There are many, many things you must not do right now. But here is what you must do: stay calm. Breathe as deeply as you can, which is not very deeply at all. Your ribs are crumpling from the pressure. In case you lost consciousness for a moment, you are standing two feet away from Meryl Streep, under the suspended halves of a very large boulder belonging to her husband, Don Gummer.
Listen to her husband speak shyly into a microphone about this installation of his; learn that it is titled Primary Separation. Consider your own primary separation: you are less than a yard away from your favorite person that you have never met, and she will never know that you risked your life squirming into two foundation garments just to be here.
Meryl Streep is friendly, engaging, lovely. Did you already say lovely? Yes, you did. It bears repeating. The master of ceremonies takes a minute to state the obvious, perhaps hoping that any gawkers will get it over with, once and for all: "Don's wife, Meryl, is a unique artist in her own right." She accepts this with low-key modesty, and the focus shifts back to her husband and his work, as it should.
Feel guilty that your focus is less shiftable. Reel at the sound of that familiar laugh, right there, right there, no soundtrack! The luck! She is a proud, delighted wife, and it is charming to see. Watch as she and her daughter snap pictures of Don with their shiny cellphones. Wonder how many of these events they have attended. Wonder what it is like to be lovely Meryl Streep's daughter and to own such fabulous motorcycle buckle boots at such a young age. Wonder what the Streep-Gummers keep in their refrigerator, and if their pets do unspeakable things to their rugs. One of the reasons you like Meryl so much is that you can so easily imagine her swearing under her breath as she scrapes dog poo out of a braided rug. You can picture her running out for ice cream at 10pm in a hopelessly unattractive parka, or in bed with the flu, blowing her nose and laughing hysterically in her oldest flannel pajamas as she reads an article her publicist has sent her, a piece that describes her as "Hollywood royalty."
Get a hold of yourself. Rein yourself in. Repeat your mantra: Do not do the things you must not do. Do not do the things you must not do. It's not that it is hard for you not to do these things; it's just that your brain likes to try to convince you that you have done these things. You know that your brain is lying to you, but you feel pre-humiliated nonetheless. In the short time that you have been standing here, your brain has already logged a series of very vivid images of you doing various Things You Must Not Do, like punning uncontrollably about rocks to Meryl (I'm in between a rock and a heart place, because I HEART YOU MERYL STREEP I REALLY REALLY HEART YOU) or telling her that you have the same birthday and that you have always interpreted this as a sign and that you also have a knack for the accents, particularly those of Eastern European flavor.
Put your foot down. Tell your brain if it doesn't knock it off, you will dash your skull against the Donald Gummer art rock to beat your mind into submission and you won't care who's watching.
The official remarks have just ended, and the crowd heads across the street to the museum for a reception and a tour of some of Gummer's early work. Follow the crowd.
Meryl follows you. Your heels are actually tingling. A fine day! A marvelous day! So far, you have not wheeled around and attempted a single rock pun. You have not confessed to anyone present that you are wearing two foundation garments. This is shaping up to be a most promising afternoon. As promised by the friend with connections, you are on the list. YOU ARE ON THE LIST. You are never on the list. This is big.
Slap a museum sticker on your muzzled bosom, which growls and tries to break free from its Spanx Tube of Death to bite you on your chin. Ignore your bosom and glide into the museum. Make a beeline for the wine. Try hard to think about art. But it is difficult for a serf to think about art in a room full of vassals, especially when one is a serf who really should be slopping the pigs or sloshing human waste out of the window of her thatched hut. So far, the vassals have not noticed you, but you are sure they will if you make the mistake of opening your mouth. Clamp your mouth shut. Press your plastic cup against your lips and think of pigs. Vassals, vassals everywhere, and so many drinks to drop on the floor.
Don Gummer's exhibition is in a narrow gallery space, and there are a lot of intelligent, tastefully dressed persons milling about sipping wine and saying intelligent, rational things to each other. These people are either being careful not to glance in Ms. Streep's direction, or they are very good at compartmentalizing and doing the thing that they are here to do, which is, simply, pondering Don Gummer's art. Envy them. Stare despondently at a family of rocks resting contentedly upon a row of steel wires. You are not a good compartmentalizer. Everything you see and hear and know is connected to everything else. You find signs and symbols and omens and links and parallels and echoes in everything that crosses your path. You feel too much, all the time, and you are hopelessly distracted by the shooting-star stimuli: Is her bag a Birkin? If so, surely a gift? Meryl seems far too sensible to drop $5K on a white leather tote that will be impossible to keep clean.
Inside the gallery, Meryl is constantly flanked by lovely people or important-looking people or lovely-and-important-looking people. Human buffers: they do not leave her side. Good friends. Your friends would likely do the same thing. As you reach for another steamed green bean, your mother appears in a little devil suit on your right shoulder. She grabs hold of your earlobe, stuffs her head in your ear, and whispers, Remember you did that wonderful Polish accent in that Holocaust play in Portland. And don't forget that time you played the nice Manchester granny. Tell Meryl.
Whisper, Shhhh. Offer your imaginary mother a steamed green bean to shut her up. She refuses the green bean and jabs you in the cheek with her pretend pitchfork. Go say hello. Introduce yourself. Shake your head vehemently. It would be terribly rude to barge into Meryl's inner circles, and besides, that is not what this day is about. This day is simply about the molecules. Meryl Streep Molecules are enough. It is a binary equation: yesterday, you had never been in the same room with Meryl Streep Molecules. Today, you have. This should be good enough for anyone.
Reach for a red grape, then realize that the hand that has just plucked a grape before yours belongs to Meryl Streep's willowy daughter, who is now tromping in her miraculous leather boots over to some equally willowy, chic friends. Realize that you would be disturbed if a stranger evidenced any excitement about eating a grape from the same cluster as one of your daughters. Look neutral. Back away from the grapes and Meryl Streep's daughter. Your imaginary mother yanks on a lock of your hair and sticks her head in your ear again. Go talk to her. Tell her you're a screenwriter! An actress! A playwright! Tell her you write a blog! She'll love the blog!
Shake your head vigorously like a horse plagued by flies. Hiss, Knock it off, Ma. Imaginary mother sighs and takes off the devil costume. I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed. Your mother then leaps from your shoulder and disappears under the buffet table. You are running out of art to look at, and you have already said hi to the two people that you know. Decide that this is it for the afternoon. You have drunk your fill of Meryl Streep Molecules, and after one more gallery sweep, you will head back to your life of serfdom, with no regrets. This day will still have been better than the last.
Near the back of the gallery, you realize there are two graphite drawings that interest you—one of a deceased pigeon, and another that is a series of tiny, wonderful sketches of a twisted gum eraser. Inch closer. You like these drawings. You like them very much. Back in the carefree days when you were a happy, Birkenstocked Studio Art major, sculpture was not your thing, but drawing was. You have always been amazed by what the eye can see in dirt on paper, and these drawings are right up your alley. Enjoy the drawings for a few minutes. Then decide that it really is time to go. There is no more for you here. The pigs are oinking for their slop, Serf.
Reluctantly head for the door at the end of the narrow exhibit hall. Glance to your right: another piece, three stones half-sunk in metal boxes submerged in red earth. Look around for its title: Stay. Someone jostles your arm suddenly, an expensive-looking man who has just walked away from a chat with Don Gummer, the same Don Gummer who is now standing right behind you. Don Gummer, Meryl Streep's husband, is a nice-looking fellow who looks like he would prefer to be wearing anything other than his tan tweed suit jacket. He is alone, no buffer in sight, and he looks as uncomfortable as you feel.
Carpe the moment. Realize to your surprise that you actually have a question. Smile at him before you lose your nerve. He smiles slightly, wary but willing. Hear yourself say something like, I'm sure you're really tired of all the schmoozing but would it be all right if I asked you a question? It is far from verbal brilliance, but he has probably heard worse. He is amenable to entertaining your question. Try hard to speak slowly and rationally. Ask him if his focus is sculpture now, or if he still works occasionally in graphite and charcoal. It sounds all right coming out of your mouth, you decide. He opens his mouth to answer. He begins speaking, telling you that, yes, he does occasionally still work in—oh.
A blonde woman about your height is approaching on your left. She is talking on a cellphone: Yes, I know, I know. Hang on a minute, Daddy's right here, let me put him on. She smiles apologetically at you and mouths the word sorry! as she hands the phone to her husband. He smiles apologetically at you, too, and takes the phone from her. He turns away, leaving you alone with Meryl Streep.
Excuse me for interrupting, says Meryl Streep warmly. Didn't mean to break in like that. Carpe everything you can muster. In no time at all, she will again be surrounded by people, led back into the world of wine-swilling vassals. Quickly offer your hand. She takes it‚ takes it in hers. You are shaking Meryl Streep's hand. It reminds you of your mother's hand (the full-size version of your mother), soft and quite gentle. Marvel at how short she is, an inch or so shorter than you.
Do not say Hi. Hi or Hello would be far too normal, far too pragmatic. Say something in a breathless rush, something that really wastes time, something truly absurd that sounds like Would it be all right if I said hi to you?, even though you are already holding her hand, and the two of you should presumably already be beyond this point. She laughs. Graciously. This is graciousness, pure and simple. Already, people are closing in on her. You must be quick about embarrassing yourself. Hurry.
Realize what it is that you want to say. Realize you don't want anything from her, don't expect anything, don't need anything. Realize that what you want to say is thanks, no matter how forgettable this will be to her, no matter how silly this will seem to you in the morning. The words lurch forth. It's okay. Let them go, let them fall where they may. You mean well, you know you do. Hopefully she will hear it in your voice, even if she can't decipher the moist, muddled mess of your words. Go for it.
Tell her that she must hear this all the time, but that you just want to say thank you, because she has been a genuine joy and a delight and an inspiration to you for a very long time, for as long as you can remember. She smiles politely, but she is distracted by the approaching persons, as are you. Do not do all the things that you must not do. So do only one of these things.
Say, I know it's ridiculous but you and I have the same birthday. Her eyes widen and she leans in. Really? she asks, interested and seemingly chuffed. June 22nd? Nod like a maniac. Don't hold back; surrender to the Stupid Side. You only live once. You may never again be standing next to grapes and rocks and pictures of dead pigeons while you chat with Meryl Streep.
Say, I was born the morning of your 21st birthday I know it's crazy but I always took it as a sign and it inspired me to become an actor. Now her husband is handing back the phone to her, and someone else is suddenly talking to her, overriding your silly, serfy words. The important person takes Meryl by the elbow and pulls her away. As she is being led off, she turns her head and casts you an apologetic glance. The conversation is over. You understand. You are okay with this, surprisingly okay. There are pigs to slop, but you will slop them more cheerfully now. Watch her go.
Meryl Streep says a few words into her cellphone, a word or two to her walking companion, then pauses. She turns. She takes two deliberate steps back to you. She smiles warmly. At you. Yes, you, in all of your ridiculous fangirl splendor and exploding Spanx. She reaches for your left hand and squeezes it warmly. Again: Meryl Streep gives your hand a quick, friendly squeeze. She knows that your conversation ended abruptly, and she does not want to be rude.
It is a lovely gesture. The loveliest.
And then, just like that, she is gone, whisked away by handlers, spun off into her world. She will not think of you on her way home tonight. She will probably take her shoes off in the car and ask her daughter about SAT prep and tease her husband about the shy, adorable way he held the microphone under his big rock. Meanwhile, you will be cleaning up casserole dishes of vegetable chili and chicken-and-orzo salad after the Parents' Night dinner at Sophie's preschool.
But you will be smiling.