Oh, Andrew . . .
My guest author, the talented Katherine Valdez, had an opportunity to chat with actor/director/author Andrew McCarthy earlier this year. I had also met him at the same event, and I think Katherine perfectly captured the essence of what it means to have “brain melt.”
As teenaged girls, we swooned over him and Rob Lowe getting into trouble in “Class,” romancing Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink,” and falling in love with Kim Cattrall in “Mannequin.”
We feel like we know him. We refer to him by his first name. And when we see him in real life, part of our brain melts.
This is the effect of Andrew McCarthy on the female brain, a.k.a Brain Melt. I know it’s real, because it happened to me.
Earlier this year, I attended the Northern Colorado Writers conference, featuring actor/director-turned-bestselling-author Andrew McCarthy as the keynote speaker.
I joked a couple of times with NCW Director Kerrie Flanagan about picking him up at the airport, a challenging task she had selflessly decided to take on despite her hectic schedule. I volunteered to put my heart on the line, too. “If you need help, I’m available,” I emailed, punctuating my offer with a smiley face.
Still, when I attended the volunteer training – a dozen of us answered Kerrie’s request for help as “ambassadors” – I was surprised to see my name printed on the assignment sheet next to the task “Book Signing.”
Kerrie requested one more volunteer for that task, and my friend Dori added her name. We chatted calmly about Meeting a Famous Actor, and pretended the teenybopper part of our brains wasn’t screaming and jumping up and down.
The big day arrived. I spotted him walking through the hotel lobby. In a burst of confidence, I called out his name.
He stopped and smiled.
“Hi, I’m Katherine. I’m going to assist you with your book signing tonight.”
“Your essay ‘Going Back In’ really spoke to me,” I said, referring to his first-person account of a young woman’s death years ago in Wyoming during an outdoors leadership backpacking trip. “I backpacked the Wind River Range once with my husband. I mean, my ex-husband. I’m divorced.” I realized I was babbling. “We saw a lot more people than we wanted to.”
“The Wind sees a lot of people. I’ve spent a lot of time in Lander going on trips,” he said, mentioning the town where backpackers launch their expeditions.
“We hiked in about 12 miles and there were crowds,” I said. “We even saw a Paris Hilton-type girl carrying her little dog.”
He smiled, as though he sympathized with our quest for solitude.
“We went up Fremont Peak and there was only one other person, so it was nice to get away for a while.”
He said something about the mountain, but I can’t remember, because I was too busy thinking I’M TALKING WITH ANDREW MCCARTHY!
“You know Fremont?” I asked him. “You’ve been up it?”
“The summit is so exposed, like ‘I don’t want to look down,’ ” I said with an embarrassed laugh.
Aware that I was starting to make a fool of myself, I said in closing, “I hope you have a chance to explore a bit before you leave town.”
He perked up. “What do you recommend?
“A good hike with a view of the whole city is hiking up to the “A” above the football stadium. You go all the way west on Prospect…” I pointed in the wrong direction.
“This way is west?” He pointed in the opposite direction.
“Yes, all the way west on Prospect and there’s a gate and you walk up a hill that leads to the trailhead, and you hike up the ridge to the white “A” painted on the hill above the stadium, and you get a view of the entire city.”
“How long does it take?”
“If you hike at a brisk pace, about a half-hour one way. So, go all the way east on Prospect…”
“East or West?” He smiled.
The painful realization struck me: I was suffering from Brain Melt.
“I’m sorry, West,” I said. I need to stop talking, NOW.
Andrew wore a slight smile on this face during our entire conversation, as though he knows the effect he has on women. No doubt he’s witnessed Brain Melt many times.
The irony is I hate the idea of being star-struck. When I see ordinary people screaming and falling all over themselves in the presence of a celebrity, I think, “C’mon, he’s Just a Normal Person.”
What the heck was I thinking? Of course he’s not Just a Normal Person. He’s a Movie Star. He traveled to India in search of the perfect cup of tea, went diving for black pearls in French Polynesia, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, and published articles about these adventures and more. And, of course, he’s the author of a best-selling memoir, The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down.
The best possible thing happened next. He turned away from my Advanced Brain Melt deteriorated state to talk with two female writers who waited patiently at his side.
I was so relieved. And just a tiny bit disappointed. But mostly grateful this episode of epic humiliation had come to an end.* Note to Self: Don’t ever talk to a famous person again. Ever.**
Later, Dori and I showed up at the book signing table, only to find that a vivacious redhead had appointed herself Andrew’s assistant, single-handedly corralled everyone into a line, and asked them to open their copies of Andrew’s memoir to the title page, ready for him to sign.
Dori and I swallowed our disappointment, and exchanged amused smiles. Brain Melt had claimed another victim.
Katherine Valdez is the author of “Close Encounters with David Sedaris” and “Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance.” If you subscribe to her blog and like her author Facebook page, she would be glad to entertain you with more embarrassing, true stories.
*With a fist bump to Aisha Tyler, comedian and author of Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation
**With apologies to Taylor Swift, “We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together.”