The Julia Roberts Story.
The story begins long ago in a town far away. Well, not from people who live in Pittsburgh. Here’s the deal. My mom sometimes works for people designing silent auctions. A silent auction is basically eBay on paper. There’s a bunch of tables in a big room and each of them is decorated with a theme. In front of each theme are several clipboards with the auction grid on it.
For example, the auctions we used to have at my private school were usually pretty cool. Little Johnny’s dad was the goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he’d donate a signed stick or a sweaty jock strap or something. Little Suzie was the daughter of a Senator, so he donated a trip in a private jet to eat lunch in Washington, DC! Then a few tables down, the kindergarten designed a quilt by vomiting all the colored paste they ate.
So in steps my mom. She’s given the list of items and she decorates the tables and the rooms with themes pertaining to them. The Penguin auction might be decorated with a stylish net and a stuffed penguin inside it. The Senator auction might have a miniature White House with…a stuffed plane by it. Okay, that auction would suck, but that’s only because I got most of my personality from my dad. I can’t thread a needle, but I can quote a comedy movie like nothin’.
Anyway, so my mom’s awesome at this. She’s like the Martha Stewart of auctions. After a few years, people told people who told people, and she’s made it to some pretty cool auctions over the years. One is the Tiger Jam for the Tiger Woods Foundation in Vegas every year, which I’m actually going to this weekend. Whoo!
Another auction was a fund-raiser for Paul Newman’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang Camp. Besides making spaghetti sauce, Paul Newman holds a camp every year for kids with terminal diseases who wouldn’t be able to go to a “regular” camp.
Then every year he invites a bunch of celebrities to put on a little show at the end of camp to raise money for the next year. Before the performance, there’s an auction and a dinner, and since it’s largely an invite-only event, the celebrities often mill around the campgrounds. You have to have a keen eye, since even the wealthy can be fan boys, but they’re there.
Anyway, I’ve met some really cool people there, and most of them don’t mind people coming up to them since, you know, it’s a benefit. Even if the guests aren’t the terminally ill ones, the celebrities are usually happy to take pictures with people and sign crap. One year, Julia Roberts was the Big Deal, so my mom, looking to have the coolest Christmas card evar, went searching her out to get a picture with the two of us. I should also say that my mom was wearing a bright red jacket, so she didn’t exactly blend with the crowd.
We spotted her milling around behind the main theater building, and we casually strolled back there, like we did with most of the celebrities. It was off-limits to most guests, but my mom worked there, so we were allowed. Julia was alone, walking back to the make-up area, and she kept turning around to look at us. We kept walking casually, but then she’d turn around again and walk faster. Well, we were hardly gonna chase her down. At one point, she turned around a final time and sprinted off. I told my mom her red coat scared Julia off. I think I was 15 at the time, but clearly hilarious anyway.
We helped ourselves to some food and hung out by make-up for a while. I met Paul Newman’s bodyguard, and he was really friendly. I also think he said he could bench me, which in hindsight probably should have been terrifying. As I recall, he looked like a 6-foot-tall Vin Diesel, even though Vin hadn’t been invented until years later.
Anyway, we caught sight of Julia heading back from wherever she sprinted to, and she had no choice but to pass us again. Somehow the rudeness of “don’t bother a celebrity” was overshadowed by “how cool would it be to get a picture with Julia Roberts?” and I got the guts to step out as she passed and asked for a picture.
“This is a benefit, isn’t it? You can pay me for one,” replied Julia fucking Roberts.
Unfortunately, my young 15-year-old mind wasn’t finely tuned enough to shoot back with an equal insult of such ferocity that she’d swallow her collagen injections, and I believe I responded with the typical awkward teenage rebuttal of standing there with my mouth open. P-Pretty Woman? Wasn’t she a hooker with a heart of gold? She wasn’t my favorite actress, so I wasn’t too torn up, but it was still strange to me and a little hurtful. I wasn’t a frothing paparazzi goon, I was a 15-year-old who wanted a picture at a benefit.
The story doesn’t stop there. The silent auction had a few special items that carried over into a live auction, which was basically the type you see on television where some MicroMachines announcer shouts out, “$1 billion, do I hear $2 billion? $2 billion to the woman wearing the diamond-studded hotpants!” I guess they were having trouble selling off some lame item, and Julia bounded down the stairs shouting, “Come on, guys! Bid on this! It’s great!” and made all the WASPs laugh hysterically with her Vanna White impression because it was so fresh, and no one’s ever done that hack shit before.
The item finally sold, and as she was making her way through the crowd, she was signing stuff and taking pictures with anyone who circled around her! I re-equipped my pride, told my mom in her blaring red jacket to stand back, and I sneaked into the crowd. I figured if I blended enough, I could probably get a picture just by catching her off guard. Plus, there were tons of other teenage girls in the crowd. I made it to the front layer of a semicircle in front of her. She was working the semicircle clockwise, signing, snapping pictures, joking with everyone. She signed an autograph for the person next to me, and it finally came to be my turn. She looked me right in the eyes, glared for a second, then plastered the fake smile right back on that enormous mouth, and skipped right over me, taking a picture with the person right next to me.
I can understand not wanting to be bothered by anyone. I guess I can understand getting tired of being pestered at events, but that was downright spiteful. I fumed with my mom for most of the night, which kind of sucked, because instead of crying with the rest of the audience when they read the letter by the kid who had sickle-cell anemia, I was instead imagining bludgeoning Julia Roberts with a giant sickle. A lot of people would have since dropped that sentiment, but I have nursed it and nurtured it, and I often still imagine kitties, birthday cakes, and Julia Roberts with a sickle in her face with the same cuddly warmth.
So, yes, even to this day, when sitting around with friends, when anyone mentions her name, my hand instinctively forms into a fist and I shake it into the heavens growling “JULIA!!!” And then everyone looks afraid of me for a little while until Melissa or someone else who knows the story puts an arm around me and pats my shoulder until I calm down.
In a sick way, I’m sort of glad it happened. It taught me a lot about fame and how even the seemingly smallest gesture to a fan is what they will keep with them. That’s why I vowed that if I ever got famous and people bothered me all the time, even if it became tiresome, I’d try to keep my cool as much as I could. And if a young girl with hope in her eyes ever came to me just to beef up her Christmas card, even if I were really tired, I’d take a deep breath…and I’d sit her down and tell her this story, and we’d both walk into the sunsets shaking our fists at the heavens and heading towards the sickle store.
The Julia Roberts Story.