Right now, I’m at a coffee shop. A few moments ago, I signed an autograph on one of those papers you find in front of such places. Probably looks like the one you’re reading now. I’m in a baseball cap, pulled just over my eyes, and a pair of camouflage carpenter shorts I got from Target. And a nondescript navy blue sweatshirt.
I’m Joe, Anytown USA. But I’m not.
I’ve achieved some sort of celebrity status. Falling in rank somewhere between the E and Z lists. Probably more toward the back of the alphabet. A fact that has been made increasingly obvious through some surreal experiences.
Often, I’m just that guy from TV. A food channel dude. That chef.
Sometimes, I’m a guy you think you know from somewhere, but can’t quite place.
I recommend that if you find yourself going through this metamorphosis, do not tell the person who is stumped about your identity who you are. Telling them you're from this or that TV show has the potential to yield a most humiliating result. As it did to me once in Jacksonville. Early in my newfound life, the curious person who thought they knew me responded that no, they didn't know me from television. They just thought I was Craig Wilson from their intramural softball team.
I now refer to this as the Craig Wilson rule.
Indeed, that encounter is my favorite and it provided a good lesson. Now, I will not tell you who I am. It’s a fun game that can last for a few guesses and sometimes leaves people scratching their heads a bit bewildered. Did you go to medical school at Johns Hopkins? Nope. High school in Boston? Uh-uh. Are you a pediatric gastroenterologist? Negative. Man, I didn’t even know what that was but I was honored!
I am Craig Wilson ... your old college roommate.
Sometimes, playing that game makes me me feel like I’m being a dick. But what would you do in the situation?
The daily confirmation of my new public persona comes in many forms. An autograph here, a picture there, a random, albeit infrequent shout of “I love you” across an airport concourse or from a passing car while I’m jogging. One of the more interesting posts on LA Eater stated that they saw me and my wife, and couldn’t believe how pretty she was (compliment or insult ?). Tweets that claim to have spotted me, shopping in the mall or dining at Chick-fil-A (they were giving away free sandwiches!). Every day comes with some harmless confirmation that I’m not who I was a few years ago.
I am Craig Wilson ... lover of fried chicken.
The bizarre confirmations reveal more about the incredible life-altering effect of having been on a few TV shows. Fan mail from other countries. Crazy! E-mails detailing how I have helped someone overcome a major life obstacle from divorce to career change. Amazing! But the requests to correspond with the terminally ill or a kid battling cancer really drive home the gravity of my new life and leave me utterly humbled and grounded.
Of course, there’s also the humorous exchanges — being misidentified as Bobby Flay (honestly?) and signing the latest version of Grilling and Chilling. Or in a whirlwind moment, having someone ask me to sign something, then how to spell my name as they shove their prototype granola bar in my hand and snap a picture. A drive-by Twitter endorsement. WTF? One of my favorite stories, however, was when a super-exuberant teenage girl accosted me at an airport to take pictures, sign autographs, exclaim her adoration of me, and then in parting, confide how much she loved me on "American Idol"!
I am Craig Wilson ... a mediocre singing talent.
All of this did propel me to do something that some may consider dabbling in douche-baggery. I started buying and wearing baseball caps. It’s my personal force field. For a bit, I thought I would only be recognized in my chef attire. Then it was only if my hair was in foie hawk attack formation. Then, maybe only in certain geographical areas.
I am Craig Wilson ... third baseman for the company softball team.
I figured a hat would surely make me invisible. And it does slow down the quantity of approaches, but still doesn’t give me full anonymity. My wife tells me I just need a different look, face, hair, everything (again, compliment or insult?). It really amps up when I travel to some of the heartland cities. I’m like a flapper at a temperance rally. I stick out like a sore thumb. I can’t do much about it. Even if I wasn’t on TV, people would still probably stare at me for my hair or my silver shoes.
I am Craig Wilson ... gin-swilling jazz enthusiast.
I have not yet reached the status of hat-plus-sunglasses. I feel that's reserved for poker players, residents of Nevada, or the truly famous. Or maybe those who think they're truly famous. Once, when hanging out with a crew of reality cooking stars, we were denied access to a West Hollywood “celebrity” hot spot. One of my colleagues, of the knife-wielding, wild-haired ilk, actually said, “Don’t you know who I am?” I let him know that he was just Craig Wilson. Systems analyst by trade, weekend warrior at heart.
It went over his head.
And now, in absolute real time and in all honesty, someone just approached me. Hunkered down in the farthest corner of this Latte Express. Red Sox cap touching my eyebrows. Face buried behind my Macbook, iced coffee, and pile of orange peels.
“You were such a joy to watch, an absolute inspiration! You have gotten me to take up cooking at home.”
Ahhh. I’m Richard Blais.