We are stopped here on Pennsylvania Avenue, craning our necks, because this isn't something you see every day. Hollywood is here, making a movie.
"Kiefer is a doll baby, a doll baby!" an old woman is saying about Kiefer Sutherland, star of the hit TV show "24." We are all calling him "Kiefer."
"I like his dad better," a man says. "Kiefer's kind of a lightweight, but I like his show."
"Why did he dump Julia Roberts, anyway?" one asks.
"No, she dumped him," says another. "But that was like a million years ago, anyway."
We don't know one another, but we know so much about these people, our friends. We are business people going from here to there, and tourists with cameras, and nannies with kids in strollers, and teenagers looking for action. We are a miscellaneous mix of humanity, gathered on a stinking-hot afternoon with one common goal: We want to see the movie stars.
"Look! Look! He's somebody, isn't he?" a woman next to me says, motioning toward a handsome young man just hopping off a golf cart.
"Um," I say, squinting to get a better look. "No, I don't think he's anybody."
It's hard to say because the cops are keeping us behind a yellow tape, so far from the action that all we can really see are tiny heads.
The only other famous head besides Kiefer's we've been able to identify so far is that of Eva Longoria, star of the hit show "Desperate Housewives," whom no one is calling "Eva."
"Oh, my God, Mom!" says a young woman just walking up. "It's Gabrielle!"
"Gabrielle?" the mother says. "You mean the blond one with the puffy lips?"
"No! Gabrielle! You know, the little one married to, what's his face, the slime bucket. She's having the affair with the gardener?"
"Oh my God, I love her!" This conversation, in similar forms, has happened repeatedly, as new onlookers join our group. We compare notes about Gabrielle. For some reason we refuse to believe her real name is Eva, refuse to allow our troubled friend a life away from Wisteria Lane. And isn't it so great that she's now making a movie? This is so exciting. When we go home to dinner tonight, we will tell our families who we saw. We will say, "He looked a lot shorter in person" and, "Her waist was so tiny!" as if to provide evidence.
Sssssh! A nobody with a radio is telling us to please be quiet. And no flash photography. The cameras are about to roll. This is so exciting. We are a part of history. Well, not really. We know this. And we know we're speaking in italics a lot. We can't help ourselves. We know the difference between fact and fiction, person and persona. But still. When is this movie going to be released? We will get the DVD.
And . . . action! Kiefer heads down the street, toward Lafayette Square. He is dressed in gray pants and a white shirt. He walks purposefully and . . . straight.
The scene is repeated, again and again. It isn't much of a scene. We wish something would happen. We wish Gabrielle would come running up and maybe throw her arms in the air, and a car would zoom by, and a bad guy would flop out, dead. Something. But no, it's just Kiefer walking, which from our vantage point is really just a tiny head bobbing.
Soon a golf cart zooms up, and Kiefer hops on. They are taking him away. "I think it's a wrap!" I say. "It's a wrap!" I love saying this. "Get the poster!" a woman says to her friend, who unrolls a giant glossy of Kiefer. "He's not going to sign it," a guy says. "I'm sure he's too impressed with himself."
Several of us scowl at the naysayer. Jeez. This is Kiefer! "He'll sign it," the woman with the poster says. "Because he is a nice guy."
Maybe he is, and maybe he isn't. This, finally, is what it's all about. We need him to be a nice guy. If he's a nice guy, we will feel better about ourselves. If he is a nice guy, we can believe a little longer in the illusion, in our important role in the lives of the friends who beckon our company in our living rooms each night. We just need to know he cares. The woman chases after the golf cart. "Kiefer! Kiefer!" she shouts, waving the poster. We are holding our breath. He looks over, leans back to the driver. The golf cart stops. He holds out his hand. She rushes up to him. He takes the pen and the poster, and scribbles.
With that, we burst into spontaneous applause, all of us gathered on this stinky day. Thank God. And hooray. We can go home to dinner. We can say, "You're not going to believe who I saw today." We can say, "He was such a nice guy."
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.