The youngish afternoon desk guy in my building is an autograph hound. He's on the lookout for movie and stage stars. He told me a year ago that someone saw Faye Dunaway in the CVS next door. I told him I saw Hugh Jackman on my jog along the East River. He has photos of himself with Joe Pesci. He lived in LA for awhile. He got a lot of autographs and photos out there.
I'd almost bet the ranch that that was Jessica Lange at the Union Square Barnes and Noble 10 days ago. I know it was Helen Mirren walking in the East Village in early spring. I know it was Cate Blanchett with her kids on 23rd Street.
I see Jimmy Fallon every now and then in Gramercy Park. I had beers on a stool next to his super one night. He said Cagney used to live in the building. So did Gregory Peck. So did Margaret Hamilton, the witch in “The Wizard of Oz.” He said every room but the bathroom has a fireplace.
Peggy Noonan I saw around 90th and Lexington. Ethan Hawke I saw downtown.
Did seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman there make the one meal I've had at Minetta Tavern my favorite out-to-eat night in my 20 years here?
Daniel Day Lewis was sitting at Jack's on West 10th drinking coffee a couple time I was in there.
Naomi Watts I saw often along Chambers Street with her kids. Unless you knew it was her you wouldn't know it was her. I saw Jonathan Franzen on Chambers Street one morning.
Uma Thurman. Lou Reed. Around Union Square.
Joan Didion on the Upper East Side. A small bird of a thing. But I was in love with the California photos of her on her early books. She was prettier than Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas.
My first sighting upon moving here 20 years ago was Sam Shepard. He was in front of St. Mark's Bookshop where I saw Susan Sontag and Annie Leibovitz one night.
I saw my favorite writer, the reclusive Philip Roth, sitting on a couch in the Algonquin lobby one Friday afternoon. That was big for me.
The time I saw Derek Jeter on the empty sidewalk he looked like a guy trying to look like Derek Jeter. He had on white sneakers, trim, long-legged, designer blue jeans, a bright white plain T shirt, and a Yankee cap, the brim not rolled a bit. I didn't say boo to him. Even though he looked to see who was coming his way as he scooted from a car into the side door of a building near my apartment. He looked and moved like a basketball player.
All this is birdwatching, it's not stargazing. It's not an autograph book thing. My older sister used to have an autograph book. She was a stargazer. She used to write movie stars and get big glossy 8x10 photos in the mail, autographed. For real or by the press secretary, who knows? She did have a pen pal relationship with Sandra Dee for a while.
My brightest star sighting -- and I mean bright -- was in the late '70s. I was visiting New York with a friend and we were walking around midtown on a summer Friday night. We were around Rockefeller Center when we saw a few people looking down at something on a lower level. As we got closer and looked, I could see people all dressed up coming out of some gala event just below us. I forget who all the people were but they were all the Meryl Streeps of the day. I saw a jock or two and realized it was a banquet before the big Arthur Ashe tennis tournament the next day and, while I'm thinking that, an explosion of white light takes place where the celebrities have been coming from. It's dazzling, as bright as the light on a sparkler times ten thousand. Then I see men with cameras walking backwards, tens of them, crouched and all shoot shoot shooting at someone with their flashes popping.
Who could it possibly be we're asking each other as the white light keeps flashing? It was almost frightening, the light and the crush of people. Soon we saw what all the commotion was about. In a wave of otherworldly attention and adoration, out came Jackie Kennedy.