You see lots of famous people when you grow up in New York City; they are everywhere. Tom Selleck waits to cross West Fifty-seventh Street. Andy Warhol buys a wedding gift in the Bridal Registry of Tiffany. Steven Van Zandt buys snakeskin boots at Trash & Vaudeville. Denzel and Paulette Washington share your table at the snack bar on the Main Beach in East Hampton. Henry Kissinger sits at the next table in the Pool Room at The Four Seasons. No one behaves as though they are special so no native New Yorker really thinks much about it, however, some stars are so dazzling they transcend the blasé, seen-it-all New Yorkness, especially to a fluttering adolescent heart.
One warm summer evening when I was about twenty, my friend Kim and I were walking up Fifth Avenue toward our apartments. Mine was on West Fifty-eighth and hers was on Central Park West, barely a block apart. It was a Thursday and we had been late-night shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue. While I don’t remember what we bought I recall that we were giddy over the sale prices of the garments. (We were both little clothes ponies.)
As we approached the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon, Kim suddenly grew quiet. I leaned toward her to ask what was wrong. She jerked her head forward and hissed at me.
I couldn’t understand her. Hell, I couldn’t even hear her. “What?” I asked leaning my right shoulder into her left arm and putting my ear closer to her mouth.
She pulled her left arm forward and turned her wrist to make a small screen behind which she pointed jerkily with her right index finger directly ahead of us. She hissed something again.
Still unable to understand, I threw both of my arms into the air theatrically in the universal gesture of bewilderment then I leaned closer to her mouth and asked again, loudly, “What?”
Kim’s mouth opened into a small O, although whether to talk or merely in shock, I will never know because at that moment I smacked squarely into someone in the middle of the sidewalk. Whoever it was had been walking downtown relatively quickly because the force of the engagement threw me backward. I was flailing my arms trying desperately to not fall onto my butt when two powerful hands grabbed my shoulders and yanked me forward. My neck snapped and I looked upward into two of the bluest eyes I had ever seen.
“Oh, my God! You’re Robert Redford,” I squeaked rather unnecessarily.
He smiled the Sundance Kid grin and balanced me on the sidewalk. “I am,” he agreed. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” I babbled dazedly clutching his upper arms.
“I’m very sorry I bumped into you.”
My eyes grew huge. “Oh, no problem!” I exclaimed, forgetting immediately that it was entirely my fault.
“Are you sure you are all right?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m fine!”
He disentangled his upper arms from my grasp and said, “Well, if you’re sure, then I’ll be going. Have a lovely evening.” Still grinning, he continued striding downtown.
Kim and I stood in the middle of the Fifth Avenue sidewalk, staring after him, disrupting the traffic flow like an island in the middle of a brisk-moving river, until his blue shirt disappeared into the crowd.
When we couldn’t see him anymore, I turned to her and asked, “What were you trying to say to me, anyway?”
She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Robert Redford,” she answered.
“Oh. Well, this was better. If I had heard you, I wouldn’t have bumped into him.”
She cocked her head, then nodded in agreement, then we turned and continued walking uptown in the fading July light.