The first thing you have to know about my marriage is that my wife and I are very competitive. When we go to the supermarket, we always stop by the blood pressure machine to compare scores. When we run together, if we finish at the same time, my wife will run an extra mile, knowing that I can’t go one more step. If my wife has read something interesting during the day and brings it up, I desperately search my mind for something even more interesting that I’ve read, and sometimes I have to make up a story.
The second thing you need to know is we get recognized a lot, or at least one of us does. My wife, Gretchen, is a food and features writer for the Post-Gazette and is on television regularly. She makes appearances and speaks to community groups. When we walk through the supermarket, every once in a while I see someone give her the “I want to look without looking” stare. Their heads don’t move, but their eyes do. As we pass, they whisper to their spouses excitedly. I try to move just a little bit closer at these moments. Reflected glory is better than no glory at all.
I fall into a different category of celebrity. Think of me as C-list edging toward D-list. I’ve been writing a newspaper column about our family for 14 years, but because my picture does not appear with my column, very few people recognize me. When people do realize who I am, I get comments such as, “I always pictured you as shorter and somehow balder.” Or “I always thought you were much older! We call you the ‘cranky old man!’” (This is, in fact, the ultimate insult. They’re saying, in effect, that as personalities go, mine is quite unattractive.)
Sometimes, when my wife makes a public appearance, she’ll say afterward, “Three different people asked about you!” She says this in a tone that suggests that she finds the questions, and me, tiresome. When this happens, I make no outer movement but do an inner end-zone victory dance, spiking an imaginary ball.
As a result of my being the man without a face in the paper, I have to work harder at getting attention. When we meet someone at a party, I will drop some line such as, “Oh, I wrote a very funny column about that.” Then I wait for someone to say, “Oh, you write a column?” (Some people have very few social skills and are quite rude, so I have to repeat the hint three or four times before they take the bait.)
The other day, my wife was appearing at an annual event where a bunch of local celebrities cook for a charity. As I have done year after year, I came along to help her manage her pots and pans, provide general support and sneak hors d’oeuvres.
Toward the end of the evening, one of the volunteers assigned to help the celebrity chefs stopped me as I was walking through the kitchen.
“Excuse me,” she said, eyeing me up and down, “Can I ask you who you are?”
“Sure,” I said, giving her my name and waiting for the recognition. “But I’m just here with my wife, you know, helping out.”
“Oh,” she said. “So … you’re … not a celebrity.” I wasn’t sure whether it was a question or a statement.
“Well,” I said, “I’m here with my wife, but I do write a column for the paper as well.”
“I’ve never heard of you,” she said. “When does your column run?”
I told her it was in on Saturdays, and she shook her head. I described the column. Not ringing a bell, and she claimed she read the Saturday paper cover to cover. She asked how long I’d been doing this, and I told her it had been running for 14 years.
“So,” she said, “What you’re saying, then, is that you are not a celebrity.”
“That is correct,” I responded with a sigh. “I am not a celebrity.”
She nodded and moved on. At that instant, I realized that I’d gone from “Celebrity’s Apprentice” to “Biggest Loser.”
I wonder if there’s an E-list.