The gyms in California are different than New York City. Sure, there’s more space and sunlight, but there are also these strange attachments called “parking garages” crammed with lines of “automobiles.” It’s not unusual for a Hummer to sardine itself into a spot labeled “Compact,” so the suburban mom driving has no choice but to dent the neighboring Fiat’s door. Parking in LA is quite the dilemma, which is why I travel all the way down to the fifth floor where there’s nothing but us virgin fitness buffs, the car washers, and the lone valet donning a white shirt, black vest and black pants, tapping his foot and swinging a set of keys, as if any moment he’s going to go full cliché in a sombrero and serenade the Lululemon wearing transients with his latest rendition of “Cielito Lindo.”
Elevators are, of course, nothing new. But riding in elevators with celebrities, that is a rare occurrence. Growing up in the South, it had never occurred to me that celebrities do the same things we do. Why would a celebrity need to pump gas? Or cook food? Or ride in elevators? Robert Redford never rode an elevator in the movies, so I only assumed it never happened. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Big Bird could get to the top floor if they wanted to with a quick cut and a new scene. In the same way, I could never picture a celebrity taking a shower or filling his tires with air. Or even driving on the Interstate. Or anything that meant they were real people after all.
My relationship with stars in elevators began years ago in New York when I interned at a theater company in the heart of Times Square. One of those long February morning commutes where everything seedy and miserable about New York City hits you square in the jaw. Cold-soaked and sweaty from fifteen layers of wool, I clogged my way into the building 20-minutes late for my Interns meeting and came across her. Towering above my 6-foot frame, curly black hair and that smile that you makes you think you’re Matt Damon in a bar, there she was: Minnie Driver. Well, I thought, how you like dem’ apples?
I wasn’t even halfway into the lobby before I was behind wall-to-wall of beautiful tall blondes surrounding the curly brunette, waiting for the elevator. It’s what I imagine Denmark looks like at any given moment. The elevator doors parted and they filed in, one by one. Minnie first, then the city of Copenhagen, then the coastal province. By the time I got to the elevator doors, there was that one small space. I went for it. I took my bag off my shoulder, rush hour 1-train style, squeezed in my gut and my shoulders, and stepped across the barrier.
Minnie, however, wasn’t having it. As my foot landed, I heard “No!” and the space filled. But I held on. The doors inched towards me, but I grabbed the side and gawked at her.
I begged. Pleaded. Defiantly screamed. But all in my eyes, as Minnie grinned at me. Something was wrong in the state of Denmark. I had been voted out, unanimously and unequivocally.
“Sorry,” she said as the elevator closed, my fingers sliding off of the door in slow-motion. Nothing but steel and the reflection of an ousted warrior in front of me. Little did I know that ten years later, the wound of Minnie’s half-hearted apology still swollen, I would find myself back an in elevator with a real chance to redeem my pride.
This time, after an hour’s worth of heavy lifting and breathing, I wasn’t the sweaty snow commuter, but the LA sweat-laden gym-goer. I had arrived. A less noticed Ryan Gosling, if you will – with perfect ashy blonde hair and steely eyes.
“Hey girl,” I said to my wife as I pushed the elevator call button. “Let’s go back to the car.”
Her eyes opened wide and a smile crept onto her face. I was sure it was my ingenious wit that had made her light up, but a moment later, that familiar feeling of celebrity rejection peered over my shoulder.
There we were. Me. Jim. My drooling wife.
Behind me, he stood. Hat on. Gym shorts. Fresh from a workout, sweaty and manly. Jim. As in Jim and Pam. As in, the deliciously charming male counterpart from my wife’s favorite TV couple. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’ve got nothing on Jim and Pam. My wife, now hiding her ring, began moving her lips.
“That’s John Krasinski,” she mouthed to me. At least, I guess that’s what she mouthed to me, because with my 9th Grade lip reading skills, the words came to me as “I’m sin in the city.” Either way, I knew. It was on.
The elevator doors opened and the three of us stepped into the ring. My moment had come. Me vs the Celebrity on a Death Defying Ride to five floors below a typical LA Strip Mall. But just as the doors started to slide closed, a Clueless-Perfectly-Nice-Normal person jumped inside. “Thanks!,” she said.
There we were. Me. Jim. My drooling wife. Clueless-Perfectly-Nice-Normal person. The elevator began its descent and I mused how perfect it was that we all parked our cars under the watch of Mr. Cielito Lindo.
Here was my chance to make up for all those years of failure. For all those times I had reeled back to Minnie and said to myself, I could have stood my ground. I could have done better. I could be somebody if only I had stayed in that elevator, and, while I was in there, maybe hit every button between the lobby and the top floor.
The Clueless-Perfectly-Nice-Normal person dug through her purse, the rattle of her keys broke the stone silence. I cut my head in her direction. Athleta shorts, Lululemon-fitted sweat top, and those spiked cycling shoes hanging from her side.
She came from a cycling class, I thought to myself, and then it occurred to me. I eyed Jim and saw the pair of cycling shoes hanging from his hip. They were in there together! Now Clueless-Perfectly-Nice-Normal person was no longer just clueless and perfectly nice and normal, but also my accomplice. We were 3-to-1. With those odds, dear Jim didn’t stand a chance.
“I have to ask,” I said, trying to be as off-the-cuff as I could, my agenda just to ding the bell and start the round, “are the cycling classes really as good as everyone says they are?”
I had broken the code – the unstated rule of riding in elevators with celebrities. Whatever you do, do not talk to them. Everyone peered. Clueless-Perfectly-Nice-Normal person gawked. My wife, ready for my demise, hung her head, surely thinking of the terms of divorce, or maybe where to plot my grave. Somewhere back in Brooklyn, maybe? Or maybe sprinkle him on the 405? I swallowed and waited. The silence was- and I think this is a perfectly good time for a cliché- deafening.
I looked at my wife. She looked at me. I looked at Jim. His eyes no longer on his phone but pointed right at me. I pictured myself as Liam Neeson at the end of The Grey. That I had become Enemy No. 1 of a certain code of celebrities in elevators. That when the doors opened, I was going to be jumped by famous people. Ben Affleck wielding a blade off the set of Batman, or Joan Rivers with a scalpel. I held on, waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
My steely Ryan Gosling stare must have alarmed him, because his eyebrows lifted, surely out of fear of the awesomeness coming across the elevator floor. His shoulders raised… and then fell. He breathed out. His phone lifted, and his eyes retreated, I’m sure to a game of Candy Crush. The moment was done. I had stared down Jim and I had won. This was my elevator. From here on out, celebrities were riding in elevators with me.
“It’s fun,” Clueless-Perfectly-Nice-Normal person said. “I really like it.”
“Yeah?”, I kept my eyes on Jim as I spoke back to her. “Well, that’s great. Isn’t it?”
The doors opened.
The doors opened. Defeated Jim was the first to exit, surely humiliated by the way I had mopped him all over the floor. Next, Clueless-Perfectly-Nice-Normal person. Then my wife. As she passed by me, she grinned wide and said, “That was John Krasinski!” as if I hadn’t heard her the first time. I wondered, for a moment, if she had completely missed the one-two I had delivered. But then she added, “I can’t believe he didn’t answer you.”
That’s right, I thought. He didn’t answer me. Because he couldn’t. Or he just didn’t want to. No, obviously, he couldn’t. My technique and delivery had shock-and-awed him and he was unable to comprehend any type of response.
As we watched Jim get into his super-expensive SUV and drive back to his celebrity wife waiting inside his giant LA mansion, I knew. I won, bagel-bin and all.