Many of you know that for a season in my life I wanted nothing more than to be a radio personality.
Specifically, I wanted to be a rock-n-roll disk jockey.
In fact, I once related in this very publication my tale of coming face to face with Phil Williams and being absolutely star struck. Sad to say, I have now had an experience that brings into question much of the “growing up” I thought I had done in the 20 years since my Phil encounter, let alone the very notion of me as a DJ.
Now I am not talking about the reaction a man of my years might have if, say, Vanna White walked into the room and flooded a middle-aged mind with unsung memories. Ah, to recall her sheer elegance as she turned those letters on the puzzle-board, long before digital technology reduced her to today’s simple tap of the screen as she glides by without pause. Yes, I am truly indebted to Vanna for many things, the least of which is actually knowing what an ampersand is, and others of which are best not shared by a man reflecting on pubescent memories.
What was I talking about again? Oh, yes.
The star-strickenness which afflicted me recently was more a paralyzing awe of someone held in high regard for many, many years.
A few weeks ago, I was at a fundraiser for the nonprofit that employs me. It was one of those dress-up dinners with Knoxville’s elite, and I felt about as comfortable as a pig in a slaughterhouse. Part of me was actually excited to be there. Joan Cronan was speaking, and I had enjoyed listening to the scheduled emcee on the radio for years. Still, I was way out of my Sevier County comfort zone so I took a spot on a bench in the lobby outside the dining room as guests arrived.
But our public relations guru, Joan, smoothly breaks ice of many varieties, so she occasionally dragged me from my chair and introduced me to folks as they arrived.
I greeted them with my best “I’m not a nerdy accountant incapable of carrying on conversation” imitation and meekly returned to my bench as soon as an opportunity presented itself.
Oh, how I would rather have been in my office crunching numbers! No such luck, though. I was committed to this for at least two hours.
Eventually a financial-minded member of our board seated himself next to me, and we spoke of things more familiar. Our conversation was just reaching cruising altitude when in He walked.
Our emcee of the evening, the long-time Knoxville radio personality to whom I had listened faithfully since AM radio days of old. He had wooed me with his logic, his faith, and his wisdom, and with his encouragement, I had committed myself many times to “live this day with all the joy, wonder, and enthusiasm I could muster.”
Hallerin Hilton Hill. Standing a mere two feet away! This was going to be amazing!
My mind raced as I sought a witty comment to introduce myself while others raced to greet him and have photos taken. My board member companion immediately rose and began speaking with him as well.
I rehearsed various lines, preparing to shake the hand of Triple H.
I could not wait to get home and tell my wife that I met Hallerin Hilton Hill!
My daydreams were awakened by the reality that I remained in my chair. It was as if my legs were immobilized. Try as I might, I could not coax them to lift me up to where I could make eye contact.
From across the room, Joan approached, expressing her love and affection for her dear friend, Hallerin. Sweet relief! Joan would certainly drag me once more from my bench and bring me face to face with Knoxville’s king of talk radio.
She grasped Hallerin’s hand as they began small talk.
“Introduce me, Joan!” I begged with my best telepathic effort.
She asked after his wife and he replied.
“Hello! Joan, I’m down here!” I thought.
He asked about her grandbaby, ensuring the conversation would be extended.
I cleared my throat. But really, one does not interrupt conversations about grandbabies.
I leaned forward in my seat, raising my posture in the hopes of catching Joan’s eye.
She remained blind to me.
My alarm growing, I remained completely immobilized, fully dependent on Joan to break my icy paralysis and offer an introduction.
Another person greeted Hallerin from a distance, and he and Joan swept past into the dining room. I was deflated but not surrendered to the idea of having missed my opportunity. I could still catch him later.
The meal was consumed, the wonderful story of our non-profit cause was told, and Knoxville’s generous patrons gave in support. With the giving came some real responsibility for me, so I exited the dining area to take up my assigned role in ensuring proper collection of donations as guests left the event.
I wished people well and thanked them heartily. Caught up in my duties and feeling excited about the night’s effort, thoughts of Hallerin had left me entirely. Until, that is, he walked through the exit, stared me straight in the face, and wished me a simple “Good night.”
“Uhm, yes, I mean, of course. I mean . . . Thanks!” I rattled like a teenage schoolgirl being asked out by her first crush.
In the next 20 years, I WILL learn to muster my joy, wonder, and enthusiasm with a touch more suave! Unless, of course, I meet Vanna.
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© Michael L. Collins
This column appeared under the name “Celebrity encounters aren’t my strong suit” in the July 15, 2015 edition of The Mountain Press