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February 26, 2006

Psst. Wanna Drop a Name?

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Name-dropping is an utterly selfish practice that invidiously separates those with connections from those who don't. It flies in the face of our quest for equality and therefore is probably un-American. Or something.

Seriously, name-dropping is not polite because some, many or all of the listeners to the dropped names lack retaliatory names. These folks are faced with the fact that, for whatever reasons, they are not as well-connected as the speaker.

One-upmanship can indeed be a conscious motivation for name-dropping; I have contempt for this practice.

Other name-dropping might be inadvertent or even could be essential to the topic under discussion; I’m okay with this.

Some name-dropping might be a means to reassure the speaker that he’s a sorta-somebody himself; I find this understandable, but sad.

Then there is name-dropping for sport, for the hell of it. It might be fun to do, if not to listen to.

Finally there is a class of folks who don’t need to drop names. That’s because grew up in or exist in an environment where the "names" are simply family members, close friends of the family or people encountered in day-to-day activities.

My name-dropping problem -- if it is one -- is that I don't have a lot of names to drop.

I lack names because I'm a pretty shy guy who never lived in a name-rich environment such as Manhattan, Hollywood or Washington, D.C.

Regardless, let's see how well I can do.

First we need some criteria. You can't use the name of somebody you've simply seen. For example, I've seen in the flesh Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. I don't think they ought to count because there was no interaction. So there minimally must be interaction, but not all interactions are equal. For my purposes here I'll rule out simple introductions and a few exchanged pleasantries. So if I were to meet the President in a reception line, I couldn't count that. To qualify, there must be a real conversation of some sort.

I suppose the biggest name I can drop is Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson whom I talked with on a couple occasions. The next biggest one is Raymond Burr (the actor who played Perry Mason on TV); size-wise, he was bigger than Jackson. He was touring American bases in Korea and I had to do some publicity work in conjunction with his stop in Taegu.

Number three was Adam Osborne who was well-known in the early 80s for his Osborne Computer, the first "portable" PC. He and I were on the same panel at a programming language convention.

Oh, I can claim a few other "names" related to personal computers. I did chat once with Mike Maples when he was a Microsoft bigwig (and heavier than Raymond Burr, I should add). Ditto Peter Norton of Norton Utilities software fame. Come to think of it, I also had a brief conversation with Esther Dyson.

That's about it.

I know Michael can do better because he lives in Manhattan and got to meet famous people in conjunction with his job.

What about you? Feel free to humble the rest of us un-connected lumpenproletarians. We promise not to mind (much).



posted by Donald at February 26, 2006


Funny you should mention this; the Dalai Lama and I were discussing the same thing just this afternoon.

Posted by: robert on February 26, 2006 9:38 PM

I pretty much strike out in this category. The only interaction I've ever had with a "known" person is when a beautiful local TV News anchor gave me a dirty look in a restaurant because I couldn't stop looking at her.

Posted by: big al on February 26, 2006 9:41 PM

There aren't too many names I'm able to drop. Back in my college days in the late 1970's, I was involved in a student organization that brought speakers to campus, and I got to talk with a few of them. Former Chicago Seven radical turned Wall Street investor Jerry Rubin was the one I recall the most. Another student and I went to pick him up at the airport, and I was one of four or five students who went out for drinks with him after the speech. He was a sharp, witty guy who didn't condescend at all to us students; I was sorry when he died some years later. I also spoke a bit with New York Times writer Tom Wicker when he appeared for a speaking engagement.
I'm not sure if this would quite count, but during my freshman year in college I was one of about ten students who showed up to hear an obscure Southern governor who'd recently announced what seemed to everyone like an absurdly long-shot campaign for President - Jimmy Carter. He arrived on the campus alone, in a taxi. Carter seemed like a personable sort, spending a couple hours chatting with students at the event. Also present, it being a "meet the candidates" forum, was Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris, who kept mentioning that he was part Indian, as if that somehow would make him a better candidate.
Finally, the Chairman of my employer's parent company is among the 20 or so richest people in the world, but although he's been at my worksite a couple of times I haven't met him.

Posted by: Peter on February 26, 2006 10:11 PM

Most of the names I've met are because I go to the San Diego Comic Con. and a couple of local relaxacons. So I've met people like Ray Bradbury (a sarcastic bastard), Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, David Brin, Gregory Benford, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ray Harryhausen, and others. Through the RPG biz I've met Jonathan Tweet, Robin Laws, Spike Y. Jones, David Arneson, Gary Gygax, Ken St. Andre, Greg Costikyan, Steve Jackson, Greg Stafford, and others.

But other than Bradbury I'll bet most of you have never even heard of the rest of them. And Ray is as kind and gentle as a morning show DJ.

The one person I've met that everbody knows about was Jonas Salk. I was 10 and on suspension (a problem child I was). Mom had some work to pick up, and one of her friends at the Salk Institute was helping her out. So I got hauled along. (Mom had a soft spot in her heart for baby sitters. :D )

It just so happens Dr. Salk was there when we showed up. So Mom says, "Jonas, this is my son, Alan. Alan, this is Dr. Jonas Salk."

I said, "Hello."

He said, "Don't touch anything."

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on February 26, 2006 10:12 PM

Oh, good. A chance to name drop a president. In the Seventies, when I was in Portland being a lady dog catcher, I had a little dog and walked her first thing early every morning. I'd pull my jeans over my pajamas, throw on a jacket, comb my hair (sometimes), and get a plastic bag for the dog's production on the walk. You know the drill -- put your hand in the bag, pick up the tootsie roll, evert the bag over the evidence, tie a knot in the top, and look around for a garbage pail.

I came around the corner, dog on the leash, the warm bag in my pocket, and here was a spectacle at 6AM! Huge death puppets. A velvet rope. A lot of football players who were evidently hard of hearing. They hustled us into line along the rope.

Out of the house came Jimmy Carter, all showered and powdered! (This was when he was staying with citizens instead of in hotels.) He came down the line, cheerfully greeting each of us, and that's how it came to pass that I shook hands with the President of the US while wearing my pajamas and with a pocket full of dog poop.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on February 26, 2006 11:50 PM

Trying to think. My dad worked for a typing service in Greenwich Village run by Robert DeNiro's mom, so I met him, but he was a crazed teen at the time--mid 1960s. Then David Soul of Starsky and Hutch (was working at CBS News, and he wanted to borrow one of our religion programs to watch)--also his sis went to my church and his dad analyzed my Norwegian-American family papers. Richard Gere, because I was part of a circle including Bob Thurman, Dan Goleman, Ram Dass, and Tibet House; Katharine Hepburn, because she was an alum of my college; Jerome Robbins, because my friend's brothers danced for NY City Ballet; Katherine Leigh Scott, TV actress, when she was on Dark Shadows (she was dating my friend's dad); Sen. Alan Cranston took me to see BARNUM (he was my dad's best friend); novelist Patricia Highsmith (Ripley's Game and other books, who was my mom's best friend); and George Soros (his ex-wife ran an art college linked to Bard, and I worked for her). Thor Heyerdahl, who was my cousin, when he came to be interviewed by CNN. Since I worked for 60 Min., I guess Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Harry Reasoner, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer all count, but they were really just work colleagues. I know Thornton Wilder's nephew and lit executor, but I'm not sure if that counts!

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 27, 2006 12:22 AM

Couple more came to me: John Guare, playwright, 'cause his wife sang in my church choir; and IM Pei, architect (I worked for him one summer). Once I worked for a film prod doing a Toscanini bio, so I met his grandson and a whole bunch of celeb opera singers at a PBS party.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 27, 2006 12:30 AM

Wherever the great and famous congregate, it's not anywhere near where I hang out. I've seen quite a few showbiz celebrities from a near distance mainly because I go to the San Diego Comics Con every year, but I've never talked with any of them.

On the other hand...when I was 13 or so back around 1965, I was a paperboy and I delivered the Sunday paper to the elderly mother of General Curtis LeMay. I actually saw the great man in person once at her house when he was visiting her for Christmas. But he didn't speak to me, didn't share any words of wisdom with me that changed the direction of the path I took down the highway of life, so I'm not sure if it counts.


Posted by: Dwight Decker on February 27, 2006 1:17 AM

I think winnefer wins so far! And Peter--meeting Jerry Rubin's pretty cool. I basically have no names to drop---I rode an elevator once with Liza Minnelli and she held the door open for me. I was in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria when Bill and Hillary, while in the White House, swept through with a phalanx of Secret Service around them, but that doesn't count under Donald's rules.When I was 13, I was a Kennedy Center for a play, and the Shah of Iran and his wife swept through, but, again, no interaction.

I don't think it counts if the names you drop are completely unknown to almost everyone else. Sorry, Donald, but your computer world names aren't going to stop traffic, or even get a table at a restaurant. (Mike Maples? Maybe Marla Maples). I've had dinner a couple times with a local news anchor. Actually, its slightly depressing that the people I know are so uniformly un-famous!

Posted by: annette on February 27, 2006 10:06 AM

Somebody is actually proud to shake hands with Jimmy Carter?

Posted by: Tatyana on February 27, 2006 10:51 AM

I was in class, briefly, with Denzel Washington and did a show with Imogene Coca and King Donovan, her husband.

I prefer to rest my borrowed laurels on being on the receiving end of a head tossle and autograph from Satchel Paqe when I was about 10.

Posted by: Sluggo on February 27, 2006 11:22 AM

I met and talked with Pat Boone. Nice guy.

But you knew that.

Posted by: David on February 27, 2006 12:07 PM

Ordinary name dropping is harmless enough. But what about _second-degree_ name dropping? That occurs when you don't personally know the celebrity whose name you are dropping, but know someone who knows the celebrity. Back in the late 1980's I knew a woman who talked about the scientist and writer Stephen Jay Gould as if he were a close friend. In fact she had never met Gould, but sometime earlier her sister or cousin had babysat for Gould's children.

Posted by: Peter on February 27, 2006 12:39 PM

Spent a week playing in a big band with Clark Terry when I was in high school, but I doubt he would remember me (is he still alive?).

Crossed paths with the guys in Green Day and Rancid quite often back in the 80s when Rancid was Operation Ivy and Green Day were just 3 ambitious teenagers.

As for people who would take my call nowadays, I guess Nick Denton would be the most recognizable, sadly.

Posted by: the patriarch on February 27, 2006 1:17 PM

I haven’t met o whole lot of famous people but there were a few.

I was on the same debate team with Gro Haarlem Bruntdland before she became the Norwegian Prime Minister and of course Cale Yarborough was her fiancé at the time so I met him too.

Then there was Buzz Aldrin who sometimes stopped by the bar in my town when he was passing through. The bartender on the slow nights was a young exchange student by the name of Jacques Chirac. I still get Christmas cards from “Jack the Rack” as we used to call him.

I saw “Showgirls” with Barney Frank who was my Dad’s best friend and learned to cook sea scallops from Sinead O’Conner who was in my Mom’s sorority at college.

My uncle, Julius Rosenberg, entertained quite a bit and through him I met Whitaker Chambers, Alger Hiss, and Clyde Tolson who once took me to see “Thunderbirds Are Go!” with his best friend.

Nipsy Russell used to do my taxes before he made it big and in grad school I tutored Judd Nelson in Philosophy and once spent a wild weekend with Judd, Mickey Rourke, Clodagh Rodgers, Pierre Salinger, Dick Butkus, Flick Shagwell, Ted Bissell, Ike Turner, Vivian Vance, Leif Garrett, and a hookah filled with hashish.

I worked at the Trilateral Commission so I saw Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, Moshe Dayan, Deng Xiaping, David Hasselhoff, and Patty Hearst almost daily but I don’t think that counts.

I slept with Fidel Castro’s daughter, Brianna but I only caught a glimpse of “the old man” once late at night eating a Fluffernutter in the dinette bathed by the flickering light of “My Favorite Martian” reruns on a portable b&w TV.

Oh, and Howard Hughes once took me to see “Ice Station Zebra” in a sweltering movie theatre in Oaxaca.

Posted by: Murphy on February 27, 2006 1:34 PM

Murphy---You had me going until I read the "Jack the Rack" comment. Ho ho ho.

Posted by: annette on February 27, 2006 1:39 PM

Dunno if Bill Moyers counts if one just worked with him? He occurred to me afterwards, but there was nothing "celeb" about it. He used to have an office at CBS. He's the only name-drop on my CV.

Posted by: winifer skattebol on February 27, 2006 1:58 PM

What an interesting post. In fact, I was just telling my friends that I was reading Donald Pittenger's latest piece on the website 2blowhards. Sure, I read him all the time. I even once emailed Michael Blowhard. We're practically friends. Did you know his real name isn't even Michael? Sure, I know what his real name is, but I'm not allowed to tell anyone. It's only for a select few of us who are "in the know."

Posted by: Neil on February 27, 2006 4:26 PM

Does speaking to or knowing them "Before They Were Stars" count, count extra, or not count at all?

I went to Junior High with Jada Pinkett (Smith), and talked to her regularly then. I haven't talked to her since we went to different high schools, let alone since she became a superstar.

It terms of name-drop-worthy people, I further expose my Baltimorean roots (if you didn't know that Pinkett was from Baltimore) by knowing the greatest living Baltimorean writers, fiction and non-fiction categories -- Ann Tyler and Taylor Branch.

That amount sums it up, though.

Posted by: Richard Bellamy on February 27, 2006 4:30 PM

The Internet has made interacting with famous or semi-famous people much easier. I've exchanged e-mail with Andrew Sullivan, Virginia Postrel, and, last but not least!, Michael Blowhard.

I accosted Camille Paglia in the parking lot of the L.A. City Library to sign my copy of Sexual Personae after a lecture once.

The only name I can really drop is probably not familiar to most Blowhards. When I was a kid I wrote a letter to radio talk-show host/writer Dennis Prager and he invited me sit in on his show (I didn't speak on the air, I just sat in studio with him). He was only on in L.A. at the time, but now he's syndicated nationally, so some of ya'll might know him.

Posted by: Bryan on February 27, 2006 4:35 PM

Neil, you're such a quick learner (from Sedaris).
You managed to post my "I've had a not-entirely-sober conversation with famous blogger So&So " musings before I even selected whom am I going to expose to general public!

Posted by: Tatyana on February 27, 2006 4:49 PM

Peter describes something similar to a parlor game I invented years ago called ... wait for it ... "Name Dropping." You try to think of chains of relationships, Kevin Bacon-style, that connect you to a celebrity. The great thing is, everyone's got them, but rarely do they know about them.

For example: my co-worker's wife knew Ted Nugent in high school, and was the person who urged him to try singing.

In this game, only relationships count, not brief meetings. The point of the game is the length of the chain, not the quality of the relationships (or the celebrity). I can attest the game is a great ice-breaker. And there's no vanity involved.

Posted by: fred on February 27, 2006 4:50 PM

Does anyone in the poetry world count in name-dropping? Lessee … Dana Gioia introduced himself to me at West Chester a few years ago, and last year I had a half-hour conversation with him and Annie Finch; I've traveled with Fred Turner. Don't my thesis director was Sena Naslund. But the poetry world is so tiny that you meet almost everyone if you stay in it long.

Posted by: Mike Snider on February 27, 2006 5:45 PM

Heh. Wonder what that "don't" is doing there.

Posted by: Mike Snider on February 27, 2006 5:46 PM

Peter: I once had the honor of stepping on Stephen Jay Gould's foot. He had just given a speech about Dolly the cloned sheep, after which I absentmindedly trod upon him.

My other brushes with greatness: I shook hands with Hubert Sumlin, waited on Quentin Tarantino and Ray Davies, and was doorman to David Wells. All were positive experiences, but Hubert Sumlin is the one I'm most in awe of. Played behind the Wolf, don'tcha know.



Posted by: Brian on February 27, 2006 8:28 PM

I've daydreamt about writing a memoir which would also include a chapter, or a number of very short chapters, about the famous people I've met or -- much, much more commonly -- sighted or "bumped" into.

But my favorite story of all time along these lines, and the one that inspires how I would try to approach this topic in this imaginary memoir, is the one that written about a few years ago by William (?) Safire and appeared in the "New York Times."

It seems that when he was a cub reporter (in the late 1940s? early 1950s?) he was assigned to cover some story where he had to go to some brownstone on the Upper East Side -- perhaps to interview someone for a news item? (Important to this story is the fact that the brownstone also had an art gallery, I believe, on one of the lower floors.)

In some way Safire screwed up on the assignment (missed the interviewee?), and became very upset with himself. He sat down on the brownstone's high stoop, distraught, holding his head in his hands, when a kind lady coming out of the art gallery asked him if he was OK and if she could help him. Without really looking up, he just shook his head and said something like, "No, thank you lady, I just want to be left alone."

After the woman left, he found out (or realized) that it was none other than that famous "recluse-about-town" -- Greta Garbo!!!

Of course, aside from having experienced a Garbo "sighting," to be able to say to Garbo that you want to be left alone is just priceless! (By the way, for the record, I believe Garbo never actually said, "I vant to be alone," but said something similar in one of her movies.)

So what makes this story special is the fact that the celebrity sighting has something to do with the nature of the celebrity's "celebrity" -- in the same way that an Annie Liebowitz (sp?) celebrity portrait often is inspired by the nature of that person's celebrity.

Although none of my stories come anywhere close to Safire's, here are some that come closest -- or at least have an interesting (at least to me) "side story" to them that make them more than just mere "sightings": the son of Damon Runyon, Nancy Walker, James Coburn, Charles Nelson Reilly, Robert Horton, Joseph Cotton, Alan J. Lerner, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Tom Wolfe, Andy Warhol, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, Jacqueline Onassis, McGeorge Bundy, Stanely Milgram (the psychogist who did that famous study about people shocking other people), Donald Trump, Jennifer Jones, Ali McGraw, Richard Dreyfuss, Mary Tyler Moore, Jane Fonda, Jack Klugman, Michael Douglas, Diana Ross, Liza Minelli, Katherine Hepburn, Vivian Vance, Richard Dreyfus, Jerry Hall, Muhammad Ali, Neil Simon, Sandy Dennis, Dylan McDermott, Margaux Hemingway, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Matthew Broderick, Franklin Thomas (former President of the Ford Foundation), Dina Merrill, Andre Previn, Mrs. Vladimir (?) Horowitz, Ed Koch, Elaine Strich, Betty Comden / Adolph Green, Eliot Spitzer, David Rockefeller, Bill Bradley, Andre Previn, Al Fanken, and Paula Abdul.

In my first apartment (in a classic "bohemian" Greenwich Village tenement), my next door neighbor was someone who later became a successful soap opera actor and was on the cover of TV Guide (along with his much more famous co-star, Joan Collins), and another neighbor in the same building was published in "the New Yorker."

Also, I once met someone who turned out to be the nephew of Jane Jacobs who was mentioned in her book, "Death and Life of Great American Cities." (He was the nephew who lived in Stuyvesant Town and asked, if I remember correctly, why certain places get divided into turfs.)

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on February 27, 2006 9:14 PM

Okay. I spent a day with Kenny Rogers in the 70's, Jimmy Keach (who's married to Jane Seymour) asked me to live with him once (I politely declined). Because I majored in drama at the University of Minnesota, I know tons of actors who make guest appearances on tv and do lots of theater -- Ivar Broggar, Steven Ryan, Tovah Feldschuh, etc. etc. Michael Jackson's brother Jermaine asked my friend to marry him. I was good friends in L.A. with Ron Holden, a one-hit wonder from the 70's ("Love You So"). Academically, I got to have lunch with my idol, Robert Scholes, once, and my child sat on the lap of James Britton, a giant in my field, at a party. Stanley Fish read me the riot act at a conference once. I opened a bathroom door and seriously banged Janet Emig (another giant in my field) in the arm -- I spent the rest of the weekend apologizing profusely. I'm sure I'll think of more . . .

Posted by: missgrundy on February 27, 2006 9:16 PM

P.S. -- I forgot to mention that I have Kevin Bacon's sister's bright yellow drawers (dresser drawers!) in my bedroom.

Or in the urban planning context (which is how I thought about it originally, since this was before Kevin Bacon became famous), I have Edmund Bacon's daughter's bright yellow drawers (dresser drawers!) in my bedroom.

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on February 27, 2006 9:24 PM

Hubert Sumlin. Now, that's an impressive name. He's the cat that had that riff (well, he had tons of riffs..but this one riff) in "Smokestack Lightnin'" with, I think, Willie Johnson, that was copied by most R&Rers years later. Smokin'.

Posted by: DarkoV on February 27, 2006 9:32 PM

Tatyana, if the president I shook hands with had not been Carter but someone more recent, I might have handed him the contents of my pocket.

Okay, literary brags: I took a writing workshop from Peter Mattiessen and a writing class from Richard Stern. Norman Maclean fixed dinner for me one night (sheepherder stew and blueberry muffins). We used to hunt on A.B. Guthrie, Jr.'s ranch and I interviewed him for a movie once. George Montgomery (oops -- an actor-- oh, well) used to stop by all the time. Mary Clearman Blew is a friend of mine. Richard Wheeler emails me daily. Ivan Doig won't give me the time of day. James Welch Jr. ALWAYS stopped to give me encouragement. I once stepped over the long legs of John Irving to get to the pop machine. Philip Red Eagle came to visit and brought his dad along.

Friends from the theatre days at Northwestern: Paula and Dick Benjamin, Anthony Roberts, David Pressman, Marshall Mason. Heck, there must be more.

This is kind of fun. How about famous old warriors: Chewing Black Bone, Louis Plenty Treaty, Green Grass Bull... Now I'm cheating. Green Grass Bull was already dead when I came here.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on February 27, 2006 11:20 PM

Sorry, Mary, you have to use 5th grade English talking to me. What is that in your pocket a president (and which one?) could be interested in?

Posted by: Tatyana on February 28, 2006 9:45 AM

Tatyana, The story about me shaking Carter's hand was an earlier post. I had been walking my little dog and had its poop in a plastic bag in my pocket. Probably the only president that might interest would have been Teddy Roosevelt. I never shook Teddy's hand, but his birthday is the same as mine.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on February 28, 2006 5:14 PM

Mary, I think if I met Mr.Carter,I'd think my dog's poopoo is too precious to honor the guy with.

The only President I'd be interested to shake hands with is Ron Reagan, but that possibility is lost forever.

Posted by: Tatyana on February 28, 2006 5:21 PM

I dated Vin Diesel. Also Maleek Yoba. Though not simultaneoulsy. And I turned down Vanilla Ice for a threesome.

I also scooped dog poo with Matthew Broderick. Though it was completely asexual for me.

Posted by: chelsea girl on February 28, 2006 5:48 PM

I'd rather know John Guare's wife than Guare -- and do.

Michael Blowhard, Larry Summers, Hillary, Senator Moynihan, Senator Chaffee (father), Senator Warner, Mayor Riley, Bill Weld, Ted Sorenson, Myron Magnet, Bobby Kennedy Jr., Pinky Bhutto, Kurt Andersen, Walter Isaacson, Whit Stillman, Mira Sorvino, Kate Beckinsale, Chloé Sevigny, Bobby Short, Gene Autry, Denis Potvin, Tom Brokaw, Glenn Close, Chevy Chase, Richard Gere, Cindy Crawford, Larry Tisch, Lew Cullman, Galen Weston, Nina Griscom, Amanda Burden, Philip Johnson, Robert A.M. Stern, Vincent Scully, Andrés Duany, James Stirling, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Léon Krier, Christopher Alexander, James Howard Kunstler, Tom Wolfe, Calvin Trillin, Susan Minot, HSH the Princess Maria Fernanda von Thurn und Taxis. And then the other category, like John Quincy Adams, Wendell Wilkie, Jonathan Winthrop, Edsel Ford, Larry Rockefeller, Ted Roosevelt, Louis Cabot, Andrew Nitze, Ham Fish, Anastasio Somoza, and Principe Massimo.

Of course most of these are only acquaintances. When I think about people my friends and family know, I happily realize that I could have been much more of a climber than I chose to be.

Posted by: john on February 28, 2006 7:34 PM

Decades ago I had a very brief romance with the granddaughter of a Nobel-prize-winning novelist. Does that count? I never met the great man, though. Could we maybe start another category: people you've known who know (or are related to) someone famous?

I guess my proudest moment came when I made small talk with Ashley Judd. She was dating a guy I'd gone to prep school with, and attended a class reunion with him. Quite a sight she was too, all bright, shiney, and glitzy among all us dowdy, falling-apart middle-agers. But at the final evening's dance she was sitting there all by herself. I think everyone else didn't know what to make of her. So I hauled myself together, went up to her and made smalltalk for maybe 10 minutes with her. This was just before she became a big star -- I remember she was telling The Wife and me about a thriller she'd done with Morgan Freeman that was about to come out. She was very sweet. Nice Southern accent, very downhome, and when we went our own way she actually thanked the Wife and me for rescuing her from her boredom and loneliness. Ashley can do no wrong by me!

I want to find out more about Alan Kellogg's "relaxacons." That sounds like the kind of convention I'd love to attend.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on March 1, 2006 1:13 AM

Mike, a relaxacon is a small time local science fiction convention. A few hundred people at a local hotel. Some seminars, a few informal talks, some authors will do readings for maybe a dozen people. Most activity occurs in hotel hallways, the lobby, and in the con suite. They're mostly opportunities to have casual conversations with most everybody who shows up.

Most attendees are locals, though I have been to a couple with folks coming in from as far away as Scotland. The next relaxacon around here is ConDorCon this Friday the 3rd through Sunday the 5th.

Then you have Conjecture, which more literature oriented. Not much info on their site yet, but Conjecture will be held September 29th this year.

Last is Conzilla, the 2006 edition of Westercon, a travelling relaxacon that moves from city to city in the western U.S. This year it's being held July 1st through July 4th in San Diego

Though in the science fiction community what qualifies as a relaxacon depends on its size relative to the San Diego Comic-con, an event that last year drew some 100,000 attendees, including some big Hollywood names. Compared to the Comic-Con there are major business conferences in NYC that qualify as relaxacons.

For NYC area relaxacons check with local bookstores that special in fantasy and science fiction literature, or check out's Events calender, or Locus Mag's convention listing.

One thing to keep in mind when it comes to small science fiction/fantasy conventions is that they are very relaxed. It is entirely possible to meet a big name Nobel Prize winner chatting about the latest episode of Lost at a relaxacon, should a Nobel Prize winner decide to attend. So if you do go, go to say hi, gab, and compare the glaring differences between the old Battlestar Galactica Mark One and the currently airing Battlestar Galactica Mark Two.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on March 1, 2006 12:42 PM

I forgot to say that through my mother I've met Winnifer, although I'm sorry to say that I can't remember her.

And although I've only seen Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick walk by in Central Park, I've spoken to his sister Elinor a few times -- is that the sister who's underwear you have, Benjamin?

It's a small world, after all -- and John Guare, of course, wrote 6 Degrees of Separation.

Posted by: john on March 1, 2006 12:48 PM

Living in Sweden makes it much more difficult to meet stars I can tell you. But as fate would have it I bumped into a few working at a 4 star hotel.

I did run over the Swedish queen in the slopes once. Didn't even see it was her. Just comming of the lift chatting with some friends. And then afterwards a friend of mine said.. "Kim, do you know who you just ran over?" I turned around and saw Silvia there. So i went over and must have said "Im sorry" ten times before the bodyguards started to look mean at me. I have met her husband a few times so we chatted about that before I have to go. That really something isn't it? :)

Met with bob Dylan as he stayed at my hotel. carried his luggage for him, shook his hand and gave him directions to the bar. In sweden that's almost enough to be concidered star struck :)

John Rhys Davies also stayed at my hotel so I shook his hand and said a few words but was about it sadly. one bloke I would ahve loved to chat with. What he was doing in Sweden with his wife on his birth day i can only imagine.

That's Sweden for you

Posted by: Kim on March 2, 2006 6:23 PM

I like the chain game idea so I'll mention that close friends of a close friend of mine were the couple in NYC who had the experience that inspired Guare's Six Degrees.
I met Katherine Hepburn when I was pretty young, because she was my aunt's college classmate & best friend. She told me I looked like Gene Tierney.
I also met Grandma Moses when I was a kid. She told me I would have a happy marriage & family, & I have, on the whole.

Posted by: Susan on March 2, 2006 8:59 PM

I once beat-boxed while Snoop Dogg rapped one night when we were both coincidentally in jail at the same time!

Alan Kellogg: I know who most of the scifi names on that list are! Jonathan Tweet connection here: his former room-mate, DJ, who was an un-credited co-creator of Ars Magica, was the Storyteller the last time I regularly gamed in the early 90s. Also, I've known Jerry Pournelle electronically since the 1980s :-)

Hhhhmmmm, I once declared myself "Official Heckler" in Boulder, CO when it was "Alan Ginsberg Day" (or was it week?) Also met Baba Ram Das in Boulder, too.

I once passed on attending the Larry King Heart Foundation luncheon (that my aunt hosted that year), where I surely would have met many more 'names' to have put in this post! My family in LA can name-drop all day long, as they are in the movie-truck business. Talking to them has deeply convinced me that nearly all Hollywood types are in some way out of their heads!

Posted by: David Mercer on March 5, 2006 8:29 PM

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