March 5, 2009 — That’s me directing Dan Aykroyd...at a liquor store...in one of the lesser-referenced states of the Union...New Hampshire. Explanation follows.
I like a glass of wine, but I’m the Valles Marineris away from being an oenophile. I also dig movies, but I kind of hate celebrity actors. In general, the more famous a face, the less I want to see it in a movie. So finding myself in front of Dan Aykroyd as he autographs a bottle of red wine for me with a silver marker is one of those moments in my life that I have to mentally retrace the steps that got me there to make sense of it all for myself, much less you, Poor Reader.
You see, there are quite a few headlines I don’t expect to see when I skim through my local paper. “Christ returns. Asks for Directions to Nearest Saturn Dealer” is one that comes immediately to mind. Also, “California Falls into Ocean Like Mystics and Statistics Said It Would,” is another headline I’m always waiting to not see. Right up there with those, though, is “Dan Aykroyd in Town Selling Wine.”
But it was, more or less, that last headline that I came across a few weeks ago. Apparently, Aykroyd is on an alcohol binge, pushing new products from a line of spirits he’s involved with called the “Dan Aykroyd Discovery” series. Besides the usual wine suspects, it also includes a premium vodka in a crystal skull decanter, a nod to such artifacts as the Mitchell-Hedges skull and Aykroyd’s interest in the paranormal in general. And for some reason, my small-but-still-second-largest-in-the-state city ended up on the tour.
Dan Aykroyd is one of those actors whose face appeared often enough on movie and television screens during my softly skulled formative years that I developed Pavlovian responses of nostalgia and comfort for him strong enough to rival what I felt for my grandparents, Pitfall Harry, and Optimus Prime combined. Even if all of that wasn’t true, though, Aykroyd’s still a Ghostbuster, and that single fact of his existence makes him worth me re-ordering a few hours of my life around.
Naturally, jumping at any opportunity to stave off the dark abyss of adult existence, I got out of work early to see Mr. Aykroyd with the excuse that I had a doctor appointment (with Dr. Detroit, of course).
That said, I’m really not an autograph guy. I tried it a couple of times in my younger days when I thought that was what you were supposed to do when somebody whose face you recognized but whose personality you didn’t came to town. My favorite grabs from that short time period of my life are Dirk Benedict of A-Team and Battlestar Galactica fame (Face and Starbuck, respectively) and Conrad Brooks from Ed Wood’s infamous troupe. But to this day I still feel a little slimy for going after those autographs and hide them in a box at the bottom of my closet along with a more or less unearned varsity letter and an unfortunately published poem.
But I thought I’d try again this time for a couple of reasons. One, I’m much more into pictures these days and have never gotten one of me with a celebrity. Two, I write for a website that is unforgiving in its demands for content and to which I need to sacrifice whenever I can. Third, the guy was a Ghostbuster. I only really needed Reason Number Three, of course.
However, chasing after an autograph, a photo, and a brief, unsatisfying celebrity encounter meant only one thing for me...absolute spiritual crisis. For not only was I participating in a celebrity culture that I despise six out of seven days of the week, I would literally be standing in line for hours having it shoved in my face and stewing in it for the duration. I mean, can there be a less cool way to meet a celebrity than standing in line for a pre-planned press junket? Get back to me on that.
Still, we grabbed a couple of bottles of his signature wines for his signature (well, one to autograph and one to drink later) and jumped into an already too-long line that anaconda’d up and down the aisles of my local liquor store. We chose his cabernet because we thought his signature would show up better on the dark glass and because I’m not a big fan of white wine. Also, he’s apparently not selling his vodka in New Hampshire yet, otherwise that would have been the winner. I’m always in the market for another skull to display on my bookshelves.
So me and my gracious wife, who’d only recently been introduced to Ghostbusters by yours truly (I blame her parents for the holes in her upbringing) stood in line, entertaining ourselves by discovering new alcohols on the shelves and applauding with the rest when somebody would break the monotony by dropping their bottle of wine-to-be-signed-but-now-consigned on the floor with a messy crash.
Looking around me (because that’s what you do in long lines), I had that same feeling I had when I saw who I would be graduating college with. The outcome of that latter revelation was that I realized how so not big of an accomplishment it was after all and skipped out on the whole ceremony proceedings. The outcome of the more current feeling was that I re-re-re-re-realized how degrading celebrity culture is but still stood in line and meticulously dismantled my own opinion of myself.
Because of the layout of the liquor store, we had no clue exactly how the encounter would go until we were on deck for it. We already knew we had nothing to say to him, so we weren’t even going to try. I mean, just because we’d seen him at various times in our life wearing goat chaps, narfling the Garthok, and getting pleasured by a ghost, didn’t mean we had more to say to him than any other random stranger we would normally see at the liquor store.
Finally, after two hours, it was our turn, and we still had no clue what to do, really. I mean, if at the end of that line had been Santa Claus I would have sat in his lap (does that count as a Trading Places reference?). If it had been an amusement park ride, I would have strapped in. But it was just a Canadian-born actor with paranormal and musical inclinations whose comedic strengths lie equally in deadpan and faux-innocence.
Fortunately, chaos made the decision of what to do for us, and if there’s one thing I can enthusiastically join in on, it’s chaos. Swarming around him were people who hadn’t stood in line but were satisfied with just taking pictures from a little distance, people who took way too long attempting to engage him in conversation, general loiterers, and more handlers than you’d think he’d need but who still weren’t doing that great a job of crowd organization.
Despite the heat of the crowd-filled store and probably because of the dinner event he was scheduled to attend next, Aykroyd was dressed nattily enough in all black with a vest and tie, reading glasses perched on his tall forehead and his bright bald spot unabashedly uncovered and surrounded by a thick ring of dark brown hair. All in all, he looked, surprisingly enough, like Dan Aykroyd. All he needed was a cone on his head, a proton pack on his back, and an organ keyboard under his fingers.
When we got there, he was dogmatically head-down and autographing furiously enough that I had to say his name multiple times for him to look up for a picture. But that might have been my fault. Thinking back over it, I might have called him “Mr. Millbarge” on accident.
Whatever I said, the only thing he voiced to me in response in his distinct Canadian-New York accent was, “Looking left?” At least I’m pretty sure that was to me. His internal narration might have accidentally slipped out loud. He gave my wife and her camera a bigger smile than I thought him capable of after two hours of fawning, riotous fan interaction and then we grabbed a third bottle of wine (in the bedlam of the encounter, he ended up signing both of our original bottles) and fled with our bounty.
However, we did continue celebrating our Dan Aykroyd Day in private...by popping a cork (which, incidentally, was branded with the phrase, “Made from 100% Snob-Free Grapes”) on the unautographed bottle of his wine and watching a couple of his movies.
So much thanks to my wife for taking my picture with him. She doesn’t get enough credit for all the places I drag her to and all the photos she takes for me. But she really sacrificed for this one. She can get the next Ghostbuster...especially if it’s Ernie Hudson (as much needed for the dynamic of the team as his character was).
Oh, and as to the wine itself, after trying some I only have good things to say about it. And by that I mean it worked...drunkenness did, in fact, ensue...and just in time for the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene.