Why are there so many people outside of Uptown Coffee? Why are questionable remixes blaring at top staticy volume from the speakers outside the tanning salon next store? Why, just inches from my home-away-from-home, do I feel so out of place in my glasses, my shoes that have no trace of leopard-print and bring me no closer to the grey Seattle sky? And why is everyone fist-pumping?!
I enter the cafe to a lively hum of confusion. I’m not alone, wondering what’s going on. I listen to the confused mutters, catch the question marks in every exchange, take bites of the questions myself, as though they’re the flaky, almondy bear claw I’m eating.
What is going on out there?
Why are all those people–
Is this a–
There’s no harmony like the sound of the unthreatened curious.
And so, the voice of the informed is calm, humble — is his declaration even tinged with the slightest embarrassment that he knows, and we don’t?
“It’s a Snooki thing,” he tells us.
“Wait. Snooki? Like. Like from Jersey Shore?” I can’t remember if this was someone else or me or almost everyone.
I watch the people outside. They are multitudinous and abuzz. I talk to a guy who met her, he has to tell me that he did because it explains why he’s “a little out-of-it right now.” “Her beauty did that?” I say. “Her charisma?” He looks as though he’s reeling from some kind of cosmic reveal — the veil between dimensions torn to shreds by wildly-colored nails.
“She’s really tiny, though,” he says. “I thought she’d have a fuller figure.”
I haven’t seen any photos in a while — but the last ones that that threw their don’t-you-wish-you-were-me stargaze from the checkout line definitely had curves, so I start to show my surprise and agree that yeah, a curvy figure–”
“Hey,” he cuts me off, gently. “Whatever makes her happy, ya know?”
Yes. I know.
I’m trying to read my book and think about work and read my book some more, but I keep watching the people outside. I start to notice that the line is considerably shorter than it was when I first wondered what it was for. This could be a good story, I realize. Then I have this — too ridiculous to be called a thought, a PAINFULLY unattractive combination of wishful thinking and paranoid dread —
What if I get in that line, and one of my favorite local writers walks by, and when I see them at a signing next they say “I remember you from standing in line to meet Snooki?’
Yeah, okay, so I’m kind of stupid. 1) Why wouldn’t I own it? 2) WHY WOULD THAT HAPPEN (this could be 1, if you wish) and 3), perhaps the most important — Why would it matter?
Still, though, I’d like some advice, so in a text exchange that sets a high bar for the rest of 2014, I ask a friend, in that writing-snippet manner, “What’s more important, dignity or good stories?”
“That is an eternal and unanswerable question,” he answers.
This is true, so I decide to dig deeper. “More specifically, if one has the opportunity to get a Snooki Story, does one take it?”
A couple of minutes pass. I like to think they were moments of deliberation. “You know,” he says, “I think one does.”
I get in line. I feel a little dizzy from all the excited picture-taking going on around me, from the people walking by, gawking at the line. This is actually where I live, this neighborhood, but I feel like I’ve never been there, all of a sudden. I didn’t even know about the tanning salon that’s still several restaurants away, people-deep as we are.
When I get to the door, I notice two photographers snapping photos of smiling fans with Snooki for the tanning salon’s web site. I don’t generally like my photo being on the internet (with or without reality TV superstars), so I ask if we can request not to have our picture taken. The photographers are wonderful and answer really naturally, and I don’t feel at all weird for asking. Because of them, I feel far less out of place, and I can take a deep breath and approach Snooki in my blue cardigan and low shoes with confidence.
(I noticed, as I walked, her array of tattoos — a mystical map, inked on her body, and I wondered, for a second, if she would notice the Mandala over my heart and say anything. For a fleeting second I wanted her to tell me it was beautiful. She didn’t.)
Her hair is long and straight, dark but for a tint of red. She is indeed, tiny, but it doesn’t feel that way to stand in front of her. But I swallow, and feel that my words are still there.
“I just have a question,” I say. “When you need to feel inspired — to act, or create, or be with people, what do you do?”
“What do you mean?” she asks.
Immediately, my thoughts rearrange, leaving no extra breaths to waste this moment. “What ignites that special part of your brain that makes you go out there and Be Snooki?”
This is more clear, and without missing a beat she answers,“Starbucks.”
“Green tea lattes,” she elaborates. “They always put me in a positive space, I don’t know why, I think it’s like a mental thing? But yeah, green tea lattes. They’re awesome. You should check them out.”
That’s what I get. And it’s a lot, an earthly, concrete, and accessible explanation of what that elusive It Factor is. An hour before this conversation (if I can employ that word), I had no idea why Snooki was famous. I’m convinced now that it’s her eyes, though I couldn’t tell you what about them, color, size, shine, Elseness that’s not meant for explanation. Whatever it is, that force, we can drink it — and it tastes like matcha and steamed milk.