Look, I’m from Toronto. Our most exciting celebrity sightings are spotting the host of the national evening news in line at the Starbucks or else a slight whiff of Brangelina when they swoop in for .25 of a day during our film festival and talk about how “clean” the city is. It’s nice, in a way, because living in a Hollywood-star dead-zone means that when a lady is out on the town, there’s never much need for her to scan a room on the lookout for Sarah Jessica Parker or Woody Allen or Snookie. At least, not the way I do when I’m in New York. Instead, I just get my fill of Jennifer Lopez candid shots from regularly scheduled readings of US Weekly, or else occasionally fall onto Perez Hilton from an errant bit.ly’d Twitter link, and then the rhythm of my unglamorous Toronto life resumes with gusto.
This past weekend I sat down at a particularly adorable local diner in the “Upper Annex.” The area is the neighborhood equivalent of a funky quilt your not-so-good-with-attention-to-details friend made for you: warm but with odd patches of hideous fun-fur here and there; it’s cozy, it’s familiar, it’s a little bit weird. There’s a bizzaro nouveau unfinished “castle” on the hill looming just above the Upper Annex. It winks its puckish Edwardian-ness at the pizza take-out joints and convenience stores below.
The diner I mentioned is not one of those greasy spoons you might find further downtown. It has more of a homey sense. They make their own sausages with local organic blah blah whatevers and serve only farm fresh eggs. There are giant home-made sticky buns and good coffee. It’s the kind of place I put on lipstick to go to—but a subtle shade, like dusty rose, or something that sounds more stylish than that but still looks, essentially, like dusty rose.
I was meeting with my lady friends, as one of our group was visiting from out of town. I’d been looking forward to this brunch all week, fantasizing about it in much time I should have spent doing productive things like submitting health claims to my insurance or writing War & Peace 2: Electric Russialoo. And now here we were! And as Erin, my out-o-town friend, walked in and joined myself and my other two lady-peeps, the rest of the world vanished and we were thick into our cloud of ridiculousness and chatter. I’m sure everyone else in the restaurant was quite irritated by how loud we were laughing (Okay, I was laughing…), but I didn’t really care. It was all I could do to appreciate the amerrrrrzing home-made sausage, so caught up was I in my group’s pleasant hysteria.
But then I looked up from one chomp of (surprisingly delicious) toast and saw a fellow walking towards the diner door that reminded me, like, A LOT, of Hugh Dancy. The previous day, the previous DAY, I tell you, I had finished watching an awesome 2002 BBC adaptation of a George Eliot novel that he starred in, called Daniel Deronda. And I thought, “Wow, that man looks a lot like Daniel Deronda, but older. But it can’t be Daniel Deronda… I am in Toronto. Is he maybe an actor I sort of recognize from in a local theatre company or a Tim Horton’s commercial? Is he maybe a barista at the Starbucks near my house– is that why he looks familiar?”
It perplexed me for a moment, but I tried to return to the conversation with my home-girls. AND THEN THERE WAS CLAIRE DANES. (She and Hugh Dancy are married. Or at least life-partners. Or something. I know this from Wikipedia’ing him whilst watching Daniel Deronda last week…) Honestly, I didn’t even get a good look at her face. I just saw the sheen of her silky flaxen hair, the general outline of her striking profile, and it was clear. I was in the DANES-ger zone.
“DON’T LOOK AT HER, DON’T LOOK,” I told myself. “BE COOL.” But I needed to inform the others. I HAD TO TELL THE OTHERS. Our set was weaned on Claire’s struggles with My So-Called Life, and then, so very clearly, grew with her as her roles became more mature, more gritty, like the silt of our own little lives. She is, like, the film realization of US. True. Story. So do I BBM my girlfriends, or is that too obvious? I took out my notebook and placed it on the table beside my eggs, waiting for an opportune moment to scribble a note and pass it around the table… which, in retrospect, also would have been embarrassingly obvious.
This reaction, of course, is all made the more absurd by the fact that often, for my job, I have to interview famous people. Once I got to shake hands with Iman after an interview. There was that time I had a heart-to-heart with Roseanne Cash. Once, after a Q&A, I told Jann Arden that she was my spirit guide, but if you’re not Canadian you probably won’t know what that’s all about. But now, here, for some reason that I think had to do with the presence of Claire Danes opening a plaid-bordered wormhole to Teenage Me, I was threateningly close to wetting my pants.
Claire was standing RIGHT NEXT TO ME– there was but a pane of glass between our table and the restaurant entrance where she and Hugh Dancy and an older couple they were with had to WAIT for a table in the crush of brunch hour—CELEBRITIES… THEY’RE JUST LIKE US! She would have seen, she would have known, if I had scribbled a note. Of course she would, whether or not I was clumsy about it, because she’s freaking CLAIRE DANES, and she was Angela Chase and Juliette and a zillion other things that defined the generation of the girls sitting at my table, caught up in our own bluster of silliness, and she must know by now the effect that she has on Our Kind. I bet she’s sweet. I bet she’s good listener. She’s HERE.
My heart raced. I glanced desperately, pleadingly, from one friend to another, but they were all too “in the brunch moment,” they were all oblivious. Then, Cara glanced up, towards the door. I saw it in her eyes… she leaned over to whisper something to Sarah, caught me looking at her doing so, and with urgency, probably too loudly, I declared, “I KNOW. I KNOW.” “Oh… oh…” she said. And then we were both in the panic. Distracted. Jumpy. Suspiciously silent. The other two friends asked why Cara and I were acting “weird” and telling “secrets.” I bet Claire heard them say those things… gahhhhhh! Jebus, what was I supposed to DO?
God help me, the table next to ours became empty. And as much as I wanted Claire and Hugh to sit there, so I could tell them, “CLAIRE YOU ARE SO AMAZING IN HOMELAND AND I WANTED TO BE YOU/THE RAYANNE GRAFF TO YOUR ANGELA CHASE WHEN I WAS GROWING UP but also HUGH, YOU DON’T HAVE TO SHRINK IN CLAIRE’S SPOTLIGHT, I KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND FULLY APPRECIATE YOUR INNER STRUGGLE AS PORTRAYED IN THE BBC ADAPTATION OF GEORGE ELIOT’S DANIEL DERONDA…” I also DIDN’T want to tell them those things.
Maybe that was 3% because I wanted to be cool (well, “act cool,” I think we all know, by now, that I can’t be cool) but actually 97% because I was so enjoying my time with my friends and I hated that I became infected with this overwhelming celebrity virus that makes me act like a heroin-jonesing psycho. I just wanted to chill with my homies. I just wanted to steal one of Erin’s home-fries. You know?
Blessed be the patron saint of celebrity spotting, because C-dizzle and Big-H (if we’d talked, we’d call each other by nicknames like that) and their friends/possibly family chose a seat in the cozier back of the restaurant, not far from the giant tray of sticky buns. I didn’t get even one more glimpse of them. Thus, I continued my brunch without feeling like I was buzzing with the insanity of celebrity closeness. Okay, so I was ever so slightly humming from it, but not gut-jumpingly reverberating anymore. And then we paid the bill, walked to the car, and when we’d completely closed the doors, I utterly lost my mind with happiness and openly shrieked at how much I love them both, and so I got to have my celebrity sighting catharsis and my awesome friend hangout, and that was the happiest I can remember being in a very long time.
Damn I love brunch in Toronto.