It’s New York City, You’ll Never Know Who You’ll Meet

“Oh. My. God. I just, like, walked into George Clooney. George. Cloooooooney!” Rebbecca was so excited she nearly tossed her venti caramel machiato onto my white winter coat. “Aaaaaaaaaaand I got his autograph! Swooooon.”

I looked at Rebbecca with envy. For someone that’s spent 25 years living in and around star-studded New York City, I never meet anyone famous, let alone get their autograph.

Actually, that’s not true. I have “met” famous people. I once practically crashed into Tino Martinez, one of my all-time favorite Yankees, walking to MoMA. Even though my latte splashed on his running shoes, I never thought to ask him to sign the baseball and glove I keep in my purse. My celebrity encounters, like probably most people’s, are generally awkward and typically fall into one of the following categories:

1.Famous People I went to School With — Columbia is a magnet for famous people, but my grade school boasted a few future celebrities… too bad I didn’t get them to sign my yearbook.

2. Famous people I’ve tripped or nearly tripped — Vera Wang, Fern Mallis, and Ronan Tynan of the Irish Tenors would be included in this large group. (A subcategory of this might be entitled “Famous People I spilled Stuff On”)

I was once an extra in a Joan Rivers TV show. My Fanatic fan ways may prevent me from ever having a viable acting career

3. Famous People I could have Met — This list could go on for ages, but my favorite is James Franco. I was a graduate student at Columbia at the same time Franco was getting his MFA in the Columbia School of the Arts. Later, my time at MoMA coincided with his own MoMA appearance. I frequently saw the car that brought him places, but I never once encountered the over-achieving Hollywood Renaissance Man in the flesh. Meanwhile, one of my college fencing teammates not only met him, but had coffee with him. She was thin, blond, leggy and two-faced — some girls have it all.

4. Famous People I Met, but Surely Creeped Out with My Over-Aggressive Enthusiasm — Joan Rivers and Sloane Crosely. My “Oh my god! My mother and I are just like you and your daughter! Except, my mother’s had hip replacements, not cheek replacements, so she can move her face,” and “I want your career, in fact, I want to be you,” were met with fearful eyes that read: I’m going to need a restraining order against this girl.

Famous Athletes I've Met, but Pretend to be one of them...the exception is Evan Lysacek. He's just too pretty.

5. Famous Athletes I’ve Met, but Don’t Ask for an Autograph from because I’m trying to pretend I’m one of them — Given that I’ve grown-up in the company of Olympic medalists and that I once considered myself an Olympic contender, I try to act unphased by their achievements even though I’m in awe beyond awe. The exception to this is Evan Lysacek. I shamelessly had a friend ask Evan if I could take a picture with him.

6. Famous People I’ve met But Didn’t Realize They Were Famous Until I Went Home and Googled Them — Most recent example: at my favorite lounge, the cocktails are pure perfection and staff is family. My friend and I wiggled into an open spot at the bar next to an older gentleman with white hair and a familiar face. The head bartender kindly introduced us to the man, his friend Jeffery. Jeffery asked us if we had tried the cherry garnish — it was the best cherry garnish he’d ever had. Later, after some computer stalking, we found out his friend Jeffery was the legendary Jeffery Steingarten. Iron Chef America groupie fail.

It’s St. Patrick’s Day and Somewhere in there, I’m a Tobin

As I write this, my mother is in the kitchen, listening to Riverdance and banging two wooden spoons together. Her clacking is not in time, but rhythm has never been one of my mother’s strong suits — they took the triangle away from her in grade school. She’s had both hips replaced but that doesn’t stop her from doing her most inspired Michael Flatley impression.  She’s a Tobin after all and it is St. Patrick’s Day.

We take Irish food and music very seriously... we have enough Irish oatmeal to lead the nation through another potato famine

Despite being a conglomerate of Italian, German, Scot, and Irish heritage, we take St. Patrick’s Day fairly seriously in my house. Come to think of it, we take being Irish pretty seriously in my house, even though we’re 2 generations removed from the family homestead in County Clare. Well, we take Irish food and music very seriously. My mother makes a mean boiled potato and there’s enough Irish oatmeal in the pantry to lead the nation through another potato famine. My favorite song growing up was “The Orange and the Green,” I was more interested in playing a reel on my fiddle than Mozart on my violin, and my first concert in New York City was Gaelic Storm at the BB King.

I was more interested in 300 fiddle tunes than a Mozart symphony growing up.

In honor of the holiday, I’ve put two loaves of traditional Irish brown bread baking in the oven. Meanwhile, my mother made green jell-o and we collaborated on cabbage rolls and green Scotch shortbread cookies. My father contributed with a 6-pack of Irish Red in the basement fridge. We’re ready to party in a way our ancestors would be proud of… maybe.

I went to Ireland once, when I was 7. That trip was the first time I’d ever stayed up past 9PM and first time I’d ever been to a bar. My father was on business and my mother used it as an excuse to met up with her favorite Irish cousin and her son. Julie drove us from Shannon into a small town hidden among fields and knolls. It was like the setting of JRR Tolkin book. The sky was black and clear and the only light illuminating the streets was the glow from cottage windows. We stepped out of the car into a informal parking lot outside a pub. Music and laughter filled the air and it was clear we were in for a rolicking good time.

The whole world seemed to be crammed into the small, smokey public house. Pints sloshed as joyous patrons slammed their glasses down in time to the music, which was provided by a group set atop a rickety stage. The tables and chairs had been cleared from a section of the floor, and men and women reeled around in circles, stomping and spinning, pulling in new partners at will. An older gentleman with a white beard and cap, straight off a postcard, threw me into the middle of the floor, determined that I would learn how to step dance before the night was through. As a kid, I had chalk white skin, rose bud cheeks, and thick blond curls. In my cable knit sweater, I looked as local as anyone else there. I would eventually learn that the Tobin farm, tied up in family feuds for a half century (how typically Irish), was but a mile away — I was as local as anyone.

We rolled into our cousin’s B&B at 2AM and slept till late afternoon. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

Sometimes I feel like pulling a John Wayne in the Quiet Man and moving to Ireland to reclaim the family homestead

It’s true what they say about Ireland — it gets under your skin, you become part of a family, and you start to pine for it. Sometimes, I feel like pulling a John Wayne in “The Quiet Man” — retire from this fighting life, move back to my people’s farm, fix it up, marry me a nice Irish bloke, and dance a jig to the tune of a happily ever after.

In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for my home baked bread, a pint, a warm memory, and a toast to my Grandma, Anna Tobin.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Becoming a Horse of a Different Color

Sometimes when you’re expecting bad news, the best thing to do is run away.

That’s exactly what I did in March of 2009 when I was in the thick of writing my masters thesis and awaiting responses from a handful of PhD programs. Given that the recent economic downturn had significantly reduced university endowments, I wasn’t optimistic that I’d be a paid student come September. I thought bad news would sound much better when received on a beach with a margarita in my hand. Inspired, I threw a polka-dot bikini and flip-flops into my car and drove 1,200 miles from New York to South Beach, FL for an early spring break.

sometimes bad news sounds much better when you hear it on a beach, with a margarita in your hand

It was a good thing I had such foresight.

While I was in South Beach, every PhD program I applied to sent me a rejection letter. Needless to say, I consumed a lot of margaritas that week.

Spending 7 days in the Florida sun, replenishing my vitamin D stores while getting to know the bartenders at my hotel may have temporarily raised the spirits and enlivened the soul, but once I was back home in a gray and slushy city, holed up in my smaller-than-a-dollhouse studio, the debilitating sting of the rejections set in.

100 pages of writing sat between me and my MA and for the first time in my life, I faced an uncertain future. I felt useless. I had no power to go back and change anything — not the topic I had spent 18 months researching, not the character of my fellow applicants, not the shape economy — yet I felt the need to change or exert power over something.

transforming into a horse of a different color is one way of asserting we're in control of our life... maybe

And so, in an attempt to gain temporary control in my life, I booked an appointment with my hairstylist.

Ladies, we’ve all done it before — broken up with a guy or had some traumatic experience that compelled us to bee-line to the salon for a makeover. Redefining our appearance is a way of asserting a new take on life and exercising power over our future. Sometimes we add bangs, sometimes we go platinum, sometimes we get botox, sometimes we get bangs, go platinum AND get botox.

I went orange.

I walked into a salon on Madison Avenue with long brown locks and hoped to walk out with spunky curls spiked with scarlet. Instead, I hit the pavement with short tendrils the color of pumpkin pie.

I walked into the salon with long brown locks and walked out with short pumpkin-colored tendrils. So much for taking control...

Under the warm lights of the salon, I thought this was exactly what I wanted — a total overhaul, a brand-new, “in your face, future!” me. It wasn’t until I met a friend for lunch that I realized the irony: at the end of the day, my little act of self-empowerment didn’t empower me at all — I asked for red highlights and got a florescent carrot top.

“Your hair is orange!” she cried, knocking over her iced tea in a visible state of shock.

“I know. I thought I needed a change.”

“Don’t you think it’s a little… err…. extreme?”

“It was only supposed to have highlights.”

“It’s a lot more than highlights… and it’s orange. And you’re orange. Where have you been all week?”

“Florida.”

As I sat there, munching on a biscotti, recounting the reasons behind this sudden transformation into a horse of a different color, reality set it. I may have mitigated the rejections by running away for a week. I may have tried, in vein, to assert a sense of control by changing my appearance. But at the end of the day, I stood at a cross roads, and orange hair and a margarita-spiked tan wasn’t going to make it go away.

It was time to go back to my apartment and get writing…

And maybe, en route, pick up a box of Clariol Nice n’ Easy in Chestnut.