Seeing Gardeners Where Gardeners Exist

A Hollywood celebrity sighting tour like no other.

I’d already pegged my leader du jour, Connie Smith of Walnut City, Iowa: Thick-ankles; tiny feet squeezed into white, Velcro-strapped sneakers; a persistent sniff that oozed bossiness; and a handbag stuffed with frayed celebrity magazines. She was the first one to step into the 12-passenger mini-bus when we departed for the morning, and the last one off at our first stop. Perfect.

Stealing a glance toward Mrs. Smith, I began my spiel. “Welcome ladies, to Celebrity Stop One on Holly’s True Hollywood Tour. I, of course, am Holly. You are in for a delight that rivals Christmas in July — the only tour guaranteed to include celebrity sightings. Perhaps from a distance, but yes, you’ll see them. Gather close to the front gate. Look down the driveway and catch your first celebrity.”

Eleven sturdy women crammed themselves in front of the ornate iron-wrought gate, straining forward with binoculars glued to their faces. I, myself, had no idea who lived there.

“Not a movie star. It’s a gardener,” pronounced Mrs. Dana Parker. The other women murmured their agreement.

I ignored Mrs. Parker. “Ladies, squeeze just to your left,” I requested. “Mrs. Smith, you haven’t had a look yet.” That was for sure as the others — taller, wider, and faster on their feet — had crowded her out of the viewing. As I steered Mrs. Smith to the front, I whispered in her ear, “That’s no gardener.”

Mrs. Smith raised her binoculars and studied the khaki-clad man trimming the hedge. “Ryan Gosling, absolutely,” she said.

I nodded. “Why Mrs. Smith, have you taken the Holly tour before?” I gushed. “You are a natural at seeing celebs.”

The women gathered around Mrs. Smith. She talked through the characteristics of her Gosling sighting. “Of course, he is dressed somewhat like a gardener,” she acknowledged. “Otherwise the poor man would be mobbed every time he opened the front door. But check out the height, weight and that slight way he crooks his neck toward the left. Definitely, it’s Ryan.” She looked somewhat pityingly at Mrs. Parker, who glared back at her.

“Let’s load up,” I said cheerfully. “Mrs. Smith, would you care to co-pilot?”

“Oh no, thank you,” she said. “Perhaps my dear friend Dana would enjoy that privilege?”

Mrs. Parker clambered onto the front seat, snapped her seatbelt and crossed her arms over her broad bosom. Good, I thought, that one is through with seeing gardeners where gardeners exist. Mrs. Smith, I noticed, was seated smack in the middle of the pack. She was offering around lemon drops and ancient magazines, and regaling the women with tales of celebrities that neither she, nor they, would ever meet.

I drove a few blocks over and stopped in front of a tiny stone cottage with an ivy-covered fence shielding the backyard. I’d discovered this jewel a few days ago. While the women watched, I unstrapped the ladder fastened to the side of the van. I added a slight stumble as the ladder toppled toward me — a tip-boosting maneuver I’d perfected.

“Are you alright, dear?” asked the woman who smelled faintly of roses. I noticed her name tag had already rolled up and fallen like a fat caterpillar onto one of her sensible beige shoes.

I winced and rubbed at my knee. “I’ll be just fine,” I said. “This one is a real prize. I apologize for not having more ladders — we’ll have to go one at a time to get a backyard peek from the street. Mrs. Parker, would you care to go first?”

“I’m not climbing a ladder to see backyard help,” said Mrs. Parker.

Mrs. Smith jumped forward. “I’ll do it,” she said. “I wouldn’t want any of my friends to break an ankle. After all, who knows if anyone is there?”

The group tittered. One stop in, they were sure Mrs. Smith had the golden eye for spotting stars.

I knew, of course, that from this angle, one got a perfect view of a smidge of the shallow end of a swimming pool where a bikini-clad blow-up girl on a float, often floated.

Mrs. Smith stood at the top of the ladder. For a moment, I thought she’d fail me. Then she started to shake. “Bless my lucky stars,” she whispered. “It’s Jennifer Lawrence.”

The women clucked like hens with fresh-laid eggs; all except for Mrs. Parker, who had opened up Yelp on her phone. They took turns climbing the ladder, and at Mrs. Smith’s suggestion, Mrs. Pierce and Mrs. Dingle (who had finally noticed her name tag stuck on her shoe and asked for another one) helped me re-strap the ladder to the van.

“Two down!” I said gaily. “A quick stop at the ice cream shop — with the cleanest restrooms in Hollywood. It is ‘cash only’ — celebrities never carry credit, so the owner, a close personal friend of Jay Leno, eventually gave up accepting credit cards. I think to keep tourists out. There is an ATM, however.”

Women with cash, I’d learned, tip much better than women with cards. I ran ahead of the group and dashed into the sparkling clean restroom facility. I confirmed that Janet Sue was seated in the last toilet stall on the right.

I burst back out. “Ladies,” I whispered. “There are three stalls. Two are open. Oprah is in the third stall — it’s her bright pink unmentionables showing at the bottom — the exact pair featured on “’Oprah’s Favorite Things.’ You remember that about Oprah, right, Mrs. Smith?”

Mrs. Smith nodded like she knew what I was talking about. Suddenly, everyone except Mrs. Parker had their phones out and was heading into the restrooms, two by two like it was Noah’s ark. I paid Janet Sue well enough that she didn’t care if the group snuck snapshots of underwear dangling around neon orange flip flops. I don’t know what Oprah would think.

Mrs. Parker ordered an ice cream cone. “Disgusting,” she said. I pretended she was talking about the ice cream.

We loaded up the van. I turned on the air conditioner and adjusted the vents to blast cold air over Mrs. Parker. She looked out the window, sighed, and then continued working on her Yelp review. I could see it was for Holly’s Hollywood Tours. I tried not to care.

It was difficult to get the women to quiet down after almost enjoying ice cream cones with Oprah. But I got their attention by humming a vague tune that could have come from Law & Order, Blue Bloods, or even that Hawaii 5–0 remake.

That was enough to getting us through a quick sighting of who Mrs. Smith determined was Law and Order’s Mariska Hargitay hanging laundry on a clothesline. “She is such a nice girl,” said Mrs. Dingle. “I’m not a bit surprised it’s her.”

“Neither am I,” said Mrs. Parker.

“What’s next,” cried Mrs. Dingle. I could see that her nametag — the second one — was now stuck to the side of Mrs. Pierce’s purse. What is with this woman and name tags, I thought, as I answered, “It’s always a surprise.” I craned my neck around, looking for the UPS van.

“Look,” I gasped. “Even I’m shocked. There, in the UPS brown-suit, that’s — Oh, Mrs. Smith, what is his name?”

“Harrison Ford,” she said, after one quick look through the binoculars from her middle seat in the van.

“Exactly,” I said. “A lot of the celebs are desperate to disguise their appearance. It’s an open secret in Hollywood that only the A-List get the Fed-X treatment.”

“Harrison has had some money troubles,” added Mrs. Smith. “It is a shame that he is a B-list UPS.”

“But how fortunate that we spotted him,” I said, pulling away quickly as I noticed Harrison coming closer and looking more and more like a young woman with a ponytail. Mrs. Parker snorted.

“Incredible,” said Mrs. Pierce. “Now I wished we’d signed up for the full day’s tour.”

“You ladies have been lovely,” I said. “We still have time for one more sighting before turning back. This one is my personal favorite.”

I pulled up in the alley behind a home day-care. A short, squat Asian woman talked on her phone as a flurry of children ran around her. “It’s ok to get out of the van,” I said. “She has so many children, she never notices the tourists.” Not that I imagined the poor woman had ever seen a van full of Midwesterners pull up and gawk over the fence at her.

Everyone stepped out of the van. We were so close, no one needed binoculars. Mrs. Smith looked stumped. The other ladies looked at her in disappointment. Mrs. Parker pointed to Mrs. Smith’s handbag. “May I?” she asked, gesturing at the magazines. Mrs. Smith nodded.

Mrs. Parker pulled out the magazine closest to her. She pointed to the cover. “Obviously,” she said, “That woman is the Octomom Nadya Suleman.” The women gasped. Mrs. Smith looked a bit sad. Even I was impressed. Last week’s tour had settled on Marie Osmond.

With photos snapped, we loaded up. Mrs. Smith rode up front. Mrs. Parker sat in the middle and explained exactly what she saw in the short Asian that revealed the taller Octomom — plastic surgery, worn down by the children; I don’t recall exactly what she said. But I’ll never forget what happened next.

I unloaded the ladies. Fat tips from everyone. Mrs. Parker was the last to leave. She grasped my hand and said, “Miss, you’ve restored my faith in young people. You are a resourceful bunch.” Then she pressed a $100 bill into my hand.

The next day, I went to spend it. Counterfeit. “Touche, Mrs. Parker,” I said. She wasn’t there to hear me, but I’m sure she was smiling.

Florrie Kohn plays with words, camping, hiking, kayaks, fishing, dogs, cats, naps and crazy dreams.

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