I am not sure I see the value of name-dropping. What good does it do you to have met somebody who did stuff?
“I met a very wealthy person.“
“I just checked your bank account. It didn’t go up.”
Generally speaking, the famous and accomplished have achieved something admirable. Knowing that person, it seems to me, says nothing about you, other than that you happened to be around someone who has accomplished something you haven’t. What exactly is there to brag about?
Having said that…
One time, I unquestionably and unashamedly dropped a name.
And the best part?
I got exactly what I deserved.
I love “just deserts.” Even when I’m the one receiving them. Especially when I’m the one receiving them. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I have always been tickled by my own comeuppance.
So, almost thirty years ago, we visited a Dude Ranch, just outside of Cody, Wyoming. For a week, we went on two-hour trail rides twice a day. It played right into my cowboy fantasies. But my ass said, “I’m real, and don’t ever do this again!”
And I didn’t. It’s a wise man who listens to his ass.
The man who ran the Dude Ranch had a name you don’t hear that often, or at least I don’t, so it carved a healthy groove in my memory place. His name was Oak Thorne. I’m more familiar with names like Sammy Altbaum. So this was different.
Oak Thorne cut an imposing figure. Tall. Movie star handsome. With a patrician presentation, especially in the hairstyle department, where his “do” bore a startling similarity to Bobby Kennedy’s, complete with the clump in the front that keeps slipping onto your forehead, and you have to constantly slide it back in place with your hand.
I’m telling you, if they put up a screen concealing them up to their hairlines, you’d have a heck of a time distinguishing Oak Thorne from the martyred candidate from 1968. It was the hair-do version of identical twins. If hair was destiny, Oak Thorne had a shot at being the President of the United States.
So that’s what I remembered. The name. And the hair.
I am working on Lateline, a short-lived (nineteen episodes) sitcom, parodying the ABC News show Nightline, co-created (Lateline not Nightline) by Al Franken (before he was a senator) and long-time friend, John Markus.
I loved working on Lateline for lots of reasons. I got to collaborate with two very good writers, Al and John (who spearheaded The Cosby Show after I left). I got to live in an elegant hotel (a lifelong fantasy of mine, after watching Have Gun, Will Travel). And I got to meet celebrities I cared about, not show biz evanescences, but sturdy, “I’ve seen ‘em on TV” national politicians.
I met John Kerry, who would later run for President. I met Richard Gephardt, who’d been the Democratic House Majority (and Minority) Leader, and a primary presidential candidate himself. I also met Representative Barney Frank, whom I was not taken with, but he belongs on the list nonetheless.
Also, and most thrillingly, I accompanied Al and John to the White House, where we sat in then Vice President Al Gore’s office, trying to entice him to appear on the show. (He ultimately turned us down. Which, I believe was a mistake. An ingratiating “Sock-it-to-me” moment could well have pushed him over the top in 2000, nullifying the need for Supreme Court intervention.)
And then there was former Wyoming senator Alan Simpson, a cowboy curmudgeon, who always, and often saltily, spoke his mind. Arriving at the studio, Simpson immediately won me over, with his hand-stitched cowboy boots and his oversized belt buckle. To me, politicians (and guys like Michael Moore) are like wrestlers. They always appear in costume. And I love it. Especially if it’s cowboy.
Okay, so some unconscious motivation first as background. I am a valuable participant on Lateline, regularly commuting between Los Angeles and New York City, (where they’re shooting the series), and contributing from long distance. Creatively, I’m important. But on the hierarchical food chain, “Creative Consultant” does not rank high. From a power-wielding standpoint, I’m a nobody.
It ate me up. It’s just how I am. Talent-wise, I felt like an equal; but in reality, I was a respected nonentity. When the “notables” arrived, I was never introduced to them. Unless I muscled my way in. And that’s not how I am.
I was in need a lift. A boost to my wobbly self-esteem.
Alan Simpson shows up. As usual, I am not included in the introductions. But I know something about Simpson. He’s from Cody Wyoming. And therein lies my opening.
Unobtrusively, I sidle up to the former senator, who sits stretched out in a Director’s Chair (he’s old, but tall), waiting to go on. I do not sidle up unarmed.
“I’ve been to Cody.”
“I loved it. We stayed at the Erma Hotel.”
“That was Buffalo Bill’s old place.”
“I know. We also went to the Buffalo Bill Historical Museum.”
“Isn’t that something?”
“It sure is.”
“Do you have family in Wyoming?”
“No. We were staying at a Dude Ranch.”
(It’s at this point that I dropped my name.)
“It was run by a guy named Oak Thorne.”
“Do you know him?”
“Yup. Oakleigh Thorne ran off with my sister-in-law.”
The conversation ended right there.
I never even got to the hair.