A few weeks back, I ran into Zadie Smith on the Talbot Road as she was leaving The Tabernacle, a pub near Notting Hill.
Well, I was at the Tabernacle a few weeks back because I knew Zadie Smith and her brother Doc Brown, who is a fantastically funny rapper-turned-comedian, would be there. She read a story about how Fawlty Towers made her family close and he told rhyming jokes set to slow beats (like this gem about a PSA trying to dissuade kids from becoming hooligans: ‘I got something new, something out of the blue/ it could make a champion out of you and your crew/ Now, I know you don’t want a sport to make you look less hard/ hey, ain’t nothing soft about equestrian dressage’).
But I digress. Because the point of this story is that, once again, I had nothing cool or interesting to say to a person living a life not unlike the kind I’d like to have. I didn’t have a deep question, or a craft question, or even a joke. Just the nagging sensation that if I didn’t say something, I’d regret it. I thought about telling her Toni Morrison was coming to Rutgers, which felt vaguely newsworthy. I thought about telling her how lucky she was to have a cool brother. I considered just complimenting her outfit like I barely registered the status difference between us. I did this for two hours, while my friends alternately encouraged and threatened me out of my seat, until, suddenly, Zadie was leaving.
Unthinkingly, I grabbed my bag and started leaving, too. I figured I could catch her on the way out the door and we could have a real conversation in the blue light of evening instead of a dim pub dungeon. But, there she was, stalled in the doorway talking to someone else and I still couldn’t make myself move in her direction.
She extricated herself eventually from that conversation and I thought, why not catch her outside the venue? On the street. Surely, that wouldn’t be too weird. She wouldn’t have to know that I followed her out purposely. I could have popped out for a smoke, if I smoked.
Except that I did follow her. For two blocks. Still with nothing to say.
Now, I have no real idea why I did this next thing, but I did it and it’s as much a part of me as anything else. I feel regret about it, but also the debilitating knowledge that I can’t dismiss the faux pas as completely out of character.
Yes. I took out my camera and photographed Zadie Smith and her extended family walking away from me.
What I did not predict: that the flash would go off and Zadie Smith and her extended family would all turn around to find me ten feet behind them with a camera in my hand. So I did what I had to do. I pretended to examine the machine as if it had malfunctioned and pointed it at a parked car as if that could have possibly been the intended photo subject.
Now, beyond becoming a writer, my only real, discrete desire is to never meet Zadie Smith.
PS- I’ll post the photo when I figure out how to post photos, which I thought I knew how to do…