I ran into Al Franken today in downtown Minneapolis. While my wife was seeing the doctor, I took my son to walk around Minneapolis (as nice as Robbinsdale is, there aren't a ton of sidewalks). As we walked up Nicollet Mall, there was Al Franken walking at a brisk pace. I have mentioned before: I am not star struck. It's very hard to get me to a point where I cannot talk to someone.
We both had to stop at the light as cars flew past. He turned, look at my son in the stroller, and said, "Cute kid."
I said, "Thanks Mr. Franken."
"Oh, you know who I am?"
"We've met before," I replied.
This had his eyebrows reaching toward the sky.
It's true. I met Al Franken while I was a student at Washington University in St. Louis. Franken was looking at schools for his son, Joe (who would later end up at Princeton, I believe). The head of the department, Jeffery Matthews, wanted someone to show Franken and his son around the school. I was chosen. Why? I still have no clue. Maybe it was because I would answer his questions truthfully without holding back. Or maybe it was a test (I was not good at the political game when I was in college...it got me in trouble now and then).
Jeffery prepared me in his office a few hours before the visit.
"Oook. Make sure you say something nice about his work. Maybe Saturday Night Live or something. Say something nice about his son (his name is Joe). This is VERY important. Do you understand?"
Say something about his work? If this had happened to my parents when I was looking at colleges, they (and I) would have been pissed. Yet here I was standing outside the Performing Arts Department trying to figure out what to say.
So, Al and Joe Franken appeared. They talked to Jeffery for a few minutes, and then we were introduced. I shook Joe's hand first, because this was about him, not his father (Jeffery was not happy about that).
At this point I was looking right at Mr. Franken and began to shake his hand. The first thing out of my mouth was, "You know, sir, Stuart Saves His Family was underrated and quite good. I really enjoyed it."
"Well...thank you, I guess," was all he said.
It took the Frankens on the tour. Explained everything I could and answered every question I could. Al seemed to be interested in the fact that I was from New York, and that I was a Techie.
"So do you like working with actors?" he asked me.
"As long as I don't have to eat with them," I replied.
There was a slight chuckle.
After a few more minutes, we finished the tour. We shook hands and then I "blew the deal," as Jeffery would and probably will tell me everytime I see him.
Somehow, a photographer showed up. You see, Harold Ramis, who Franken had worked with, had gone to WUSTL. In truth, Ramis based a great deal of Animal House on life at Wash. U (Not Dartmouth and not any other school that claims it). There is a "Wall of Fame" where the professors of the department have their pictures with students and famous people. The head of the department, for example, has a picture of himself with a student and Kevin Kline (he also refers to Kevin Kline as, "Kev.") on this wall.
The photographer was supposed to take a picture of Franken, Jeffery, and myself. However, Joe, the whole reason Franken was there (supposedly), was not to be in the picture. He was told, by the photographer, to, "sit over there (indicating a bench) until we're done."
That didn't sit well with me. The kid was being marginalized in the name of helping the school.
So, I excused myself. Jeffery had a look of terror on his face. I said, "Mr. Franken, it was nice to meet you. Joe, good luck, and if you have any questions, you have my email. I need to get to a lighting rehearsal." Granted, it was only 1 pm, but it could have been true.
Without the student, the whole thing wouldn't work. Why would perspective parents care about a celebrity meeting with the professors? They would want the students involved.
Maybe the blown photo op was the reason why Joe didn't go to Wash. U. I don't know, and I don't care.
I enjoyed showing the Frankens around the school, but it felt weird. It was almost like being part of a show where everyone knows the script except you.
So, with that in mind, I looked into Mr. Franken's eyes and said, "Yes, we met at Washington University in St. Louis when your son was looking at schools. I gave you a tour."
He nodded and said, "Oh sure," which really meant, "I don't remember, but I'll be nice as I am very Minnesotan and will forget this meeting almost immediately after I cross the street, person who is a nobody."
The light changed. We crossed, he much faster than I.
"Have a good day," I said.
"You too," he replied.
My son and I continued walking at our slow pace watching Franken move quickly on to his destination.
The best part? Honestly? Hearing my son be called cute. Makes me a proud papa.