots of other people too." "You're a fan of other people too, right?" we said at the same time.
"Good, because I think there are a lot of other people more worthy of your attention."

With that, the crowd gave one more burst of applause and laughter and my moment was complete.

The moment snapped and put up on the wire services.

I had done well. There was only time for four people to ask questions and I was one of them. I couldn't hear what the guy after me was saying as my head was spinning from what had just happened. As it finished, people surged the stage for a hand shake or something, but somehow, I had risen above all of them and accomplished the brief little something I had sought for so long. Two ladies crossed my path and told me how sweet what I did was. That was nice to hear.

Having said all that, I did realise something. When I got there, there were six people in front of me. How much did they like him? I have no idea, but enough for them to make sure they got there early. Then of course there was the huge crowd that followed. It really gave me some perspective. While I felt for all these years that I had to meet him, I realised that I certainly wasn't owed anything. He wasn't "mine" and whatever existed in my head between us was simply that: in my head. I was not owed an audience, a meal or a conversation, just courtesy should our paths cross and I got exactly that. I do think that celebrities should be respectful and polite to reasonable fans just as I expect anybody to show that kind of respect to all people, but anything beyond that should not be taken for granted.

Michael J. Fox realises his own fanboy dream by rocking out with Pete Townshend at a Parkinson's benefit in 2008, "This was almost worth getting Parkinson's for!" he said.
I'm lucky I had the skill and determination (and Gregg relentlessly looking out for such events) to make my silly little dream come true and I am also lucky that the object of my interest was so nice and indeed worthy of my attention.
My handshake with Michael J. Fox also makes the Wire Service!
blog comments powered by Disqus