I sat on this news for a month, basically, but yes, I was invited to go to the Fifth Annual Spotlight Humane: Chicago by Jorja Fox.
Wait a second…
Right now, someone out there is looking at this going “Why, on God’s green earth, did Jorja Fox invite YOU anywhere?”
I’ve recently realized that many of my family members and friends have no idea what the hell is going on, and why Jorja Fox, a Hollywood actress on a hit TV show (albeit with a rather eclectic career), would know me from Ahab. I don’t actually talk about this to everyone. It’s not that I’m embarrassed about what I do, it’s just that it’s something I don’t talk about because it involves a lot of explanation and ‘I just do.’ I’m like that about a lot of things.
I don’t like having to explain or justify what I do with my free time and invariably, people ask “Really? Why?” My friends who participate in role-playing games and the SCA and so on are, generally, more ‘Oh, sure.’ and accepting about other such “fringe” activities. The normal people of the world look at me like I’m that creepy guy on the bus reading a girly magazine. Thanks to years of dirty looks, I do the classic avoidance technique, perfected over my time as a webmaster. I don’t talk to everyone about playing role-playing Games (I doubt my family’s interested, except Dan, who likes to make RPG jokes, and Boone, who actually plays them). I don’t talk to everyone about the SCA (only my brother and online people care). I don’t talk about my ‘fringe’ activities. Everyone does this. We edit our hobbies when we talk to people who don’t understand. Many coworkers know I play Doom and table-top games. I think one of my myriad of superiors knows about the SCA and wants to try it one day.
To those who didn’t know, here’s the deal. I run a fan site for Jorja Fox, and I have since I was in college. It’s called Jorja Fox: Online and is at http://jorjafox.net.
Sometimes, when you put it that way, it sounds weird and strange. Or maybe I’m just making too much of it and you who didn’t know will go ‘Oh, okay.’ Anyway, it’s out there now. I run the site, Jorja’s manager(s), personal assistant and publicists have known and been in contact with me, off and on, since 1999, and that’s just how it goes. Part of my free time is given over to this every year, but I do my best to make sure it doesn’t affect my personal life. If a choice comes between a camping trip and breaking news (like me being at Simple Day last year when Jorja was re-hired to CSI), I pick camping. Every. Single. Time. Actually, there’s a joke about how every time I’m out of town, something ‘big’ happens, but that’s neither here nor there.
The facts are these
- I run a fansite for Jorja Fox
- Jorja Fox knows I run this site
- Jorja’s PA has contacted me before
- They all know I live in Chicago
- I was invited to the HSUS Spotlight:Chicago by Jorja
And now you know.
What Has Gone Before
In November of 2009, it was announced that Jorja would be the celebrity host of the Fifth Annual Spotlight Humane: Chicago event, to raise money to end dog fighting, at the end of February 2010. I thought, at the time ‘Gee, I wish I could go, but at $150 per person (oh, wait, $250 to meet Jorja! Hah!) I’d really rather donate money to the cause.’ Of course I thought it’d be cool to meet Jorja, but I’m a realist. I’d just bought a car (quite literally, I think I drove it home and read the news), and now I’m saving to buy my first house (hopefully by the end of this year!) so I sighed, said to my Mrs. “Boy that whomps!” and moved on with my life, promoting the event and urging people to donate in Jorja’s name.
We got to $500 by the Monday before the event, by the way, so in theory I could have used that to pay my way, but I would have felt unethical and crappy.
December/January, some of my friends asked if I was going. I replied I couldn’t really justify it. Besides, what would I wear to a cocktail event? I’ve gained some weight so my best clothes make me look … terrible. I know, it’s been a problem since I screwed up my knee. Also there’s no free gym in my apartment, which is an excuse and I know I’m cheap, but really the best way for me to lose weight is a stair-master or an elliptical. I’m eating better again, though. Trying. Trying.
Anyway, the long and short was that I was pretty much not going. Money, clothes and I didn’t want to be that freaky stalker chick. Seriously. I’ve run a website for an actress since December 1996 (yes, 15 years, since I was 19 years old). I’m really on that border of freaky-stalker and I know it. The only way I have to alleviate it is by trying my damnedest to be respectful and treat Jorja like a person, same as I would anyone else. I don’t let people speculate on her personal life on JFO, and I’ve been known to delete comments whenever people venture into those topics. Frankly, my feeling is that the site is meant to celebrate her achievements as actress and advocate. Her personal life is just that. It’s hers and it’s personal. If she goes on Letterman to talk about it, then it’s public, but until then, it’s not something I delve into.
People ask me where I get all my information. Most of the time I get my information from reading the exact same news articles that you read, or watching the same videos. Sometimes I’ll get them a day early. TV Guide and EW have both contacted me ‘early’ with breaking news, like when Jorja was leaving CSI, I had a copy of the article hours beforehand, which let me write the blog post early and schedule it, with a link to where the full article would be posted. Clever internet things. I keep in their good graces by never scooping them, and always crediting them. It works for everyone. I’m a good person, at heart, and I try to make it show.
The one thing is, I’d never met Jorja Fox. And of course I wanted to. Goodness, who wouldn’t like to meet someone they’ve admired for a decade or more? I always imagined, one day, I’d run into her when I was in California visiting my mother. Turn round a corner and boom! There’s Jorja. My life actually does work that way, so it’s not an impossible dream.
That isn’t what happened.
Here’s what happened
January 28th I got an email from Jorja’s personal assistant. It’s an email address I’ve vetted before, so I knew it was for real. I’d happened to check my mail on the train coming home, thank you iPhone, and thought “I wonder what’s up. Hope it’s not something I need to take down right away!” Instead I got this:
In appreciation of your efforts over the years, Jorja would like to invite you and a friend to be her guests at an event for the Humane Society in Chicago on 2/27/10. Please let me know if you’re available.
As I walked from the train to the car, I looked like someone had slapped me. I was shocked, horrified, excited, flattered and then a full sentence popped into my head: “Oh my god! What am I going to WEAR!?” The Mrs. was in the car and as I opened the door, I noticed her face was concerned. Clearly she’d noticed my freaked out expression. I told her, “Nothing’s wrong, it’s a good thing. Not work.” She nodded and as we drove home, I read her the email and mentioned, “It’s the cocktail party the Humane Society’s throwing on Saturday the 27th of February.”
She asked “Am I a bad person that my first thought was about what I should wear?” We laughed at that. It made the whole thing more real and easier to cope with. Then we realized it was on Saturday at 7pm, and Shabbat was over at 6:30ish. Thankfully I knew we’d be able to make it by 7:30ish (if we weren’t women we might even make 7pm!), so I emailed and asked if that was okay (complete with a side comment about how my first thought really was about clothes). It was, the Personal Assistant and I exchanged cell numbers, and I sat in a daze for much of that Thursday night.
I woke up multiple times in the night, just completely gob-smacked that a star, a real famous person, not only thought of me, but took the time out of her day to ask if I’d like to meet her at an event, and then went to say she appreciated my work? Anyone who ever tells me Jorja’s not a class act, I may shoot in the kneecap then and there.
I don’t do JFO (I call the site ‘Jorja Fox: Online’ so ‘JFO’ is my nickname for it) because I thought I’d get to meet her. I do it because she is an amazing actress, a tireless advocate, and by all reports, a damn nice person. Most people would collect a personal shrine and store it in a shoebox. Me? I was learning HTML when she started on ER so I thought I’d do a webpage. Then other people sent me more information so I added it, making a collective of shoeboxes. Then more and more and more information rolled in and suddenly, by the time I met Mrs. Ipstenu, I was a fansite runner (if I can stretch the shoebox metaphor to it’s absolute limit, I own a chain of Foot Lockers now). She knew all that coming in to a relationship with me, which is possibly why she’s still with me. I was always honest that I did this ‘thing.’ Thankfully she understands that kind of interest (it’s not an obsession, I know the difference) and as we both like CSI well enough, it’s not a hardship. She tolerates me leaping around, recording from the DVR to my computer to take screenshots on a Thursday night, and she reviews any non-Jorja posts I end up making (policy and all that) and keeps my feet firmly on the ground.
So there I was, end of January, knowing this was a possibility (and knowing full well that Jorja’s time to spend with me would be highly limited), but knowing without a doubt that Jorja Fox had invited me to an event … and I couldn’t tell anyone. I mean, what if it didn’t happen!? What if it all fell through or was an elaborate hoax!? So I Tweeted and FaceBooked that there was a cool personal thing I might get to do, and as soon as I knew for sure, I’d share. I explained ‘I was invited to a party with some neat people, hopefully I’ll get to go.’
And then I sat on it for a month. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
Secrets and Lies
I hate secrets. The little lady once commented that I’m terrible at keeping them, which I feel isn’t true. I’m excellent at keeping secrets, I just hate the necessity of having to do so. I’ve kept many secrets for years and never told anyone except for her, which is her point. I tell her everything. And while I know that a secret’s only good if no one knows, you have to have an outlet. If I couldn’t have told her what was going on with the invite, I might have burst a blood vessel. I also told my aunt and a cousin, and my best friends, because I needed a reality check. My aunt and cousin had great advice.
ASusan said “Absolutely you should go and have a good time. Try not to gawk.”
CuzDan said “Yeah, gawking’s not too cool. And don’t lead with lines like, “I preferred your early funny work,” or, “Putting someone through college with that movie, huh?” Or “So just why are your political advisers under investigation exactly?” Also eat to balance out the booze.”
To which ASusan replied “Yep – definitely eat to balance out the booze, and oh yeah – don’t say “I just love your work” in fact just shake her hand and say nothing, it’s the safest plan.”
While I didn’t intend to say nothing, I mean come on, Jorja knew I was coming, I made a decision not to ask her about her career. Mrs. Ipstenu pointed out that this wasn’t an interview, and I was sure she probably had nothing to ask me, so I decided I was going to say something like “Thank you so much for inviting me, Ms. Fox. I really appreciate this.”
After all, when I thought about it, the only ‘trivia’ I’d ever really wanted to know was ‘What the hell is her real name!?’ (the answer is on the JFO FAQ). And since I know that answer, I had nothing else I wanted to ask her.
Well, that’s not true. I could have asked her tons of things. Like ‘Was it as cool as it looked, being on Velocity Trap?’ and ‘Do you ever get tired of the flat-iron on your hair?’ But at the end of the day, all the trivia I ‘want’ to know about her, I already have crammed up into the Trivial Pursuit: Jorja Fox Edition in my head (if they ever make that edition, I will clean the house). There’s nothing I felt would be appropriate to ask her in that setting. If she ever wanted to ‘use me’ as a way to leak new news, I’d be happy to provide, but that’s her choice and I just can’t justify pressuring her. She’s a person, just like me.
The real problem I had is that I was totally unbalanced about the whole thing and it freaked me out a little. Okay, okay, it freaked me out a lot and took me about a week to settle down about. It was a gift. Here was a thank you for doing something that was never asked of me, never expected, and certainly never demanded, that I do anyway because I can, I want to, and so I do. Which is why I was so unbalanced. I never expected to be thanked, or acknowledged. I knew she knew and was okay with it, and for me, that was (and is) enough.
The ‘star’ nature of it didn’t bother me at all. In my world, the idea of meeting a star isn’t strange at all. My mother is friends with some famous people I boggle over, my grandmother knows Bob Mackie for crying out loud (whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet), and my aunt and uncle … well, if I were to list the famous people they’ve met, I’d need a new database. ASusan and UJohn are the most direct and blasé about what they think about famous people, but they’re New Yorkers and it’s expected. Suffice to say that meeting famous people? Happens. It’s not the fact that I got to meet Jorja Fox, or even that she happens to be famous, that weirded me out, it’s how it came about.
She thought of me. It’s stupid-flattering, and I’m making far more of it that it probably was, but it’s the first time that’s ever happened.
It is not, by the way, a dream come true. That would be someone saying ‘I want to publish you!’ and whisking me off to the life of a famous, rich, reclusive author. And possibly running a Big Gay Comedy Nationwide Tour with Eddie Izzard, Miss Coco Peru, Elvira Kurt, Vidur Kapur and Judy Gold. We’re here, we’re queer and we’re on your TV! Sorry, that’s off topic.
Finally, it’s happened to me
I like CeCe Peniston. Sue me.
After I spent 30 days freaking the hell out, in various stages of “Oh. My. GOD!”, it was finally over. I’d spent hours and days being fine, and then I’d stay up half the night, looking at the ceiling wondering. Finally, after a few more emails and communiques, we dressed up nicely and went off to the Water Tower to meet Jorja Fox.
Since parking was only $24 at the event, and taxis are nebulous and vague where I live, we opted to drive down. Google maps claims it’s an 11 minute drive. I think they’ve never driven down Devon Street. God knows I try not to.
It is a little silly that I was as nervous as I was. For a month. I mean, I spent a lot of time praying I wouldn’t vomit. Which is embarrassing. I should be past this, and Mrs. Ipstenu spent quite a bit of time reminding me that while this ‘felt’ like a big deal, it was really a fair quid pro quo for running JFO for all these years. And yet, my nerves controlled me for a long time about all this.
I didn’t make the VIP party (from 6 to 7) because I couldn’t make it to the event at all until 7:30. Doesn’t that suck?
I’ve been to the hotel before, but I’ve never been to an event there in my life. So yes, I was nervous as I went up and said “Hi, my name is Mika Epstein. I believe there are some tickets here for me?” There were and they happily waved us in, telling us to enjoy the event. I noticed that there was something written by my name, but not what it was. We walked around the silent auction, met the rescued dogs, and then went into the main gala room.
Now, I was well aware that Jorja was ‘working’ the event, and would not have a lot of time for me. She had, however, requested that I should “aggressively” let her know I was there. I didn’t have to. As soon as I walked into the main gala, someone pointed at me, and suddenly there she was. She grinned and said “Mika?” I smiled back and we shook hands, expressing to each other how nice it was to finally meet. She wore a really cute dress over dressy jeans and sandals. When asked (Mrs. asked, I didn’t) she said they were vintage. As we all approved of recycling this was met with nods and ah-sos!
Jorja actually made time to chat with me. We talked about Japan, about surfing and hiking. I told her about my knee, and we commiserated that getting old was terrible! There was a brief mention about Ali, her boxer, and then Jorja was kidnapped by someone else. But not before I got that picture and tweeted about it. Then she came back to us to chat a little more. She says she really likes Chicago, and the fellow near us joked that he questioned her sanity.
The party was … well. A party. Jorja gave a speech, introduced a boy and his dog, introduced the CEO of the Humane Society, awards were handed out, and then music and dancing began. We didn’t hover, but after about a half an hour, we swung back over to get an autograph (what can I say?) and got to meet the surprise of the night, Billy Petersen. My friend Melissa, whom I told about this, had asked for an autograph for her mom, which I will mail tomorrow. Billy had no clue who I was, and was perplexed I didn’t want my photo taken with him, or an autograph for me. Then Jorja swooped in and explained I was the fansite runner. She and I marveled that it had been 15 years. Billy looked thoughtful, which was either him being very polite or very amused. It was hard to say. I caught a picture of them together, of course.
By the time I got home, the twitter-verse was afire. After all, hadn’t I said I wasn’t going!? I had, and I wasn’t and yet there I was and now you know. I’m still a little giddy, but I waited till we were in the car to actually yelp like the fan I am. It was a girly yelp, I admit.
So. There’s that, then.