Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hook Lines & Famous People

"For the past two nights, I've dreamt of Elvis... actually his bodyguard."

Doesn't that sound like a great opening hook for a novel?

We all have our preferences when it comes to deciding which books to read. For some, book selections are based on recommendations, book club choices or rave reviews. For others, it's a favorite author or subject of interest. For those without a clue, it's often cover appeal... but for many, it's that first sentence, that opening hook, which has us opening our wallets paying with cash or credit, or flashing our library card to read more.

I have my favorite authors and prefer books that are 'quirky' with titles like... 'Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant', or 'Einstein's Dreams'... works written in conversational tones with dialogue and little or no descriptive paragraphs. I always read the opening hook and first paragraph along with the ending hook and last pages of any book, with a few random pages here and there, before deciding which book might hold my interest or be worthy of my time.

A great deal of time and consideration goes into writing that first line. It's what hooks the reader into wanting to read more and often sells books. Here are a few intriguing first lines by famous authors.

"It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks had just struck 13." ~ George Orwell, 1984

"Call me Ishmael." ~ Herman Melville, Moby Dick

"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my head ever since." ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect." ~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

And from one of my favorite authors...

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." ~ J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

And mine... "For the past two nights, I've Dreamt of Elvis... actually his bodyguard." Have I hooked you yet?

I was never really into Elvis though I know of people who are... who own paraphernalia, souvenirs, who wear Elvis costumes, see shows by Elvis impersonators and have even been to Graceland..."You rock, Dan!"

Truth is... I haven't fabricated these words. I did dream of Elvis's bodyguard on not just one night but two consecutive nights. Clearly, the dream must be significant. Who dreams in feature length movies with an extended intermission? Unfortunately, my Elvis dream was inconclusive like one of those foreign films that suck you in and leave you dry, wondering, "What the hell just happened?" or worse... "Now what?"

But actually I did know Elvis's bodyguard... still do... only when I met him he was no longer employed by Elvis, but instead a professor at the art school I attended. Few knew of his past connection with 'The King' except for his family, closest friends and me... a babysitter for his two children.

This wasn't my only brush with someone famous. When I was a kid shopping with my mother in Fortunoffs on Long Island, NY, we spotted Totie Fields browsing through merchandise a short distance from us.

Quickly, we positioned ourselves in front of Totie's cart where my mother began  introducing herself. I did everything I could to keep from blurting out the words... "Tell me a joke!" ... "Tell me something funny!" After all, she was one of the most famous female comedians of our time, but at that moment seemed less than amused by our invasion of her privacy.

Then there was the time I picked Richard's Pryor's nose... another comedian. You heard correctly.

I was a teenager when I saw him walking towards me on a busy New York City street. In all my excitement, I pointed at him and shouted... "You're Richard Pryor!" just as his head leaned forward and my finger went up his nose. "Yes I am", he replied, rather startled, then darted into a nearby bar... it was either his intended destination or the first door he came upon to make his great escape from me... a seemingly crazy fanatic.

Thankfully, as an adult, I've become more subtle and reserved with my interactions with famous people. While in the audience of an American Music Theater production of Hydrogen Jukebox, I noticed Philip Glass, the composer, and Allen Ginsberg, the poet, both creators of the piece, sitting two rows in front of me.

This time I patiently waited for the performance to end before politely asking both men if they would please sign the libretto I was holding. I offered my pen, but each reached into their pockets for a pen of their own. Few words were exchanged except for my appreciation of their work and their signatures with 'thank yous' on their part for the compliments.

But my ultimate act of sophistication and composure came when I met David Morse, the actor, in Whole Foods Market in North Wales, PA.

No fingers were pointed where they didn't belong and no blurted awkward comments were said. Instead, as our eyes made contact, I simply smiled and he smiled in return as if to say thank you for recognizing me and allowing me to buy my rice milk like any other ordinary healthy person. And when we met again, a few minutes later in the produce aisle, we exchanged larger grins as if we were long time friends who moments ago had  a lengthy conversation and were just passing for a second time. It was personally a refined and gratifying encounter.

But the most personal experience I ever had with a famous individual occurred when the Dalai Lama made his first visit to Philadelphia and Michael and I, along with a small group of people, were responsible for making his event memorable.

We arranged seating and potted plants for his appearance at Independence Hall and prepared banners and stage sets for his talk at Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania, along with personally overseeing that His Holiness had a comfortable and inviting hotel suite with exotic flowers and a live goldfish which came with a small goldfish bowl. When the lecture was over, a few of us were invited backstage to meet the Dalai Lama who shook our hands and graciously thanked us for all our efforts. And swiftly he was ushered off stage through a back door surrounded by an entourage of bodyguards... none of whom were associated with Elvis.

What's with our fascination with the famous?

Even those who are famous have a fascination for other famous people. In Craig Brown's book, 'Hello Goodbye Hello... A Circle of 101 Remarkable Meetings', he mentions: Madonna's desire to become a dancer by enrolling in the Martha Graham Dance School and her fascination with meeting Martha Graham,... James Dean offering a seat at his table to Alec Guinness and his wife after seeing them being turned away due to a fully booked restaurant, with some odd psychic moments shared between them,... and the Beatles who idolized Elvis and visited him while he was staying in a Frank Lloyd Wright house rented from the Shah of Iran. Speechless, at the time, all the Beatles could mouth was... "Wow! That's Elvis!" And equally impressive to them was Elvis's ability to change channels on his television without getting up from his seat. The Beatles had never before seen a television remote control.

Over the years I've become a bit less interested in the glamour and glitterati that comes with fame... not mine of course, should that ever happen. But I do think the days of picking other people's noses and oooing and ahhing for the rich and famous are nearing an end.

Unless... suddenly the Tardis should appear before me with Doctor Who... David Tennant, my favorite doctor onboard. Then I'd be sure to keep all fingers  in my pockets. Ya-'Who'!

Which brings me to a few questions...

Have you ever met a famous person or have someone in mind that you'd like to meet?

Imagine being able to invite any five people, living or deceased, to a party. Who would you invite and why? Hmmm... my answers change minute by minute, but for now, including Michael and myself, here are my guest choices:

David Whyte: Poet with 200 poems memorized and a mesmerizing personality.

John O'Donohue: Irish Poet, philosopher, priest, spiritually connected to people and things.

John Cage: Artist and performer with crazy innovative ideas and chance happenings.

Michael Palin: Former Monty Python comedian and world traveler.

Jamie Oliver: Chef and gregarious individual.

'Who' knows... maybe the whole evening will be so stimulating that David Tennant might choose to crash the party arriving via the Tardis, bringing along Dr. Who's writers and picking up George Harrison along the way.

I can only imagine the fun... fascinating stories, experiences shared by all and the abundance of delicious cuisine graciously and expertly prepared by Jamie Oliver himself. Surely, you didn't think I'd be cooking... I still haven't figured out how to shut the timer off on the oven.

This just in...

Elvis... actually his bodyguard has left the building...
and he's inside the Tardis.

How's that for my ending hook?


  1. You've certainly had your share of encounters with famous people! Living in places like Pittsburgh and Dayton, I've had far fewer opportunities to encounter famous people. I'd be very interested to hear how our professor became a bodyguard to Elvis!

    Your encounter with Richard Pryor....hilarious!!! Talk about "up close and personal"!

    I used to faithfully watch "St. Elsewhere" with David Morse. I really liked him in that show. Years later I saw him in "The Green Mile" and was surprised to see how tall he is. Did he look really tall when you saw him in the store?

    How did you get to be involved with the Dalai Lama?

    I must confess my ignorance...I have no clue who the Tardis is.

    Loved your opening and closing hooks! One thing I've never done is read the ending of a book. I'd be afraid it would spoil the journey of reading the book if I know in advance how it ends.

    I would never want to be famous. It would be like living under a microscope or in a fish bowl. It would be very uncomfortable to have people watching your every move. I don't know why so many people desire fame.

    Here is my list of 5 people I would like to have dinner with:
    1. Ellen Degeneris. I admire her and I think she is so funny. We would all have a good time with her at the table.
    2. Barbra Streisand. She is my favorite singer and also and interesting person. She could entertain us with some beautiful songs after dinner.
    3 & 4. My 2 grandfathers. They both died before I was born and I've always longed to have known them.
    5. Thomas Jefferson. Such an intellect! It would be interesting to hear what he thinks of our political system today.

    1. Hey Bevo

      Your thoughts and observations are always so interesting! Thanks for continuing to be an important part of this blog :)

      You've got me fixated on Ellen Degeneres and Thomas Jefferson. What a span of time between them! With Ellen's interviewing skills and background in stand up comedy, I'm sure the interaction between these two should make for quite an evening. I can almost hear Barbara singing in the background and your grandparents enjoying ever minute of it.

      Re: The Tardis... I should have explained. There's a picture of it at the bottom of this post and it's a time machine / spacecraft used on the British science fiction television show called 'Doctor Who'.

      Until next time...