After last week’s column, I received a number of emails from readers with stories of disappointment in meeting their heroes. I couldn’t help but notice our heroes are often celebrities. I’ve also noticed that, in the last decade, Santa Monica has become home to so many “celebrities.” (I hate that word and yet I’ve used it twice in the opening paragraph. Yikes!)

I’m told that in the 1940’s, it was common to see Hollywood stars strolling in Santa Monica without concern. One could see the likes of Clark Gable and Rita Hayworth on the boardwalk. (In fact, Rita, originally Margarita Cansino, had a brother she visited regularly who owned a small bar/restaurant on the boardwalk.)

I’ve had two encounters with celebs in Santa Monica that have stuck with me. One, where apparently I might have overstepped and another that I couldn’t get away fast enough. Curiously, both occurred only a day or so after I had seen their recent movies. I thought that was sort of interesting. They didn’t.

The first was at the Fireside Market on Montana. (Before it became Whole Foods.) Living in Ocean Park, I rarely shopped at Fireside but did so on this occasion because of an elderly and obnoxious neighbor, Leonard, a New York native, who had led a spoiled life. (His dad was on the Stock Exchange.) Leonard’s spoiled kitty needed gourmet cat food that only Fireside carried. Somehow I let myself get conned into it going.

That morning, Fireside was so empty there were just two shoppers and only one check stand open. It will become pertinent shortly, but the night before, I had seen “Hoosiers,” on videotape. (What we watched before Netflix and the current streaming options.)

After hurriedly shopping, I was slightly embarrassed as I took dozens of cans of cat food from the cart and onto the conveyor belt. The woman ahead of me noticed and gave a critical glance. She also seemed familiar. She was wearing a scarf and sunglasses, the latter seeming odd since it was indoors. When she looked again at all the cat food cans, I suddenly realized she was Barbara Hershey who had co-starred in “Hoosiers.”

Since I had JUST seen “Hoosiers,” less than 24 hours earlier, I contemplated saying something. But she radiated a nervous air as if saying to the world, “I want to be alone,” the line made so famous by the legendary Greta Garbo a mere 90 years ago.

I tried to keep quiet but when Hershey looked at me again, I casually said, “I saw ‘Hoosiers’ last night and I thought it was terrific.” At worst, I assumed she’d offer a polite but insincere “Thank you.” Not quite. She stared, or maybe glared is the right word, and said about as sarcastically as one could, “Well… good for you.” (Which I translated to mean, “How dare a guy with all that cat food talk to me.”) .

About a year later, in my next memorable “encounter” it was with a semi-famous actor. He, too, had a movie out, “52-Pick Up,” and I had just seen it. (I swear I don’t seek out these run ins as you’ll soon see.)

I was going to the bank on Main Street to use the ATM at the corner of Ashland. It was raining so I hurriedly opened the door and was surprised to see someone inside the tiny room. Usually everyone locked the door not wanting someone to come up from behind, etc.

The other sensation that immediately hit me, was the overwhelming odor of alcohol. It smelled like a distillery. He was polluted. And he was highly frustrated with the ATM, which apparently wasn’t giving him his money.

I apologized for barging in and turned to leave, when he barked, “Wait, I may need your help.” Somewhat nervously, I said, “I just saw ’52-Pick Up,’” but as I did he pounded the ATM with his fist. Forget the “somewhat” nervous, I was thoroughly nervous. “Do you know how to work these God damn things?” he demanded.

I contemplated saying, “I just remembered, I’m double-parked.” Instead, I said, “You’ll have to give me your PIN number,” hoping he’d say no. He quickly spit it out. (And more booze filled the air.) Reluctantly, I entered his PIN, thinking if this doesn’t work, I hope he doesn’t do to me what he just did to the ATM.

Of course it worked. It was an ATM not brain surgery. After I gave him his $300 he said forcefully, “Just so you know, in ’52-Pick Up’, I did the best I could!” He got himself “together” as though he was ready for his closeup and walked out the door. As I immediately locked it behind him, I breathed a sigh of relief. Frankly, Barbara Hershey didn’t seem so bad.


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