On our drive down for a weekend visit to Philadelphia, I said out loud to my car witnesses, “The only famous person I know in Philadelphia is Jennifer Weiner.”
“Who’s that?” My 14-year-old son asked. He hasn’t had the benefit of jumping into her stories, engaging with her thoughtful, well-rounded, intelligent characters.
“She’s one of your mom’s favorite writers,” my husband chimes in. “She wants to be like her when she grows up.”
“But mommy is all grown up,” my 5-year-old reminds us all.
We arrived on a quintessential spring morning and after a leisure stroll around the touristy Independence Hall, we meandered towards Washington Square where I had properly Yelp researched an organic farm-to-table, highly rated cafe.
My family of four entered the cafe a little like we were in a drunken stupor, new customers to the fancy cafe, we walked around getting our lay of the land, speaking too loudly like typical New Yorkers. We picked out baguettes, egg salad, grilled cheeses and fancy organic iced teas with simple syrup. When I finally sat down, inhaled deeply, and rotated in my seat like an owl, taking in the quaint details in the decor, the open kitchen, the pastries at the coffee bar, and out of the corner of my eye, I see her.
“Andrew, Oh my God, I think that’s Jennifer Weiner right there. I cannot believe this. Is that really her?”
“I’m not sure I remember exactly what she looks like,” he admits. I guess he didn’t study the Instagram post I showed him a few weeks ago from her wedding, with her adorable little hat. No, he only remembers they turned her book into a movie with Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette (In Her Shoes.)
I’m on Google images within seconds and he takes one look and says, “Oh yeah, that’s definitely her. Go talk to her!”
He’s encouraging me but I’m getting the hot feeling and instantly feel very star struck. My palms got sweaty, my pulse increased, and my vocal cords were paralyzed. “I don’t want to bother her. What would I say anyway?” I’m self-doubting, playing whack-a-mole on my own head.
“Tell her you’re a big fan. Tell her she inspires you. Tell her you’re a writer.” All good suggestions, I admitted but I countered, “I don’t want to bother her. Look she’s having a quiet lunch, she has a manuscript of some sort.”
My son and daughter became a cheerleading couplet chanting, “do it, do it, do it.”
I’m trying to live more of a ‘Say Yes’ life and leading by example, I didn’t want my children to see me feeling unworthy of meeting someone inspirational to me. So I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, pushed back the metal chair and made my way 10 feet back to introduce myself.
I can’t transcribe exactly what I said. I started out innocently enough. “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt you but I just wanted to say hello and let you know I was a huge fan of your work. I read all your books.” Then I tagged onto the end, like a deflating balloon, “I’m also a writer.”
She smiled sweetly and thanked me. She was as kind as I imagined, funny and down to earth. Working through lunch on a Saturday while her daughter was at a party up the street. In my head, I was convinced that her inner dialogue went something like,“Duh, of course, you’re a fan. Another woman writer; just what we need! Maybe she can suck up my energy and be more competition.”
I wanted to keep talking to her but didn’t know what else to say. I was angry I hadn’t prepared enough. I pulled into the ether for what I knew – what life club do I have in common with Jennifer Weiner? I could have grasped for any of the low-hanging fruit subjects; the “I’m a Writer” or “I’m a Mother” or “I’m Divorced” or “I’m Remarried” or even “I’m Jewish” Clubs. I was nervous, so my instinct instantly went for the inappropriate.
“We both have weird families,” I blurt out. I elaborate: “My father remarried someone 30 years younger than him and they had a baby and now I have an 11-year-old half-brother and a stepmom whose younger than me.”
“Me too,” she says! “I have an 11-year-old half-brother too!” Who knew this was actually a club? The “I’m in my 40s with an 11 Year Old Half-Brother” Club. [Stay tuned, I’ve got 200+ essays left to write this year.]
We chuckle simultaneously. My New York speaking speed increases. I needed one more line; another zinger before I left. This is what jumped into my head and it came out faster than I can thoughtfully craft the words.
“My father brought his wife from Russia. I mean, he didn’t buy her, he genuinely met her there, but when she came here, she was only 21. My father called me one day and said, ‘what do you use for a yeast infection?’”
At this point, Jennifer Weiner says, “Ewww” and laughs along with me. “TMI,” she says. “Keep it above the waistline! Turn that into good fiction!”
I thank her profusely and take her advice like a party favor, holding onto it a little too tightly, thinking, “Damn, why don’t I write fiction yet? I’m just blatantly writing memoir-based non-fiction!”
I’m not sure if she’ll remember me; I cannot deny I have commented on her Instagram posts since then trying to win a signed book. I wonder how many like me approach her daily? I’m just another brooding fan thinking I stand out because I too have a half-brother my kids call Uncle.