Peter Tatara Meets Hawkeye Pierce
Peter Tatara - September 17, 2007
I had many heroes in my youth; however, most -- like Peter Pan, Darkwing Duck, and MacGyver -- were fictitious. Of the rarer, real variety, no man was held in higher regard than Alan Alda. Perhaps you're familiar with him as the host of Scientific American Frontiers. Maybe you recognize him as the author of Never Have Your Dog Stuffed. Most likely, you know him as the immortal Hawkeye Pierce.
I know him as all three.
And I met him tonight. His latest book, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, has just come out, and he did a book signing hours ago in Union Square. I should state sooner rather than later that my regard for Mr. Alda borders on an obsessive man-crush, and if I knew where he lived, I'd likely be waiting outside his apartment with a warm cup of hot coca and a fresh scone for him every morning. I think he'd be appreciative.
I first found out about the book signing several months back and began making plans immediately for it. Taking the day off from work. Plotting out what clothes I'd wear and ironing them over and over until all my pleats were immaculately straight. Timing how long it took to get to Union Square from my door down to the second.
Then, finally, today came, and I, a few hundred other Aldiacs, and my girlfriend -- tagging along to keep me out of trouble -- all crowded into the Union Square Barnes and Noble, and I was surprised -- shocked -- to see faces not yet wrinkled by age. I've gotten into the habit of attending book signings, but I'm always the only one in the room not topped with grey hair or accompanied by a cane. (That is to say "not old.") Yet, there were more than a dozen 20-somethings waiting in line to see Hawkeye Pierce.
Then, the man appeared. While time had chiseled his features, Alan Alda's voice hadn't changed -- still ringing with the vigor and pluck inhabiting it in 1970. I swooned. Mr. Alda spoke about the nature of time, the human mind, and tips for making the most of your morning. Did you know the brain registers the Present -- the world around us -- as only five seconds in length and anything before that is the Past -- evaporating or sinking into memory? Did you know you can save seconds a day by putting on each shoe immediately after each sock, rather than both socks and then both shoes? This is the majesty of Alan Alda.
When we got to the signing, for all my preparations, I hadn't composed anything worthy enough to stutter before Hawkeye. My girlfriend suggested I ask him if he recommended any restaurants in Union Square. I told her that was a horrible question. I then decided I'd ask him if he recommended any restaurants in Union Square. Sound similar to my girlfriend's suggestion? It does; however, my version -- my superior version -- includes a follow-up, the natural invitation to take Alan Alda out to dinner.
Visions of clinking glasses with Hawkeye Pierce at Zen Palate or Havana Central danced through my head.
I made the mistake of whispering my plan to my girlfriend. With a slap, she told me we would not be dining with Alan Alda tonight. I explained to her, as she saw from his talk, Mr. Alda was a very nice and very humorous man -- and I was sure he could entertain us for hours with his stories. My girlfriend narrowed her eyes and told me I'd be sleeping on the cough tonight if I invited Alan Alda to dinner. This, I informed her, wasn't a threat as the couch is right in front of the TV. Hell, after dinner, Alan could come back to the apartment and I'd break out my M*A*S*H boxset. My girlfriend told me she'd unplug the TV.
So, there I was. Standing in line. Waiting for Alan Alda to sign a copy of his latest book. Without a single thing to say. My mind flashed about. Ask him about M*A*S*H. Ask him for directions to his house. Ask him if he reads my blog. Ask him if he likes cinnamon in his cocoa. Ask him if he knows Ali Kokmen. Then, before I knew it, I was out of time, and next in line for the great and glorious Mr. Alda.
Alan took my book, looked up at me, and smiled.
"These five seconds are amazing."
That's what I said. That's what I said to Alan Alda. My panicked brain thought incorporating something from his talk into my utterance would be playful and charming, but as the words cracked from my throat, I was already regretting them. What the hell was I saying? Did I sound sarcastic? Was I even making any sense?
But, just as Mr. Alda had spoken earlier in the evening, the Present was very quickly devoured by the Past and now I'm sitting with my girlfriend at Zen Palate (without Alan Alda) with a bowl of Tong Mein and, of course, regret.