A few years ago, I noticed a yellow sign with “RP” in black lettering, attached to a telephone pole in my neighborhood. Mom had seen similar signs before, for location shoots for movies and TV.
My mother went to USC film school way back when, and worked as a film editor, so she was curious about what they were filming. She followed the signs and found out that the TV show Royal Pains was shooting scenes at the beach near us. The show is set in the Hamptons, which is further out on Long Island from us, and much (much) more expensive.
I couldn’t bring Cricket along when we stalked the set, because dogs aren’t allowed at that particular beach. I wished she could come, and bark, and draw attention to herself, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk for myself.
The main character on the show is a concierge doctor who diagnoses strange diseases on the fly. Royal Pains is like the happy, pretty answer to House, with a bit of MacGyver thrown in. But more than the show itself, it was one of the featured actors I wanted to see. I’ve had a crush on Campbell Scott since I was sixteen years old.
I almost met him ten years ago. He was giving a talk at a small cinema on Long Island. He’s smart and articulate and down to earth. If ever there was a movie star I should have been able to talk to, it was him.
I did my best to dress up, in a sweater and black pants and a clean pair of sneakers, and sat in the third row of the movie theatre, next to Mom.
First we screened the movie, The Secret Lives of Dentists, which involved scenes of screeching drills, blood, and the uncomfortable intimacy of the inside of a stranger’s mouth. I focused, instead, on the scenes of Campbell Scott as the father of three little girls. He carried the five year old around so constantly that at one point he said she had become part of his body.
As the movie ended, he sat down at the front of the theatre, munching kernels of popcorn as the credits continued to roll over his head. When the lights came up, he tapped the microphone to begin, and – nothing.
“I’ll use my theatre voice,” he said, and his voice reverberated.
“Use the microphone!” someone screamed from further back.
A woman in the row ahead of me took the traveling microphone. “I thought you did a wonderful job in this movie, of showing parenthood as it really is: a burden.”
“You liked the vomiting scenes?” he asked, with a grin.
One woman towards the back of the room asked, in a plaintive voice, “Could you talk for a minute about Dying Young?”
“What about it?”
I moved forward in my seat, afraid he would dismiss this movie I loved as commercial crap.
“In Europe they called it The Choice of Love,” he said. “Better title, don’t you think? A person could see a title like that in the paper and say, hey, let’s go see that movie. But, Dying Young,” his voice went down an octave. “Why not just stay home and slit your wrists instead.”
I wanted to raise my hand and tell him how wrong he was about the title. How those two words were exactly what drew me to the theatre, at sixteen. I was suffering, and inarticulate. The opportunity to see some of my own pain reflected back to me was the whole point. But I couldn’t say that to a room full of strangers.
The crowd gave him a standing ovation and then slowly moved into the café down the hall for refreshments.
“What should we do now?” I asked my mother, as we watched the majority of the audience get stuck in a traffic jam at the single exit door.
“Why don’t we go to the café and maybe you’ll get a chance to talk to him,” she said.
“What would I say?”
“You’ll think of something,” she said. My mother has an unreasonable amount of faith in me.
We followed the crowd into the reception hall and I stood at the periphery, with my arms and legs crossed, willing myself to move forward, reach out, and say anything. Hello, would be nice. People swirled around him, ticking him around like a clock, quarter turns at a time, for autographs and pictures and questions.
I stood about six feet away, a step outside of the circle created by braver people than me. I listened. I wanted so badly to speak up, to have a memory for the rest of my life of having actually spoken to him. He looked in my direction every once in a while, and I imagined myself touching his arm and telling him he was wonderful. But everything I wanted to say was raw, and I didn’t want to inspire his pity, or annoyance.
And then he was being led out of the room, in slow motion, by the owners of the theatre. I just stood there, frozen.
I try to accept my limitations and forgive myself for the wide variety of anxiety symptoms that run my life, but that moment stayed with me. I could see him seeing me, wondering why I was standing there and saying nothing.
I’m hoping that Royal Pains will do some location shoots near where I live now, because the village main street is often used as a stand in for the Hamptons. And maybe I could walk down the hill with Cricket and Butterfly and meander near where the actors and crew are set up, and see if the dogs can act as my social bridge. Maybe Butterfly will bat her eyelashes and draw a crowd. And maybe Cricket won’t bark and lunge at a cameraman.
Maybe by the time the weather cools down, and they come back to my neighborhood, I’ll have figured out something to say.