I've spotted a lot of celebrities during my four years in New York City, but I almost never approach them. Instead I usually react like they're grizzly bears in the wild: I freeze and then back away slowly. Really, I'm more likely to play dead than talk to a famous person.
But with Bill Murray, it was different.
You always hope that Murray will randomly show up at your party; unless you have a lottery winner's luck, it never happens. But on Monday night (June 8), I joined him and hundreds of Poets House supporters -- including singer Jenny Lewis and former MTV VJ Karen Duffy -- for the 20th Annual Poetry Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
With the kind of coolness you'd expect of an Academy Award-nominated Ghostbuster, he made himself casually available to everyone, and I tried not to freak out. Results were mixed.
This guy felt like a second father to me, mostly because my dad always dropped Murray movie quotes -- it was like his main parenting technique. My all-time favorite was the motivational camp counselor speech from "Meatballs," which Dad would recite when I was being competitive:
But actually telling Bill Murray all of this? That felt like an extreme over-share. Plus, if there's anything that makes a person feel old, it's saying that your dad got you into them. (And I wasn't going to make that mistake again -- sorry about that, Steely Dan!)
If you don't have anything sane to say to your hero, don't say anything at all. That's the mantra that kept me from approaching Murray on the bridge. Instead I hovered while making unintentionally intrusive eye contact whenever possible.
He took selfies and joked with fans, and I envied their smartphone photo ops (imagining how proud their fathers must've been of their bravery). The Rock recently set the world record for taking selfies, but Murray came close to matching that with hundreds of fans around. He played it so cool, and I was losing my cool with every passing second.
My instinct was to wait for the chaos to subside, and then go from there. But with someone as big as Murray, this point never came. Fans kept coming up to him -- it was basically "Groundhog Day" day with selfies, the same thing over and over again.
About to give up, I stopped hovering and stood on a bench to get a better view. I was really just happy to be there at all. It was then that Bill Murray sat next to me to tie his shoe. This was my chance.
Without the same hesitation that held me back before, I jumped to the pavement where he was looping his laces (I had him pegged for more of a bunny-ears tying kind of guy). The sound of my dismount startled him ... and my face probably did too. Extreme excitement and anxiety almost always give me crazy eyes.
Everyone has their selfie limit, and Bill Murray had reached his. He didn't have to say it and I certainly didn't need to ask -- the man was clearly done, and I should've picked up on that obvious social cue. The worst thing I could've done at that moment was beg him for another photo.
And that's exactly what I did.
Murray's response wasn't out of line or mean-spirited -- he just didn't want to do it. That doesn't make him a diva; that makes him a human being with limits and boundaries like the rest of us. And yet I felt mortified. I honestly would've been less embarrassed asking him for the shirt off his back. Of all the things I could have said about how much he meant to me growing up, all I did was act annoying.
I kept kicking myself. This was probably the only chance I'd ever have to meet Bill Murray. I could've told him how much I love him and his work. Love means never having to say "selfie."
And that was the real problem: I was more concerned with documenting the experience than living it. The time and place for pictures had passed, but the opportunity to meet Bill F--king Murray was literally at my feet. I failed to recognize the distinction and squandered an epic opportunity because I wanted to impress my Facebook friends.
Bombing with Bill Murray is not the biggest regret of my life, but honestly it's up there. Still, I walked away with an important lesson about meeting celebrities: There are better things to ask than for a picture of their face next to yours.
If you're lucky enough to meet your heroes, don't worry so much about capturing the moment, especially if that means you might lose it. Selfies can send a message that you care more about showing off your star-sighting on social media than connecting with someone whom you admire. So stay calm, stay present and -- if you still can't help it -- ask for a selfie before hundreds of other fans do.