It was late in the day. Dusk in New York City. Summer of 1996 or 1997.
I played the part of chivalrous friend and walked Erin to her apartment building. We were both from the same small town and got together a couple times a week to look out for one another.
Or, more accurately, for me to look out for her. She was younger and a woman. I was uninteresting and responsible. No one asked me to look out for her. In a small town, it’s just a role you assume.
She lived in an all-girl’s dorm of sorts in Chelsea. It was just down the block from a nice crab shack kind of bar where we would eat. One of those hip, trendy joints that made us feel like we belonged on Friends.
Erin most certainly would have been Rachel among the group. I would have been Chandler, probably. Only not as good looking.
The thing we didn’t know was the show was a fantasy of what New York for 20-somethings was really like. She lived in a glorified dorm room that could have passed for a closet. I had an 800-square-foot, two bedroom apartment … in Jersey City Heights across the river.
Neither of us had a dime to our name. We wouldn’t have been able to afford the coffee at Central Perk. Come to think of it, I think most of those dinner and drinks at the crab place wound up on my credit card, which means I’m still paying for them.
But we were young and dumb, just off the boat from the mother country of Pike County, Kentucky. We thought this was living. We thought we were going to make it big.
That was 30 years ago. I lasted two years in the Big Apple and then came home to get married and find a real job. That is, one that paid a modest salary that allowed me to eventually buy a home and have a yard.
Erin tried her hand at acting, then followed her military husband around the world a bit, before becoming a creative arts person at a children’s hospital. I think.
I don’t know that either of us would term our time in New York a failure. We worked. We learned. We made friends.
More importantly to the folks back home, we survived. Approximately 35 percent of all the little old ladies at church were certain we’d end up on an episode of Dateline.
But we left. It wasn’t the exciting 26-minutes of magic with five friends in the same apartment building whose profession appeared to be hanging out.
I probably gave Erin a hug as I dropped her in front of the apartment. Maybe that was the signal that labeled me “safe.” As I turned to walk back to the subway stop I realized the sidewalk was eerily empty.
A lovely looking woman in what appeared to be a bridesmaid dress came out of an RV-like trailer parked on the street. She was even carrying flowers, I think. She turned to walk toward me in a hurried, worried sort of gate.
As she approached, I looked up from my sidewalk stare to nod and smile.
I’m a Kentucky boy. It’s what we do.
The woman hurrying past was Jennifer Anniston.
Her eyes were locked on whomever was holding the door to the building behind me. It must have been the set of the movie she was filming. She looked scared, as if I was certain to assault her. She never turned her eyes or head, quickly moving past me to safety.
I just shrugged and went home.
A couple days later while waiting for Erin to come down for a lunch we’d scheduled, a group of people came out of the same trailer. Allison Janney was among them. It turns out Erin’s apartment was next to the set for The Object of My Affection.
In retrospect, I guess I could have said hello and forced her to acknowledge me. If I’d had half a mind, I would have jokingly accosted her for proliferating the myth a 20-something could afford to live in Manhattan without a trust fund.
It being New York, however, she likely would have just walked faster and ignored me. Or seven Gold’s Gym sized security guards would have assaulted me.
I suppose I did the best thing I could. I got a good look at her … she’s as beautiful in person as you would guess … and I went on my way.
If you ever see Jennifer Anniston on the street, I recommend doing the same. Different choices may have different consequences. Mine turned out well. No one had to call security. And I didn’t end up on Dateline. (Praise Jesus.)