It may be just a coincidental pattern, but some of the best recollections of pivotal moments in my life have fallen on Thursdays. Maybe it's true what they say about the power of positive thinking. In any case, today's Thing-I-Love Thursday is "movie premieres."
Who doesn't love movie premieres? Whether you are the quintessential New Yorker, born and raised, who simultaneously loves and hates everything that makes this city what it is -- or the trite and contrived wanna-be, who - in an effort to feel like less of an outsider - does not respect their role as a transplant New Yorker -- either way, it's cool as hell to turn a corner in the streets of Manhattan and roll up on an A-list celebrity event (no matter how long you've lived here as noted in Exhibit A or Exhibit B). But how cool would it be if you were ever actually invited?
I found out on Tuesday morning when my best friend called me on my cell phone. I slipped out of my cubicle and into my boss's empty office to take the call.
"Guess who's coming to tomorrow night's premiere?" she squealed. With a small - yet substantial role - in Tyler Perry's latest film, she was in New York, crashing at my apartment and meeting with her agent, publicist and stylists for Wednesday night's red carpet event at the AMC Loews on the Upper West Side. Not to mention that a BET camera crew would be following her through her premiere day preparations. When she walks out of an apartment door in Hell's Kitchen and introduces herself, I am proud to say that the apartment door would be mine. (The previous sentence is meant to be read using Chandler-from-"Friends" inflection.)
Looking out over my boss's high-rise view of Bryant Park, I blurted out viscerally, "Denzel Washington!"
"Nope," she replied. Michelle Obama. Nope. Oprah? Nope. Angela Bassett? Nope. Will Smith? Nope. Diddy? Nope. I went through my personal list of top Black actors and entrepreneurs. Impatient, she began to drop hints.
"She's a secretary."
"... Of State?" I said. "Hillary Clinton?"
"No!" she finally exclaimed. "You!"
"Me?!?!?!" I could barely contain my excitement, jumping up and down and struggling to keep from screaming in my boss's office. However, there was one issue that I had to address before I let the exhilaration consume me. I momentarily stopped bouncing around the office and said matter-of-factly: "But, Tokii ... I'm not a secretary. I'm an executive assistant."
With less than 24 hours to the premiere, I left my office immediately after work and went hunting for a dress, which I found quickly and easily at a store in Columbus Circle. I wanted to find something classy, but not overdone. Something that looked like I was meant to be there, but didn't look like I was trying too hard. Something that said, I'm so proud of my best friend and put careful time and thought into honoring this invitation, but without drawing unnecessary attention. How does one dress for a movie premiere? That's already a tough question for the people who actually have to fear widespread post-event wardrobe criticism. It's an even tougher question for someone who was just invited solely because their friend's agent was able to get an extra ticket. I went with a low-cut, sleeveless black trench dress that seemed appropriate for a guest of an actor and was also appropriate for my wallet - especially after I applied the $100 American Express gift card that my boss had given me recently.
When I arrived at the theater, I met my best friend's agent at the side entrance and we found a front-row spot near the end of the red carpet, adjacent the E! and BET camera crews. The stars arrived, one by one, pausing expertly with their best angles projected toward multiple shutters. I waited eagerly, tiny digital camera at the ready, for when I would see her appear on the red carpet, and only slightly aware that I was lightly trembling and intermittently forgetting to breathe. As the seconds ticked away, I tried to mentally process what was happening immediately in front of me. And to enjoy the moment. Because, from what I've perceived of an industry like Hollywood, you have to indulge in each blessing you receive. Actors - and the people who know and love them - can just never be sure when their next blessing will come around. One moment you might be the next up-and-coming sensation, another moment you might wine-and-dine at the very top of the A-List, the next - the tabloids are publishing your most unattractive photos and reveling in your demise.
And as I stood gazing down the red carpet, watching the shutters flash and the reporters thrust their microphones into the faces of Tyler Perry, Derek Luke, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Sofia Vergara, Mary J. Blige, and Ray J. to name(drop) a few, I thought about how much work has gone into these few strolling red carpet moments. And I don't just mean the rolling out of the carpet and setting up of the lights. As often happens whenever I get exciting news regarding my best friend's acting career, I could not stop the mental reel of flashbacks over the last ten years - filled with shining moments and false hopes, extreme highs and incredible disappointments, a rollar coaster of emotions, physical strife and the risks of the unknown, all which leave you simultaneously anticipating the next thrill and dreading the next fall. I'm not going to go into the clichés of Tokii's starving actor story, but the clichés for actors - or anyone with a dream - are the mere truths of entire lives - most of which goes unseen, unnoticed, unacknowledged, unrewarded. The camera catches the glamour of the Hollywood red carpet, but not many outsiders really comprehend the volumes of proverbial blood, sweat and tears that go into a few snapshots and sound bites. I certainly don't have a fundamental grasp of it all - at least not more than peripherally.
And then, there she was. My best friend. Smiling for the wide-angle lenses and chatting comfortably with reporters. As I strained to get a shot of her on my own tiny Canon digital camera, a bodyguard poked a little fun at me: "Why are you taking that picture from so far away?"
"Leave her alone," a woman wearing a headset and carrying a clipboard said over his shoulder, "She's with the talent."
In characteristically-corny-Katie, the headset-and-clipboard-woman's brief statement went on repeat in my head. She's with the talent. If I were a peacock, I would have been slowly pacing along the end of the red carpet with a huge, open plume of feathers. If pride were helium, my head might have exploded.
"Why don't you go out on the red carpet and get a closer shot of her?" the bodyguard whispered to me.
"No way!" I hissed back. "I can't do that."
"Sure, you can," he insisted. "Hurry before you miss all the good shots."
I hesitated, too timid to set a foot on the red velvet in front of me. The simultaneous anticipation and fear of the unknown washed over me, much the way it did when I was riding up I-81 to begin my new life in New York City over three years ago. Much the way it did when I went apartment and job hunting to open the next chapter of my life. The risk of embarrassment at being shooed away as an outsider on this coveted Hollywood landscape loomed. But the idea of the personal shots I could get of my best friend being interviewed and photographed sparked some courage. I leaned toward him, "Will you go with me?"
He laughed, "Sure! Let's go."
So I did.
"Things I Love" Thursdays are inspired by "I Love New York" (BNY, February 14, 2007).
A Year Ago Today:
Official Quotes of Our NBA All-Star 2008
NBA All-Star 2008
Two Years Ago Today:
More Reasons to Love New York