This year, however, an unexpected idea rose up and took possession of me. I decided to write it as an example to the "trip to Spain" girl; this is how you take an account of a trip, with no plot or tension, and glean a story from it.
I won't show it to her unless she asked for more help (or starts whining about what I did or did not say again), but I'm really happy with the way it turned out, so I thought I'd share it with all of you.
Waiting for Whoopi
I had been standing in the cold outside the door of the Royale Theatre in New York City for nearly two hours, waiting for Whoopi Goldberg. My friends Chris, Rory, Tony and I had been to see an excellent play called Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Whoopi and Charles S. Dutton. We were among a large crowd of people standing behind barricades on either side of the stage door, excitedly hoping to meet Whoopi and get her autograph.
That is, it was exciting for the first hour or so, but as it grew colder and my feet starting getting sore I began to think that this really wasn’t worth our while. Part of me wanted to suggest to the guys that we give up and go back to the hotel. But I really didn’t want to be a party pooper. And besides, I said to myself, how many other opportunities are you going to have in your life to meet Whoopi Goldberg? What’s a couple of hours waiting in the cold?
Some behind the barricade on the other side of the stage door said, “Here she comes!”
But it wasn’t Whoopi after all. It was an eight-year-old girl and someone I took to be her mother. The mother had one arm protectively around her daughter’s shoulders and said, somewhat apologetically, “Whoopi will be out soon. She,” indicating the little girl, “just got to meet with her. We came all the way out from Nebraska.”
My friend Tony, who loves kids, said, “Oh, that’s fine,” and to the little girl, “lucky you.”
The little girl had scars of some kind on her face, white scars that contrasted with her dark skin. I thought it looked as though she’d been burned in an accident. I imagine she got to meet with Whoopi as part of a Make-A-Wish project or something similar.
Once they had left Tony said, “Now I don’t mind at all having to wait all this time.” We all agreed. In fact, I felt a little guilty. I hadn’t complained out loud, but I had definitely started to feel crabby about the long wait. I never would have complained, even in my thoughts, if I’d known what was going on.
We only had to wait ten or fifteen minutes more before Whoopi came out, along with her bodyguards. She was wearing her trademark sunglasses and her head was pointed down, her face almost hidden behind her dreadlocks. From what I could see of her face, I thought she looked somewhat overwhelmed by the crowd, even though she must surely be used to them by now. Nevertheless, she started signing autographs on the opposite side of the stage door from where we were standing.
The crowd, which had stood dormant for so long, was suddenly in a frenzy of excitement. Cameras started flashing, people started talking and shouting excitedly and moving around. When the crowd started moving, I got wedged uncomfortably between Tony and the stage door; the crowd pushed me almost entirely behind the open stage door so that I was almost invisible from where Whoopi would be standing. I stuck my hand, holding my playbill and a pen, out from behind the door and under Tony’s arm, hoping that Whoopi would notice.
Whoopi made her way over to where we were standing. As she signed Tony’s playbill I heard him say, “Thank you so much for this.” She handed his playbill back, then turned around and walked back to the crowd on the other side of the stage door. Either she didn’t see me or didn’t want to sign an autograph for a seemingly disembodied hand.
Tony looked at me and said, “She didn’t sign yours, did she?”
“Here,” said Tony, stepping back so I could take his place at the barricade. “Try to get her attention. Ask her to come back.”
I stepped up to the barricade and said, “Excuse me, Ms. Goldberg? You missed me. Could you please come back here and sign my playbill?” I tried to raise my voice above the din of the crowd, but I felt timid and shy. She didn’t really seem that enthused about being here, and I didn’t want to be a nuisance.
Soon, however, I realized that she was making another round and would soon be coming back. Tony, Rory, and Chris, who had all gotten autographs, stepped back a bit to make sure I would be seen. As Whoopi started back toward our side of the stage door, a guy in the crowd started heckling her. I couldn’t hear him very well, but I think he said something like, “Hey, I’m really tired; I’ve been waiting out here in the cold for two hours.”
“And I appreciate that,” said Whoopi. “But I just got done doing a show, and then I met with a little girl for two hours. Shit, honey, we’re all tired.”
She tried to go back to signing autographs, but the rude heckler guy wouldn’t leave her alone. So she and her bodyguards got into their black SUV and drove away.
I was disappointed, but I didn’t blame her at all. I would have done the same thing in her situation.
The barricades came down, and the crowd dispersed. Chris, Rory, Tony and I started back to our hotel. We were all talking about what a jerk that guy was and how disgusted we were by his behavior. The three of them, especially Tony, also felt really bad for me that I didn’t get Whoopi’s autograph.
To be honest, I didn’t even care about that anymore. I felt guilty for wanting her autograph in the first place. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be famous, to have crowds of people following you around—screaming at you, asking things of you—when
sometimes you might just want to be left alone. I thought, What is really the difference between me and that rude guy? I’d like to consider myself a nice, thoughtful, respectful person, but as far as Whoopi knew I was just like that guy, thinking she owed me something just because I’d spent money to see her show and waited out in the cold for her. And really, was my attitude all that different from his? Hadn’t I grumbled to myself about what was keeping Whoopi before I found out? Hadn’t I tried to get her attention, to get her to come back and make a special effort just to give me her autograph? True, I had made an effort to do so as nicely as possible, but still, I almost made it sound like it was her fault she had skipped over me.
I had wanted her autograph so badly, but it no longer seemed to matter. I didn’t feel like I deserved it.