(Fifth in the “I’m so sorry” celebrity apology series under ‘Reality,’ previously featuring James Cameron, Ray Bradbury, Joan Rivers and Robert Duvall)
The year was 1991. You had divorced the Hollywood actress wife, married the New Jersey hometown girl (Patti Scialfa), and relocated to California. The timing of those events appears a bit off (why didn’t you relocate to L.A. for the Hollywood wife and stay back East for the New Jersey wife?), but let’s not quibble. Those of us who had already moved to Los Angeles were glad to have an authentic, working class living music legend among us, emphasis on the ‘authentic’ part. You helped validate our own struggle and choice to be there.
A college buddy of mine who worked as a microbiologist cancer researcher at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla was visiting. Cruising down Main Street in Santa Monica, we spotted a relatively new food joint called Joe’s Diner, where we assumed you could get an authentic, working class cheeseburger. The unpretentious name and promise of American diner food must have also attracted your attention, because no sooner had we sat in our booth when I spotted you sitting with your very pregnant wife in the booth directly next to ours.
Now my buddy was a bit star struck and had been itching to spot celebrities on his abbreviated visit with me in La La Land. How could I indiscreetly tell him the back of his head was less than a foot away from Bruce Springsteen’s in the booth behind him? Well, not wanting to create any kind of scene, or disturb your lunch, I couldn’t, of course. So we just continued to calmly eat our lunches.
Now I’d seen plenty of celebrities in my business and entertainment excursions around L.A. almost every day – it was just part of the scenery, but I rarely had any interest in actually walking up to or meeting most. I don’t know whether it was my own pride, or perhaps wanting to appear just as cool as everyone else in the industry, or simply from a lack of interest or respect. But this was an entirely different case. This was ‘The Boss,’ – more revered than the Pope, more honest or authentic than any president, and more awesome than any other rock star then living in Los Angeles.
So when both our lunches ended and we happened to converge at the cash register around the same time, I couldn’t resist.
And that’s when it happened.
Being from New Jersey, you naturally disdain credit cards and carried around what could only be sociologically and anthropologically be described as a ‘Jersey Roll.’ Italians, Catholics, PRs, gangsters, punks and priests and just about everyone else in North Jersey carry their cash around in a flashy roll, usually wound with a rubber band. That your ‘Roll’ happened to flash a huge and tight wad of hundred dollar bills just spoke to your native trait status level. You can take the boy out of New Jersey, but never quite take the New Jersey Roll out of the boy, no matter how rich or recognizable that boy becomes.
So when I reached to shake your hand, it looked like I was actually reaching for your … Roll. Your teeth clenched, and a momentary, blood-drained look of flinch and fight crossed your facial expression. It only lasted a brief second until you realized I was simply a friendly fan trying to shake your hand and not steal your Roll, but it probably caused you a minor stroke flashing back to your Jersey shore survival days.
And for stressful moment of trauma, I’m so sorry.
You walked out of Joe’s Diner, and my friend and I stepped out to the sidewalk and he turned to me and asked, “Who was that – a buddy of yours?” And I grinned at my friend and said, “No. Didn’t you recognize him? That was Bruce Springsteen.”
“Well, for one reason,” I explained, “this exact reaction.” I told him his head was a foot from yours the whole lunch, almost to the point where follicles might have brushed through each other. How calm or comfortable would both our lunches have been if my star struck friend knew all along?
But you were definitely uncomfortable when you thought I was about to grab your Roll. So, for that moment, and whatever tense, dark Jersey alley flashback it might’ve caused you, I’m sorry.
You made the right move going back to live in New Jersey a couple years later.
Everyone there knows how to stand clear when someone pulls out their Roll.
— A. Wayne Carter
R.I.P. – Clarence Clemons 1942-June 18, 2011