On Not Seeing Stars

And you are… ?

After ten years in L.A. you might say that I have learned to be a good Angeleno. I say “freeway” now instead of my Midwestern “highway.” I try to be blasé about the weather. I hardly ever wear pants. But the truth is, I do not, in fact, deserve to live in Los Angeles. The reason being is that I fail at one very important L.A. trait. I never recognize celebrities.

Which is a real bummer, because that’s the first thing anyone ever wants to know about when you say you’re from L.A.

When I was a production assistant I bought iced mochas for plenty of celebrities. As a writer, I get to interview some of them. For three years I lived a few steps from the part of Hollywood Boulevard that was closed at least three times a week for premieres, where I could easily have walked down to see, say, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes make their first post-Suri appearance. Okay, I did walk down there for that.

But for some reason, when I’m out wandering the city, I just don’t recognize these E!-friendly faces. It’s become an ongoing joke. The first thing my husband usually says to me as we walk out of a restaurant is “Did you see who that was?” I didn’t.

My famous-blindness became apparent the second week I was in L.A. We were at Birds, the bar closest to my house, on a Saturday afternoon, ingesting beers and other things, when I spotted a blonde girl sitting at the table next to us. I definitely knew her. I tried to place her as she plucked pieces of steamed broccoli off her plate. It was obvious that she knew me, too—she kept looking over at me with a slightly perplexed face.

I have to go over and figure out how I know her, I told my tablemates. I started to get up when one of them tugged me back down,visibly embarrassed. It turns out it was someone I had spent plenty of time with in high school—but not in that way. It was Melissa Joan Hart. Clarissa! That explained it all.

It was only when I went inside and looked in the mirror in the bathroom that I remembered I had swapped the changeable lenses in my sporty sunglasses with amber lenses—which meant the reason she kept looking at me was because I was staring her down with my transparent insect-like goggles. At that moment that I learned the most important rule of L.A. star-gazing: Always wear dark sunglasses!

You would have thought over the next decade that I would have somehow improved my celebrity-spotting quotient. I shopped at what was then the Mayfair Market on Franklin (now it’s a Gelsons, and has an improved store layout), which has more sitcom stars per aisle than any other grocery store in the city. And I’ve had my fair share of OMG THAT’S HIM instant-recognition moments. Jeffrey Jones hunching over a shopping cart at Trader Joe’s. Alex Baldwin sporting a tracksuit and a grin at the Santa Monica Mall. Julia Roberts screeching through a yoga class (no, it was not adorable). But most of the time, I’m at a bar, gazing at a vaguely familiar face, trying to figure out what in the world my childhood babysitter is doing in L.A.

Maybe it’s a common affliction that most people have when they move here: When you see someone you think you recognize, you always assume you know them from college, not cable. So maybe it’s just my own self-centeredness when I think that all celebrities are just old, unplaceable friends. I’ve lived here long enough now that I can hardly keep track of the non- and semi-famous people that I know, how could I possibly be responsible for the contents of Us Weekly, too?

And here’s the awful truth. Most of the time, they look so—gasp!—ordinary. Yes, this is the most outrageous True Hollywood Story scandal about celebrities, you guys. They look like regular people. Regular people who most likely attended my summer camp.

To all the famous people who are reading this now, I would like to apologize in advance. I’m really sorry for not knowing who you are. (To the reality show stars, I’m sorry for not caring who you are.) But I want to make something absolutely clear. Celebrities, I’m not staring at you because I’m impressed by your accumulation of Daytime Emmys. I’m staring at you because I’m trying to figure out where you sat in my Honors English class at Parkway West Senior High.