Chris Rock Update
I finished writing my Chris Rock cell phone story on a Saturday afternoon. After posting it on my website, I sent an e-mail to my "Notification List" readers, notifying them of this new offering, and providing a link to the story. (Standard Laura's NYC Tales procedure.)
Over the years I've built up a decent-sized notification list, which is really great because it provides me with instant feedback on new material I post. The first e-mails I received regarding the Chris story were very positive: "That's a great story!" "Can I just say how brilliant this story is!" "Hilarious!" "Loved it!" I was pleased to hear that initial response was good. I mean, I liked the story, but that wasn't a guarantee others would as well.
On Saturday evening I visited my good friend Nancy. I read her the story, and we laughed throughout my reading of it. I mused, "I wonder what Chris would think if he ever read the story?" We both shrugged, and gave each other a "Who knows?" kind of look.
I checked my e-mail when I got up on Sunday morning. There were a few additional, positive responses from "Notification List" readers, and then there was this other e-mail, from a guy who mentioned he had seen the story on MetaFilter.
I had never heard of "MetaFilter," so as a first guess I typed the obvious "metafilter.com" into my browser. Up popped their homepage (they're a discussion forum website). To my complete surprise, at the top of the page I read, "Chris-calls! What if you received Chris Rock's old cell phone number and his celebrity friends kept on calling you?"
Following was an extensive thread of comments on the story, and then comments on the comments. As I scrolled down the page, I read many comments trashing the story. But not only did they trash my story, they also trashed me. Here's a sampling:
"It's too bad someone with no sense of humor got the phone."
"I kept thinking there would be an interesting or funny point to her story. I was wrong."
"She didn't know who Ken Burns is? Sheesh."
"Carrie Bradshaw she is not."
Another comment: "I'd swear this was a Jean Teasdale article." Oh, great, I thought, who's that? I assumed it was another put-down, and I was right. Through a quick web search I discovered "Jean Teasdale" is a fictional, mock columnist in The Onion, described as "an overweight woman in a small town who loves her cats and Patrick Swayze," and is someone "who thinks she has a sense of humor but has very pedestrian tastes and a very humdrum lifestyle."
Many of the MetaFilter readers expressed disappointment with my story because they wanted me to have really pranked the callers. Well, I disagree. As keeper of the number, I stand by my belief that I did the right thing. Throughout my dealings with the callers, I made it a point to always remain respectful. The way I figured it, the last thing a celebrity needs (or any of us, for that matter) is another annoyance. By not annoying Chris' callers, I felt that translated into not annoying him. Excuse me for being a decent person.
After a day of back-and-forth blogging with the MeFi readers, I felt as if I had been put through the wringer, but the experience ended on a positive note: MetaFilter is a highly trafficked site, and the exposure led to links on other sites. These links led to more links, which led to more and more, and before I knew it my story was all over the Internet.
By Wednesday, I started receiving a lot more e-mail than usual. "I found your site through a link on Popdex," "I saw you on BuzzMachine," "Blogdex," "Crains Detroit News," "VH1" (that was a fun one to find out about), "USA Today" to name a few.
Also on Wednesday, I received e-mails from two radio stations wanting to interview me. I snuck into a private conference room to conduct the interviews. No one at work had a hint of what I was up to, which made it all the more fun.
Thursday was a very busy e-mail day, with more and more people discovering my site through various linkage of the Chris Rock story.
Early Friday morning before work, as I was drinking my coffee, my mind was thinking, thinking, thinking... plotting, planning, scheming....
Instead of spending the next hour exercising, I sat down at my computer and whipped up an e-mail to my Notification List readers. The e-mail told of the buzz going on and of my new idea: "What if we band together and launch a blitz, and get the word out about the story here, there and everywhere? Let's see how far we can make this thing go!"
I sent the e-mail that morning, and by noontime response was pouring in. The fuel that had been added to what was already a fire succeeded in now making it burn like crazy.
Friday evening, in the midst of the e-mail blitz craziness, it was time for me to say, "Bye-bye, New York, hello Savannah." I left for a 10-day work/vacation, compliments of my ex-boss Tim. He had recently bought a house outside of Savannah, and flew me down on an all-expenses-paid trip to help fix it up.
Excitement was in the air. I was looking forward to getting out of bustling NYC, and heading to a beautiful Southern city I'd never visited before. I was also looking forward to spending time with Tim and his partner Warren, which is always a lot of fun. And not that I needed another reason to be excited, but there was one: my Chris Rock story was splashing all around cyberspace. Where would it end up next?
Whenever I fly, I prefer a window seat, and I got one that night on my flight to Savannah. Face pressed up against the window like a little kid, I gazed out at the intricate web of amber-toned electrical illumination below me. I watched as it became sparser and sparser as we flew away from the intense concentration of Manhattan Island. It made me think about how interconnected our whole world is....
Electricity and the Internet reaching all of these houses... I wonder if my website made it into any of these tiny speck-of-a-houses down below?
Late afternoon on Saturday, we headed to the home of one of Warren's old friends, for cocktails before dinner. Riding in the backseat of the car en route to the gathering, I was admiring the elaborate moss dripping from the trees (a common sight for Southerners; an unusual sight for a Northerner like me), when my cell phone went a' ringy-ring-ring. I looked at the Caller ID it displayed an area code I didn't recognize.
CALLER: Hi, is this Laura?
LAURA: [Surprised, didn't expect to hear this. Had assumed, as always lately with unrecognized numbers, that the caller was going to ask for "Chris," not "Laura"] Um, this is Laura....
CALLER: [Very enthusiastically] Hi! This is Gayle, Chris' mother-in-law. I read your story about getting Chris' old cell phone number, and I absolutely loved it! I thought it was one of the most hilarious things I'd ever read. I wanted to call you and say hello, and then I realized I already had your number!
LAURA: [Thrilled] Wow, that is so great! I'm so glad you liked my story! Thanks, Notification List readers. Our e-mail blitz worked.
A week before, when I had mused to Nancy, "I wonder what Chris would think if he ever read the story?" that notion seemed pretty far-fetched. But now, a mere week later, it didn't seem so at all. Incredible!
Mid-afternoon on Sunday, we headed to Tim and Warren's house to start our fix-up work. Tim's task du jour was bricking up an interior wall, and Warren and I were going to do some painting. I chose this wall adjacent to the second floor outdoor porch.
It was a beautiful, sunny, 75-degree day down Savannah way (as opposed to a chilly and grey, mid-30's one back home, ha ha). I was wearing my glamorous painter's outfit of pants that were too small in the waist so they were left with zipper not fully zipped, a faded purple bra top, and shoes I had mummified with blue painter's tape.
The three of us took our posts and began our work. I was painting for a whopping ten minutes when my cell started to ring. I put down my paint-sopped roller and walked over to my phone. I saw "Restricted" on the Caller ID.
CALLER: Is this Laura?
LAURA: [Thinks, Another call for me from someone I don't know? Gee, I'm getting mighty popular on the Chris-line. Curious, inquisitive] Yes... this is Laura....
CALLER: Hi, it's Chris Rock.
With all that had been going on lately, this wasn't the hugest, most out-of-left-field surprise, but still -- my first instinct was not to believe it. I thought I was being pranked. By who, I didn't know, but pranked nonetheless.
I wasn't familiar enough with Chris' voice to recognize it, so during the first few minutes of the call I was mostly trying to figure out if it was really him. We kept talking, and as time went on I began to settle into the fact that yes, it was really Chris.
We had a nice chat. He was friendly, and genuinely interested in me. (What do you do? Where do you live? How old are you?) We talked for a while about a bunch of things.
When Chris had asked, "What do you do?" I mentioned my website and writing, and then for my job I said I was an Executive Assistant. "Kind of like Kali, you know, Executive/Personal assistant."
"For a celebrity?"
"No, for an executive, in an office."
He said, "Oh, we have to get you out of that! I'll give you the name of my literary agent - he's one of the best agents in the city. You can say I referred you." He also gave me his new cell phone number. My thoughts flashed back to yet another of the snide MetaFilter comments:
"My favorite part of Laura's essay: 'I was a tad disappointed -- I was hoping they'd give me Chris' number instead of his assistant's.' Yeah, that's what they were gonna do: give the weird phone stranger their boss' direct number."
"Weird phone stranger" -- is that what you think I am? Well, obviously Chris doesn't share your sentiment, or else he wouldn't have given me his number. It's like, don't be callin' me crap that I'm not.
Continued exposure of the story made my Inbox go wild for the next week. All sorts of interest flooded in. Of particular note: the National Post (Canada's national newspaper) asked if they could run the piece and pay me for it [yes, that ended up happening], an indie writer/director in L.A. was interested in my material, [I never followed up with him] and this guy thought my story would be good for a new reality show his production company will be pitching to HBO [nope, that never materalized]. And many, many new people were introduced to Laura's NYC Tales.
A week or so later I got the following two Chris-calls. Funny how things were a bit different now:
CALLER: I have Rick Kurtzman on the line for Chris. Is he there? (Rick was Bill Murray's former agent.)
LAURA: There's another number for you to call for Chris. The number is nine- one- seven...
CALLER: [Cuts Laura off mid number, aggressively blurts out] Were you giving me Kali's number?
LAURA: Uh, yes, I was....
CALLER: I already have her number, and I read your story.
[Caller hangs up, leaving Laura stopped in dead her tracks, not knowing what to make of that one!]
CALLER: Is Chris there?
LAURA: Who's this?
CALLER: It's Bill... hey, are you the girl that wrote that story?
LAURA: Yeah! Did you read it?
BILL: I sure did. I'm a friend of Chris'. After I read it I thought, "Chris has got to see this!" I'm the one who sent the link to him.
LAURA: Oh... so that's how he got the link. Thanks for sending it to him. By the way, I've got another number for you to call to reach Chris....
Also "after" the story, I received several additional calls of interest. Not to be a name-dropper, but I talked with Damon Wayans (friendly and nice), Peter Farrelly (the director of "There's Something About Mary," also very cool), and Jerry Seinfeld.
Good ol' Jerry Seinfeld. He really threw me for a loop:
CALLER: Is Chris there?
LAURA: [In her pleasant Executive Assistant voice] Who's this?
LAURA: [Immediately thinks, Oh my gosh, it's Jerry Seinfeld! but acts completely unfazed. Politely and innocently asks] Jerry...?
JERRY: [Curt and demanding] Who's this?
LAURA: [Taken aback, yet refusing to be intimidated] Well, who's this?
JERRY: [In a shockingly nasty tone] This is a DUMB GAME. Is Chris THERE or NOT?
LAURA: [Chokes up] Um, um.... [Click].
It was such an unexpectedly nasty interaction that I was left feeling distressed. Would Jerry Seinfeld really have been that rude? He never did say his last name, so admittedly, I wasn't 100% positive it was him. After work that day I went to a friend's house. The TV was on, and an old episode of "Seinfeld" happened to be playing. In it Jerry was arguing/bickering with George. The minute I heard it I thought, Yup, it was Jerry Seinfeld alright. My opinion of the "Seinfeld" we all know and love has been forever tainted! But all things considered, it was a small price to pay.