Camera flashes went off like strobe lights all around us. “Jennifer! Jennifer! Over here!” The compact crowd shuffled about Times Square, theater goers turned savages, pushing each other around for a better view of the Golden Globe Award-winning actress.
I pushed harder than the rest. I shoved and slid and jumped my way forward, ignoring those who were there before me, children, and the elderly. After years of fantasizing about meeting Jennifer Garner, even getting a glimpse of her in real life, this serendipitous meeting at midnight on Halloween felt more like fate than a fluke. I was not about to let the opportunity pass because a bunch of wool blazer and turtle neck wearing theatre lovers wanted her to sign their playbills. Who knew where the night might lead?
By the time I made it to the front of the crowd my mind, swirling from a six pack of Coors Light and a few fingers of Jameson, went irrevocably blank. She was a knockout, obviously. With thin eyeglasses, a brown suede jacket and designer jeans she spoke with gratitude to each adoring fan, which made her all the more attractive. A second passed and our eyes met. Surprisingly, the look in her eyes wasn’t the warm, adoring look I had expected. It was fear.
At this very same moment I heard someone behind me whisper “He doesn’t even have a bike,” and I was reminded that as I stood confidently in front of my Hollywood crush, I was in costume, dressed head to toe in body-hugging reflective cycling spandex with a mushroom-like white helmet on my sweaty head. It was Halloween after all.
Earlier in the evening, as I sat on the 2 Train between a guy in a penguin suit, a homeless man, a pretty, Asian Little Red Riding Hood, and my friend, the fact that I had more spandex than a Suzanne Somers Thigh Master commercial wasn’t an issue. But here, among well to do theater people and tourists, none of whom were in the Halloween spirit, I was acutely aware of every stretchy fiber on my body. This is New York City, a place where small dogs are pushed in baby carriages, where people have heated conversations with lamp posts, where hipsters exist, and now I was the freak. I was a spectacle to behold, a conundrum to ponder, no better than the man on the corner who punches at something only he can see.
In the heat of the moment I said the first thing that came to my mind.
“Sign my helmet!”
“What?” she said.
“Sign my helmet!”
I shoved my helmet into the hands of her perplexed body guard and smiled nervously while she signed her name in Sharpie. The bodyguard tossed the helmet back. The signature, which looked more like Arabic gibberish than her name, was simply mesmerizing. “Jennifer Garner signed my helmet,” I marveled.
The crowd shuffled around and once again I was on the outside, just me and my friend on the street, wondering which bar we should go to. Above the commotion of the crowd I heard Jennifer yell, “That better not end up on Ebay!” I looked at her and raised the helmet in the air, victorious.
When the weather warmed the next spring I went for a ride with a buddy on the Hudson River path. He quickly noticed the autograph on my helmet.
“Dude, who signed that?”
“What do you have a Jennifer Garner autograph on your bike helmet for?”
As I told him the story I worried that he would judge me as a cycling pansy. Of all the signatures it could have been- Lance Armstrong, Greg Lemond, Miguel Indurain-I had the star of such chick flick classics as 13 Going on 30 and Felicity. I admit, it was pretty weak.
“Do you realize what this means?” he asked.
“Dude, you made the best first impression on Jennifer Garner, ever! No one can top that! How many bicycle helmets has she ever signed for a spandex freak in New York on Halloween? If you ever meet her again you’re golden!”
Maybe my meeting with Ms. Garner went as it was supposed to. Although I cursed my outfit at the time, maybe it did take a bulbous helmet and yards of spandex to break through. And maybe someday when I can ask her about the cyclist on Halloween all those years ago I’ll know if I really did make the best first impression of all time. Until I see a different autographed Jennifer Garner helmet on eBay I’ll assume that I did.