For the past two weeks, a particularly virulent strain of insomnia has plagued me. If you must know, I didn’t fall asleep until 5 a.m. last night. I’ve battled insomnia on and off throughout my life, and I’ve found that long-term exhaustion intensifies all my anxieties, fears and concerns. For a few nights, I lay awake obsessing over the fact that I could very well have fatal familial insomnia, one of the most fascinating genetic diseases I’ve ever read about. It didn’t matter that there was virtually no way in hell that anyone in my family of Eastern European peasant, mule-owning Jews had ever even come in contact with — much less done the nasty with — a member of the one family (Italian royalty, I should add) whose blood carries this horrid disease.
For a few more nights, I obsessed about instant messages I’d sent at the office. What if my boss had been paying my so-called work friends to entrap me? What if their snide comments were only meant to lure me into making even snider comments, which were then printed out and handed in to upper management? On other nights, the 70s-infused theme song of Swingtown refused to stop coming into my head while I tried to slumber; thoughts of those mysterious little holes in my t-shirts drove me crazy; and/or the sound of the air conditioner kept me up.
Then, inevitably, came the nights when I reviewed every mistake I’d made in my life, starting with the selection of red Buster Brown lace-ups instead of the brown leather Mary Jane-type shoes in 1976. My nocturnal regretting also included trading a “Virginia is for Lovers” reflector sticker for four Butter Rum Life-Savers in 1981; never getting to say goodbye to Ollie; spending money to see “Opportunity Knocks”; leather Keds; eating a Pizza Hut individual pan pizza before getting on that one flight from Boston to Newark; choosing the wrong college; choosing the wrong graduate program; choosing the wrong first job; sliding downhill from there; and just generally failing to do anything right, ever.
All this brought back a particularly regrettable incident in December of 1996. I had decided that I loved Pete Sampras a few months earlier after being completely moved by his public barfage at the U.S. Open that year. At the time, I was working as the editor of a dinky, now-defunct magazine for military wives, and as such was able to secure press credentials for use at a benefit tennis tournament at Madison Square Garden. My future husband P. Sampras, along with Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and John McEnroe, was playing to raise money for the Tim and Tom Gullikson Foundation and brain cancer patients; the press credentials meant I could partake of the press conference beforehand. I arrived early and managed to secure a front-row seat. It was my first (and only) celebrity-related press conference, and in addition to being the only female in attendance, I appeared to be the only “reporter” not employed at a major newspaper or sports magazine. P. Sampras and co. were on a first-name basis with all the inquiring journalists. While they swapped private jokes and referenced famous tennis matches going back to the 70s, I tried to figure out why THE HELL I had thought it was a good idea to wear ill-fitting and too-light Gap jeans, a hideously colored Norwegian print sweater and the ugliest square-toe boots ever manufactured.
Even though I was hardly the world’s leading tennis expert, it was hard not to be awed by the close-up sight of P, A, J and J. I spent a few seconds just staring at each of them. When I landed on P, I thought for a nanosecond that he might be looking at me. This struck me as ridiculously unlikely, but still …
I conducted a test — I looked down at my sham of a reporter’s notebook for a minute, then back up.
FRICK ON A TOP-SEEDED STICK! PETE SAMPRAS IS CHECKING ME OUT IN MY ILL-FITTING GAP JEANS!
If cell phones had existed back then, I would have sent a big, fat “OMFG” to everyone I knew.
I forced myself to raise an arm and come up with an entree into the King of Swing’s life. When I did, P. Sampras called on me and SMILED. Did I mention that Pete Sampras smiled at me?
Miraculously able to speak, I asked them if they’d consider making this benefit an annual event if it proved successful. (They would, but never did.)
A few minutes later, the press conference wrapped up, and I found myself a smidge surprised that P. Sampras had not stood up and said, “Now I have a question for YOU. Will you marry me?”
I filed out of the room with the real journalists and bent down in the hallway to re-organize my bag.
When I stood up, P. Sampras was standing right in front of me.
OMFG. OMFG. OMFG.
He smiled and said, “Hi. Pete Sampras. Nice to meet you.”
OMFG. OMFG. OMFG.
Now, there were any number of logical responses I could have given. For one thing, I could have, oh, I don’t know, SAID HI BACK TO HIM. I could have introduced myself. I could have given him my card. I could have told him how much I liked watching him play and/or what a great idea this benefit was. But did I say any of those things? DID I SAY ANYTHING AT ALL?! No. In fact, I’m not even sure I smiled. I can only remember emitting some kind of unintelligble, Chris Farley-esque sound and being completely paralyzed. While I can imagine how much of an absolute moron I must have looked like to him, I prefer not to.
And so, P. Sampras and I went our separate ways, he to the court and me to the stands. I would meet John McEnroe two more times, at his gallery in Soho, and I would pass Jim Courier several times on the streets of Manhattan. But P. Sampras and I would not cross paths again. Twelve years later, the leggy blonde actress Brigitte Wilson sleeps with my husband in a Los Angeles mansion. OMFG. I HAVE to get some Ambien.