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By Chris Vespoli

It’s not uncommon to run into celebrities in New York, but for a stretch of time, they were the ones running into me. You see I used to be a fairly interesting person. From May 2006 to January 2007, I worked as a page at the NBC network’s Rockefeller Center headquarters. For those of you not familiar with the highly-selective, prestigious, underpaying NBC Page Program, think about the worst job you’ve ever had, then imagine doing it while dressed as a flight attendant. And if you are a flight attendant, imagine all of the passengers on your plane are always overweight Midwesterners. As a page, my main responsibility was to give tours of the NBC studios to the most grating, sweaty-thighed tourists who would ask questions like “Is Saturday Night Live actually live?” and “Is Jay Leno’s garage in this building?” The bright side of the gig was getting to compete with all of the other bloodthirsty Pages for assignments elsewhere around the company. The most sought-after of all the assignments was, and still is, the SNL assignment, and I was lucky enough to land it. Of course, interning on the show for a year and a half prior to entering the Page Program probably helped my chances — not because I was particularly well-liked, but because I had accrued lot of sensitive information about the show that they couldn’t risk getting out. (For example, did you know that General Electric used to actually own G.E. Smith? Crazy, right?) Anyway, it was during this assignment that I first met Tracy Morgan.

One afternoon, I was summoned into a dressing room outside Studio 8H where Mr. Morgan had just arrived. He was there to rehearse the monologue for Saturday’s show in which he would be making a cameo appearance, having officially left the cast several years prior. Alec Baldwin was hosting for his 82nd time that week and he, Tracy, and Tina Fey were going to open the show together. At that point, 30 Rock had been on the air for all of about a month and Mr. Morgan was blowing up on the show as the incorrigible Tracy Jordan. From what I could gather from how he carried himself in TV interviews, there was little distinction between Tracy Jordan the 30 Rock character and Tracy Morgan the actual human being. When I stepped into that dressing room, those thoughts were immediately confirmed.

I greeted him just as I had greeted countless other celebrities who I interacted with that year: with a polite hello at the threshold of the door, mindful that too eager a step in his direction would be an invasion of his celebrity personal space, which I wouldn’t dare contaminate with the foul odor of my early-20s mediocrity and student debt. The staffer who had sent me into Tracy’s dressing room told me Tracy was hungry, and that he would like to see some delivery menus. I was holding a binder full of them under my arm, and casually asked Tracy what kind of food he was in the mood for.

“Chinese,” he barked, from farther into the room.

“Sure,” I said. “What would you like?”

He said something like, “I don’t care…anything.”

This was a welcome break from some of the more impossible food orders that celebrities’ handlers often saddled me with. “No problem, big-time Hollywood publicist. I’m sure there are plenty of Kosher delis open at 11PM on a Saturday night that are willing to deliver.”

I turned to exit the room, but Tracy stopped me.

“Hey, lemme ask you somethin’.” I turned around. “What do all yo’ friends say when you tell ‘em you work at SNL?” I just stared blankly. “They must ask you all kinds of questions,” he continued. “Like you got some secrets. Like you work fo’ NASA or somethin’.”

“Yeah, they sure do,” I responded. (They really didn’t, but what was I supposed to say?) We exchanged a few more pleasantries, I think, and then I left.

I never really got star struck during my time at the show. The one universal truth among all the mega stars I met — from Justin Timberlake to Tom Hanks to Will Ferrell — is that celebrities are just people; people who are better than you in every way. But still, they’re nothing to get bent out of shape about. The stars that came on the show were there to go about their business and do their jobs…except for Tracy. It seemed like he got a legitimate rise out of fucking with people. He was incredibly nice and down to Earth, but the meeting was one of the most awkward experiences I’d ever had…until about a year later.

I was now out of the Page Program and working for the Syfy channel. It was a Saturday night, and I was waiting in line inside the 42nd St. AMC Movie Theater. I was there to see The Golden Compass because my girlfriend at the time had forced my hand. It was the same weekend that I Am Legend was opening, an infinitely better movie, and most of the throngs of moviegoers crowding the theater lobby were there to see it. The place was a madhouse, and it had taken me about 20 minutes to reach the front of line, where I was waiting for the next ticket teller to become available. Suddenly, I heard a man’s voice behind me.

“Yo, homeboy.”

At five-foot-three, and with the inability to grow a full beard, I am often confused for a boy — but a homeboy? Never. I just ignored the guy, but he continued.

“Yo, homeboy.”

I finally turned around to find Tracy fucking Morgan staring back at me. He was standing on the outside of the ticket line, on the other side of a velvet rope.

“Yo, if you let me cut you in line, I’ll buy you and your lady’s tickets and popcorn.” Ignoring the very real possibility that the angry mob behind me might kill me, I agreed to let him ahead of me. I thought, “Wow, he must remember me from SNL last year. I must have really made an impression on him.”

Tracy turned to the ticket teller. “Two tickets for the 10:30 I Am Legend.”

The ticket teller: “I’m sorry, that show is sold out. But there’s a midnight showing.”

Tracy assured the lady he was with that the sudden change in plans was of no concern. “Don’t worry, we’ll go to Applebee’s, get some appetizers and come back,” he asserted. Applebee’s? Celebrities, man. They’re just like us!

Feeling like hot shit, I asked the teller to tack on two tickets to The Golden Compass onto Tracy’s order. As she was fiddling with her computer, I saw an opening to do a little schmoozing. I turned to Tracy. “Hey, good seeing you again. You know, I have some friends working on 30 Rock right now.” I don’t remember what he said in response, or if he responded at all. I don’t want to say he blew me off, but…I’m pretty sure he blew me off. It was pretty clear he didn’t remember me — and of course he didn’t. He was a big star who literally meets thousands of people every year and I was a fucking naive 23-year-old idiot who didn’t realize big stars literally meet thousands of people every year. I ordered him Chinese food one time. Why would he remember me? I order Chinese food from the same takeout place every week, and I wouldn’t be able to pick the people who work there out of a lineup (but who knows, maybe that’s just because I’m a little racist?).

By now, the transaction was finished, and so was my feeble attempt at rubbing elbows with Tracy. The teller gave me my tickets, then gave Tracy his. In seconds flat, he was out into the cold December air, on his way to eating jalapeño poppers and tater skins at the Times Square Applebee’s in anticipation of seeing I Am Legend. Apparently, he forgot that he agreed to buy us popcorn. So there I was, heartbroken, about to see The Golden Compass in its third week of release because my girlfriend made me, plus I didn’t have any snacks. To say it was a low point in my life is an understatement.

Never trust Tracy Morgan with your place in line at the movies, but more importantly, never trust him with your heart.

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