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Jewish Journal

Star Stricken

by Teresa Strasser

September 19, 2002 | 8:00 pm

My ex-boyfriend is a star.

Just when I thought he was securely fastened in my past, he is suddenly and jarringly in my present, whirring by me on the side of a bus, staring at me from the cover of TV Guide, cracking jokes on late night TV.

In short, he is everywhere. As the host of a hugely popular summer television juggernaut, he is unavoidable. The experience of watching my ex become everyone's punch line or adolescent crush (depending on who you ask) has been nothing short of surreal.

Recently, I saw a sketch comedian doing an impression of him on an awards show, imitating his laugh, his intonation. While my ex was being lambasted, I didn't know whether to feel defensive or proud, jealous or relieved, impressed or left behind. After all, I was home tending to the chips in my pedicure while he was performing for the masses, hair gel glistening under the lights. I was Art Garfunkel, home alone watching Paul Simon on Grammy night, sipping a fifth of regret; I was the Ike to his Tina.

At first, his fame was no surprise. I don't want to say he was ambitious but it was a lot like dating Eva Peron.

After a few weeks, the novelty of his big break wore off. I started to feel pangs of the old familiar competition we had, which I was clearly losing. I remembered how I used to describe us as two ships passive-aggressive in the night. Memories of him shuffled into my head at every opportunity.

Like scenes in the documentary of his life I'll probably be asked to appear in one day, I relived some key moments. There was the time he told me I wasn't funny, which was just about making me throw my Diet Coke at the TV last week when he opened with a joke I wrote. Actually, it wasn't really a funny joke, but the point is it was mine.

It also dawned on me that I must be part of a large and sad group whose members are watering their grudge gardens all over the world. I'm sure there's some guy who went to the prom with Julia Roberts, a girl who once dated Bill Clinton. When you think about it, for everyone who attains celebrity, there are at least a handful of people who aren't happy about it.

Or are they? At first, I didn't tell anyone about my brush with pre-fame. After awhile, I was waiting for any excuse to drop it into casual conversation. My mailman knew I dated The Famous Guy. I would feign embarrassment to avoid the appearance of bragging, but something in me had to spread the word.

If The Famous Guy dated me, I must be important, right? I dated him because I thought he was talented and charming, which is why he's famous, so I must have excellent taste. Check me out.

I've had to ask myself some big questions. What's so great about fame? Does it make life that much richer? Does leasing a BMW make you happy? If here on earth we keep score with fame and money, I lose, but why am I competing? Why can't I be happy with a few angry Jewish Journal letter writers mocking and demeaning me? Why do I need the whole country to join in? Doesn't touching a few -- albeit, some the wrong way -- equal being known by many? And why do poor obscure people always yammer about how money and success don't make you happy?

Yesterday, my dad called. As with many of my conversations lately, the Famous Guy came up, but my dad insists on being the only person in America who hasn't seen his show.

As previously reported here, my dad is one of three students enrolled in a beginning Yiddish class at a junior college in the Bay Area. He is obsessed with Yiddish and far more interested in that than in why Famous Guy is so famous. He had talked to a man at a music store on Fairfax about some Yiddish recordings by a singer named Chava. He asked if I could pick them up for him.

"Chava Negilla?" I asked, over the phone.

"No, Chava Alberstein. The owner says the one recorded in Israel is better. Only go if it's no bother, but it's Friday so you better leave before they close -- but only if it's no bother."

That's how I ended up in a little store cramped with Jewish music. The owner remembered talking to my dad and gathered the CDs. When I signed the credit card receipt, he recognized my name. A large Israeli man behind me chimed in.

"You should write about Israeli folk dancing," they said. And Sephardic music. And come back again.

I couldn't help but feel my dad had sent me on this mission to a place I belonged, not on the side of a bus, but in a little storefront crowded with obscure Jewish music, down the street from a falafel shop, across from Cantor's.

They hadn't heard of Famous Guy either, but don't think I didn't ask.

Teresa Strasser is on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com. You can catch her as host of a new home-redecorating show on TLC, "While You Were Out," premiering Sept. 21 at 10 p.m.

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