Tuesday, June 19, 2007

We are all made of stars

Before I tell this story, I feel as if I must establish the following:

Once, as I was walking along Central Park West in New York City, the back door of an idling limousine swung open right in front of me, knocking me off my stride and almost causing me to trip. Spun around, I watched as scatter-armed then-Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauch emerged. He wore a long black overcoat and didn't apologize for his intrusion on my space. The much-maligned middle infielder may have been the loneliest looking human being I've ever laid eyes upon.

Once, as I was trying to navigate the heavy foot traffic of Times Square, I saw Red Hot Chili Pepper frontman Anthony Kiedis. He was waiting in line to see a movie -- I can't remember which one -- and he looked every bit the rock star that he does on television. Catching my stare, Kiedis winked as he put an arm around his date -- a willowy model type, who wasn't more than 16 if she was older than a day.

Once, as I was drinking in a bar in Alphabet City, my waitress asked me if I knew who the stocky, big headed Hispanic man at a nearby table was. I quickly identified him as character actor Luis Guzman. She had thought he looked famous, and seemed eager to interact with a celebrity. So I told her to tell him that she admired his work in the 1990 crime drama Q&A. Now this was probably 2000, when Guzman was best-known for his role in the film Boogie Nights. I watched with great satisfaction as the waitress informed Guzman of how much she loved him in Q&A, and I beamed with pride as Guzman became visibly excited that he was being recognized for his older, more obscure work.

I write this all not to brag, but to establish my credentials as someone who is comfortable with New York's celebrity culture, and would not freak out or hallucinate just because I saw a famous person. Which is important to the tale I'm about to tell.

It was 2001. I was living in New York, way downtown, on the tip of Manhattan, and a bunch of my friends from Maryland had come to visit me for the weekend. For whatever reason, one of my friends was really excited to buy a particular boot that he was of the belief only existed at one of the many shoe stores in New York's Union Square neighborhood.

It was late morning and quiet nice outside, so we decided to make the couple mile journey uptown on foot.

As we walked through Tribeca, who did we see but techno-pop superstar Moby, at the time Lower Manhattan's second leading resident after Robert De Niro. "Look, it's Moby," my friends noticed and pointed.

Famous Celebrity

Moby was comming towards us from a half-a-block away. He must have heard the commotion because he darted shyly into a side ally.

I admonished my friends for talking too loudly, and startling the fragile artist. They promised to play it cool in the event we ran into another celebrity.

Which we did, about five minutes later, when coming around the corner was none other than techno-pop superstar Moby. "There he is again," one of my friends yelled out. This time Moby deftly shuffled behind a tree.

A few minutes later we saw Moby for a third time. Now he was sitting on a bench in a tiny park. At this point I wanted to hide, because I figured Moby incorrectly thought we were following him. Luckily Moby was on the phone so he couldn't hear our hand-muted snickers.

Double luckily we were coming up on Houston Street, and I doubted Moby, being the downtown partisan he was, would venture north of that famous divide. Thus putting an end to what was becoming an embarrassing episode.

How wrong I was. For who do we see in the first shoe store we come across in Union Square but Moby, being attended to by a salesperson, and trying on some Nikes.

We fled the shop, giggling like school girls, and marveling at the apparent foot speed of the diminutive hit maker.

It wasn't long before Moby, wearing his new sneaks, was crossing at a traffic light right in front of us. Again, displaying Olympian speed in getting to that spot. Now he looked directly at us and flashed a knowing smirk.

Suddenly it occurred to me: There are three explanations why you keep on running into someone -- it is coincidence, you are following them, or they are following you.

I was certain we weren't following him, and I was losing faith in the coincidence explanation. Leading to the third, improbable conclusion. . .

We pondered this shocking scenario as we lunched at a burger joint -- the only place I could think of that Moby, a strict vegan, wouldn't follow us into. Yes, we conceded, it seemed like Moby was always one step ahead of -- not behind -- us. But aren't all the best stalkers well-researched and didn't they have super-natural premonitions when it comes to their pray? Also, it is quite possible Moby had heard us speak about buying shoes in Union Square as he kept his eye on us in Tribeca.

I'll spare you the details of the next 14 hours because they are inconsequential and blurry. What is important is that we may have run into Moby 25 more times during that period. Granted, we were eight eyes of paranoia, and suddenly anyone who shared two of Moby's three characteristics of being slightly built, spectacled and bald-headed appeared to us as the platinum-certified recording artist.

That isn't to say the real Moby had stopped following us: I'm almost positive three or four of the spottings were actually him. And these were sightings that took place hours apart and on pretty disparate sections of the island of Manhattan.

My friends returned home on Sunday and I never ran into Moby again. But, for a period of months, anytime one of the songs from Moby's then-ubiquitous album Play came on the radio or was in the background of one of the numerous television ads he licenced his work to, I had to ask myself why Moby saw fit to stalk us on that Saturday in March. Was there a specific reason? Did one of my friends or I have a connection to Moby we didn't realize?

Or was it just a game to him -- a fun way to turn the tables on a world that was increasingly watching his every move?

To this day, whenever I see Moby on TV, a shot of unease rips through my stomach.

I tell this story not to impugn the character of the great-great grand nephew of legendary American literary figure Herman Melville. What Moby likes to do with his free time is his own business. And, I feel obligated to point out, Moby's stalking didn't phisically harm me or any of my friends, and ended as abruptly as it began.

Rather, I tell this story in case there are others. Innocents-- who have nothing to do with the recording industry or the celebrity A-list -- randomly stalked by a commercially successful electronica artist. If not by Moby, perhaps by Fatboy Slim, one of the Chemical Brothers or even a member of Daft Punk.

If you're out there, you are not alone.

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