Thursday, February 22, 2007

Stop calling me Shirley!

Last Thursday, a plane carrying Leslie Nielsen landed at Tulita’s humble airport. I wasn’t there to greet him because I had to work. Even with the day off, I probably wouldn’t have walked up to the airport to greet him. It’s a long way to go at thirty below.

My boss came up to me just before lunch. He had just been talking to the RCMP officer, who was on his way to the airport to pick up Mr. Neilsen and escort him around town. Neilsen’s father had been an RCMP officer stationed in the town when Leslie was a baby. He was transferred out of Tulita (then called Ft. Norman) when Neilsen was three years old, so the actor has no memories of Tulita. The afternoon radio host on CKLB Yellowknife (your First Nation radio station) interviewed Neilsen days before he arrived in Yellowknife.

“Surely you must have some memories of Tulita.”

“No I don’t! And stop calling me Shirley!”

Keeping that in mind, it was all the more nice of him to come. I made a point of hanging around the front of the store that afternoon, just in case he came in to buy a coffee. But there was no sign of him.

Darren the produce guy came in to start work around five.

“I saw him getting off the plane. He was just shuffling like an old man! I almost called out to him and told him it’s time to retire.”

“You went up to the airport to see him arrive?” I asked. This seemed out of character with Darren.

“No way! I was seeing my kids off. They’re going to Fort Simpson. His plane just happened to get in at the same time.”

About half an hour before closing, my boss and his wife grabbed their camera and ran over to the School. People coming in the store said he had given a speech and was sticking around for the feast. They returned within fifteen minutes, digital camera in hand.

“You saw him?”

He turned on his camera and showed me the picture. The two of them were posing on either side of that familiar face. Although Leslie Neilsen has always looked old, he looked REALLY old in this picture.

“What did you say to him?”

“Not much really. We just waited in line to get our picture taken with him.”

I waited all the next day for him to come in the store. He didn’t.

He didn’t come in the store on Saturday either. Rob, one of the employees at the store, left work a half hour early to go play in the “Neilsen Invitational Hockey Tournament.” Leslie was scheduled to drop the puck at the game (that’s like throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game for all you American readers).

In a way, I’m glad I didn’t meet him. Meeting a celebrity is almost always a let down. I could have gone over to the feast if I had really wanted, and had my picture taken with some movie star. But it would have been weird. It would have been as if I was treating him like a movie prop rather than a person. He wouldn’t want to talk to me, so why would I want to talk to him.

Still, I would have settled for missing him on my lunch break. Then I could have at least said “I almost met Leslie Neilson except I was on my lunch break when he came in the store.”