I Did Not Meet Lily Tomlin

Lily Tomlin

In the summer of 2005 I was pregnant, but didn’t know it yet. I was in Minneapolis-St. Paul for a family wedding, and all I could think about was taking a nap. And then another nap. I assumed I was dying, though in the back of my mind I knew I could be growing a person.

The Twin Cities were in the middle of a heat wave. Mark and I left hot, humid Houston, where the air conditioner was our best friend, for are-you-kidding-me-it’s-hotter Minnesota, where the air conditioners could not handle the heat. I take heat waves with me everywhere I go, by the way. I’ve melted snow in Denver, and suffered a sunburn in Seattle. If you’re looking to escape the Texas heat, you probably should not plan a trip with me.

In between showering off the sweat and napping, I was on a mission. I heard that the cast of the upcoming A Prairie Home Companion movie was staying in our hotel. I was obsessed. I’m a huge Garrison Keillor fan, not to mention that the movie cast was worth a bit of stalking. If you aren’t familiar with the movie, go take a look at the cast. I mean. It’s a good one.

I’d met Tommy Lee Jones before, and he did not buy me a drink or regale me with stories of his life and career, so I didn’t really care if I saw him again. But the rest of them? I wanted a look. And yes, I wanted them to buy me a drink (maybe a ginger ale, just in case it was a baby and not impending death making me sleepy?), and regale me with stories… and possibly exchange email addresses.

While I, like almost every other woman in the world, love Meryl Streep, the person I most wanted to become BFFs with was Lily Tomlin. When I was a little girl and saw Edith Ann in that giant chair, I was smitten, and remained a fan all of my life.

I don’t know why I was watching Edith Ann when I was a small child, because she may be five-and-a-half years old, but she is not for children. This was the seventies, though, and cartoons were only on once a week, so the rest of the time we watched what the adults watched. Once, in the eighties (not that different from the 1970s where parenting is concerned, just with bigger hair and shoulder pads), when it snowed three times in one winter – in Austin, Texas, where it does not snow – my parents rented Stripes. They said if we would just lie down and be quiet for 117 minutes we could watch the inappropriate movie. And thus, my love affair with Bill Murray began, but that’s another story.

So there I was in 2005, sweating profusely and puffy-faced from my most recent nap. It had been a doozy, too, the kind of nap that leaves you unsure of your name, the date, or who the president is. I think it’s important for you to know that the nap occurred about 1.32 hours after waking up from a night of sleep. I basically ate breakfast, attempted to take a walk in the sweltering heat, and went back to bed. I was thinking if this exhaustion is not due to pregnancy, I will certainly be dead by lunch. If it is pregnancy, I’m going to have to quit my job, because I don’t think I can nap for the next nine months and still get paid. (True story: I had to quit my job in month seven.)

Back to our story. In case you have already forgotten, it’s 2005, and napping has reduced my eyes to slits. Mark, concerned about my cat-like sleep schedule, and I, not even pretending to be all the way awake, were waiting for the hotel valet to bring our car around when I heard her. Behind me, waiting for her car, was Lily Tomlin. She was wearing sunglasses and talking on her cell phone. I don’t want to betray her confidence – you know, the unspoken bond we created as I stared at her, jaw agape, dried nap drool on my chin – and tell you what she was saying. It was clearly a personal conversation and not a business call.

Lily – I don’t call her Ms. Tomlin anymore, after our moment under the portico – was talking to a friend, and offering advice. She was warm and no-nonsense, exactly as I expected her to be. It was a long conversation and Lily was completely focused on the person at the other end of the call. I considered that she could have been faking the whole thing, to keep sleep-goop-eyed strangers from approaching her. Either way, she sounded like a good friend, imaginary or otherwise.

I kept one eye and ear on Lily, waiting for my opportunity to stand before her and mutter nonsense like, “Fan… Edith Ann… Laugh In… Funny… You… All of Me… Nice lady…”

Our car arrived before her call ended, so Mark took my elbow, gently but with a grip that said move along now, crazy lady. He installed me inside the car and whispered, “You’re kind of staring.” Minutes later, we drove away and I never saw Lily Tomlin again. I did not get her email address or even have the chance to smile and nod at her, what with her honed ability to ignore potentially insane fans.

I think about that one-sided encounter every now and then, and I wonder what I might have done if she were not on the phone. Would I really have spoken to her? I don’t know. I’m of the mind that famous people deserve to be outside without being hassled, so I suspect a smile and a nod would have been it. Possibly a smile and nod accompanied by a nervous giggle, and me silently mouthing, I love you, while Ms. Lily Tomlin ducked back inside the hotel to request a security presence outside.

Still, this was a missed opportunity to tell someone I value her work. What a shame. The odds that we will run into each other again some day are not in my favor (lucky for Lily), so she will never know how fabulous I think she is.

When I remember the hot, Minnesota day that I spent alternately drooling on myself during dreamless sleep, and (not so subtly) eye-balling Lily Tomlin, I think about missed opportunities. I should not be so guarded with the people in my life. While most people will have the good fortune to see me – I mean, while I will have the good fortune to see most people in my life – over and over again, we never know when an encounter will be our last. I don’t always do a good job of this, but thinking about the time I didn’t meet Lily reminds me to tell people how great they are, and how much I appreciate them.

Thinking about Lily also reminds me of the most epic naps of my life, and the dear life that was just beginning to grow in me. I may need to lie down for a bit. After a short nap, let’s all wipe the drool off of our chins and say a silent thank you to Lily Tomlin, while we promise some out-loud “you rocks” to everyone else we love.

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