The first time I was in Australia, I walked past Hugh Jackman on a path winding through the Royal Botanical Garden in Sydney right next to the Opera House.

At least, I think I did.

After fifty or so meters, I turned to my partner and said, “That was Hugh Jackman back there.”

They flung themselves around to look. “I don’t think so. That’s just a tall guy in a hat and sunglasses.”

“Whatever. I’m telling you that’s him.”

“Then let’s go back and say hi.”

“How awkward would that be? Hi, you don’t know me but I loved you in that movie where you had balls hanging off your chin.”

“He’s Australian,” my partner insisted. “He won’t care. Come on.”

“No. It’s a beautiful day, let him enjoy the garden without being bothered.”

And we left, never knowing for certain if we had, in fact, passed Hugh Jackman on the path. From this minor incident, a major myth emerged over the next few years. Whenever my partner or I would see Jackman in the news or on TV we both returned to that day and debated – playfully – our hypothetical near brush with fame.

I told Kevin this story the last time we spoke after he mentioned that he’d picked up tickets to see Jackman on his Greatest Showman Tour.

Kevin was appalled. “Why didn’t you stop? Get a picture?”

“Why would I?” I responded. “Would he stop what he was doing and introduce himself to me?”

“Someone thinks they’re bigger than Wolverine, don’t they?”

“Look, there was no bigger movie star in the world than Burt Reynolds when we were growing up, right?”

“No way. He was the Bandit.”

“He was the first celebrity I ever saw in person, did I ever tell you that? I was a teenager visiting Universal Studios in Florida. Reynolds was there putting his hands in cement or something and he walked right past me. Until that moment, I had no idea the guy that was larger than life in the movies was a foot shorter than me.”

“He was not a foot shorter than you.” Kevin scoffed.

“I looked way down at him as he walked past. This was a man I looked up to as a kid.”

“So what if he was shorter than you? What does that matter?”

“It wasn’t just that,” I explained. “He also gave this acceptance speech. It was right around the time of his break-up with Loni Anderson and he was bitter and unfunny and he made me realize, for the first time, that celebrities are just people.”

“It took listening to Burt Reynolds for you to figure this out?”

“There’s this old Peyton Manning commercial, it’s maybe ten or fifteen years old, where instead of people cheering him on the football field, he cheers them on as their going about their daily work. He gets an autograph from a guy stocking shelves at a grocery store. Starts a chant for a waitress at a diner. Stuff like that. It’s brilliant, because why do we cheer people like Peyton Manning?”

“Because he’s one of the best quarterbacks ever.”

“He played a game for a living. He was an entertainer. Why don’t we cheer the manager of the grocery store down the road?”

Kevin laughed. “Because anyone can do that.”

“No, they can’t. That manager has a complex job leading a team of people who help put food on my table. They have more impact on my daily life than Peyton Manning or Hugh Jackman ever did, but I don’t stop them on the street to take a picture, even though I probably should.”

“So let me get this straight, you didn’t walk back to get a picture with Wolverine because he doesn’t manage a supermarket?”

It was my turn to laugh. “I just didn’t want to treat him any different than I’d treat another random guy walking in the park.”

“It wasn’t really him, was it.”

“No, but never tell my partner that.”

*****

Part 1: I Would Like to Acknowledge…

Part 2: Educating Kevin About Australia

Part 3: Which Way Do Australian Toilets Flush?

Part 4: What is Macca’s and Why Does Everyone Go There?

Part 5: Where Is Australia on the Map?

Part 6: What is a Democracy Sausage?

Part 7: What’s it Like to Drive on the Other Side of the Road?

Part 8: Let’s Talk About What Can Kill You in Australia

Part 9: Where Does Matt Damon Live?

Part 10: Name That Australian Celebrity

*****

Photo by Luke Rauscher