Steve Martin and I.

I have encountered Steve Martin three times in my life now, once each in the 70s, 80s and 90s. I wouldn’t blame him for thinking I’m stalking him very very slowly. But I’m not.

stevemartin.jpg1975. Steve’s career is on the way up. He is appearing at a small club in Evanston, IL called Amazing Grace. This club is so hippie-ish that instead of on chairs, the audience splays out on the floor and on bean-bags! He puts out more energy than I have ever seen a human put out. It is superhuman. It is a question mark whether the walls of the room are structurally sound enough to withstand the ergs of hilarity being generated by his force field.

After the show, we go across the street to an ice cream parlor called Doctor Jazz. (No longer there.) Besides featuring good fountain creations, it has old-fashioned nickelodeon pianos and other mechanical music-playing contraptions. Who is sitting in the booth across from us but Steve Martin! Alone, recovering with a sundae. He is now the opposite of what he was. Just fifteen minutes ago he had been an exploding supernova; now he is a black hole sucking all the energy in the room into his vortex. He seems clinically depressed, as in just-kill-me-now, but it occurs to me that this state of near-death is the only way he can restore himself to something approaching equilibrium after that performance. We leave him alone, as does everyone else in the place. It is what he needs, and it is the least we can do for him after what he has done for us.

1984. Upper West Side, Columbus Avenue, New York. A bar called The Museum Café (because of its proximity to the Museum of Natural History.) The cell phone has yet to be invented, so my wife is using the bar’s pay phone. I sit at the bar. Glancing over, I see that Steve Martin is waiting right behind her to use the phone. My wife is unaware of this. I try to be inconspicuous, but I think my wife needs to know this, not because I think she needs to yield the phone to a celebrity, but because if we leave the bar without her ever realizing Steve Martin was standing right behind her, she will never forgive me. I go over and, as surreptitiously as possible given that Steve Martin is standing 14 inches away, whisper in her ear, “Steve Martin is standing right behind you.” She replies, out loud, “I don’t care who’s standing behind me, I’m finishing this conversation.”

1998. The Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. I am in Los Angeles to shoot a commercial with my partner. We meet for breakfast in the hotel’s dining room. I face my partner at a table for two. Just behind my partner is another table for two, and one of the people at it is Steve Martin. As luck would have it, he is sitting so as to face me directly, and I him. The result is that I cannot look at my partner without also looking at Steve Martin, but I know that this is bad form and Steve Martin does not especially want to be looked at, so I do my best not to, but it is impossible. And because of the layout, Steve Martin is no more able to look at his tablemate without looking at me than I am able to avoid looking at him. I sense that Steve Martin recognizes me. He doesn’t know why, but he knows he’s seen me somewhere before. He probably thinks I’m someone he’s met in the movie business. Or else, he’s going to come over and say, “I don’t know who you are, but stop following me!” Or else, with a little more time, he’ll sit there and it will dawn on him, “Hey, there’s that guy who didn’t bother me in the ice cream parlor, and who ten years ago told his wife I was standing behind her at the pay phone!” But it is not to be. Whoopi Goldberg comes into the room and hugs him before going to her table. His concentration is broken.

I am looking forward to meeting Steve Martin again sometime in this decade. The fourth time is going to be the charm. Unless he has me arrested.


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