Okay, to paraphrase President Reagan, here I go again. Good news: It’s my final venture (for now) into the world of the fancy and the famous. Who knows? I may meet Joe and Kamila on my next trip to DC. Anyway, I thought I had only one more famoso encounter to describe. Wrong! In fact, the biggest, most important of them all I nearly forgot. Fortunately, it came to me in a flash a few days ago. The person in question? None other than the Airlift mayor of West Berlin, the erstwhile chancellor of West Germany, and the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Can you guess? Right, the late Willy Brandt. And in Berlin or Germany or even DC? Nope. In a big Presbyterian church in humble St. Paul, Minnesota. And I didn’t just see him, but thanks to my off-the-charts e-scale rating on the Meyers-Briggs and even more, my fluency in German, I actually interacted with him as did my late wife, Simone, a German native. The occasion was a sponsored lecture...
The large sanctuary was packed. Herr Brandt spoke in accented English. After, at the reception, his Minnesota admirers smiled and nodded to the well-known guest, but none made bold to approach him, until Simone and I did. You can see the proof below. He was very kind and approachable, willing to keep up a small-talk conversation with us after most folks had left. My wife told him about her family’s great escape from the Russian Army in East Prussia in spring, 1945. I mentioned my junior year in Heidelberg and the fact that, as a third-generation Jewish-American, I had unaccountably fallen in love with Germany and its people and had even married one of its loveliest daughters. He smiled and complimented me on my German. The great man was no prophet, though. He had mentioned in his talk that he didn’t think he’d live to see Germany reunified. Yet not a year later we watched on TV as he drank champagne at the infamous Wall as it came down.
Much more recently, just a few years ago, Cedar, my wife, and I were visiting my older daughter and family in the Hamptons. We were eating at Sag Harbor’s one and only Japanese restaurant. “Dad,” Marianna whispered, “Alan Alda and his wife are sitting just behind us. I know his daughter socially. Would you like to meet him and tell him your story?” Are you kidding? I thought. A few moments later I was introducing myself to none other than Hawkeye Pierce. “Mr. Alda,” I said. “You don’t know this, but you and I played together as little kids on the floor of your grandfather’s barber shop in Lower Manhattan. In fact, he gave me my first haircut.” “No kidding!” Came the response. “You see, your grandpa was my dad’s long-time barber, so he was bound to give me my first haircut. And I would hang out with dad in the shop on Saturday mornings when dad got his haircuts.” At this point, his wife said, “I’m sure, dear, you’ve never heard this story before from a fan.” “Never,” he replied, and shook my hand with gusto. His wife went on to explain that he’d just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and was adjusting. So, I wished him well and thanked him for the hours of viewing pleasure he had given me. He smiled, thanked me, and I left. And here endeth for now my tales of close encounters of the iconic kind.