01/02/2015
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When you’re in the same city as actor James Franco, you think you stand a chance to meet him? Think again.

No one is actually a James Franco fan. That’s my theory, at least. Sure, he’s one of the most famous faces in Hollywood, recognizable whether disheveled or debonair. But rarely is he discussed and dissected for his craft. It’s not that he’s a terrible actor; it’s just that he does some pretty odd things for people to remember why he became famous in the first place. You know, petty things like collecting college degrees (good) or hitting on minors (v. bad).

I like James Franco well enough, but I can’t even count myself as a solid admirer. He’s effortlessly gorgeous and charming, no doubt. But he can turn all that off just as easily: I barely survived his turn at hosting the Oscars and I’ve honestly never seen most of his films. His Oscar-nominated performance in 127 Hours includes a self-amputation scene, which is no bueno for me. Pineapple Express? Couldn’t stand the stoner humor. Your Highness? Ditto. Milk? Um, I tried. I really did.

But then he announced on Instagram that he was doing a book signing at Waterstones in London. I happen to like books (which Waterstones is known for selling) and hot men (which James Franco occasionally is). Given that I lived only 15 minutes away from that particular store at the time, it was but the right thing to pay him a visit and perhaps try to get him to go on a date with me. Reaching, I know, but I’m always a fan of the underdog.

With my friend, whose flat I was slumming in, we visited the store two days before the event to make sure that no tickets needed to be purchased. We were just told that it was starting at noon and that he would only be allowed to sign books purchased from the store.

My friend and I were so eager for our Franco interaction that we wouldn’t shut up about it at a bar we went to the night before the big day. “We’re gonna meet James Franco!” we told the nice gay guy who introduced himself as Tinker Bell.

“Oh, my God. I am, like, so obsessed with him,” Tinker said. He spent a few years in Los Angeles to try to be an acteur but found a Norwegian sugar daddy so he moved back to London. “You guys are so lucky. I love him.”

“Who’s James Franco?” asked Nikki, a girl we had also met that night. Although myself, my friend, and the properly indignant Tinker Bell were freaked out, we saw this as a boon. The fewer people knew who he was, the less likely we were going to have to elbow our way to the line.

We might’ve taken this blessing for granted when we ambled back home far too late, and slept on the floor like logs. When I woke up with one shoe on, I saw that my friend’s eye makeup was only halfway removed and that we only had one hour to get ready.

We made it to Waterstones’ Piccadilly Circus at 11 a.m. In the fangirl timetable, we were horribly late. But the line was decently packed; it didn’t snake around the building, neither was the crowd particularly rowdy. There would’ve probably been more people attending a Sarah Geronimo mall show in SM Taytay than that sorry joint.

When we reached the end of the line, there was a small retractable barrier belt (the kind they use to help people form queues at the counter) behind a group of teenage girls. Unsure of what it meant, my friend and I stood in front of it. While we were discussing which book of his we would buy and never read, a Waterstones employee came up to us. “This is the end of the line, sorry,” the girl said, who I can only describe as a lesbian Jena Malone.

My friend and I were crestfallen but not defeated. We informed her that we would happily wait and take our chance, in case we would be let through. But lesbian Jena Malone shook her head.

“There is no chance and no hope of meeting him,” she told us. “You can line up and wait in the cold for hours, but you will not get to meet James Franco.”

She said it so plainly that I was taken aback. Usually Brits are so uppity and polite about everything that when they go off-script I tend to think, “Well, Hugh Grant would never say that.”

Lesbian Jena Malone eventually realized that we weren’t scared off by her lip ring, so she huffed back into the store. A few minutes later, we were joined by a Chinese-American med student who was hoping to get his copy of Palo Alto signed. He was disappointed to learn that we were not a real line, but merely a “line of protest.”

Eventually we were joined by two Turkish women, who were speaking in rapid-fire English or very slow Turkish. Either way I wasn’t sure what they were doing in line, because all they kept saying was they wanted to show support for the people lining up. They were nice, and yelled at the male Waterstones employee who would come by and ask us to leave.

The line behind us was growing. By noon, we had at least three couples, a bevy of university students, and one mom who had brought her baby. As in, an actual baby in a stroller. I felt kind of bad, but I figured they would see how many people they were turning away and let us through. I was emboldened by the power of our protest.

The universe was still acting like it was conspiring against us. The girls at the end of the line were uncooperative, to say the least; throughout our fake line, they kept saying how they were so lucky to have made the cut, and what they were going to say to James Franco when they met him. There were girls who had just come out of the store with signed books in tow, the bragging bitches showing off their collective two-minute experience.

“Gosh, he smelled so nice,” a blonde girl said. She was holding onto her book like it was going to get nicked by a Filipina girl in a unicorn-printed sweater. Which, I swear, I wasn’t gonna do.

Annoyed at these undeserving humans (as the unlikelihood of meeting James increased, the more we began to see him as a demigod) my friend and I started to think of alternative plans. Do we find where his hotel is? Do we stalk him around London? Or do we sneak are way up and try to meet him?

The Chinese-American student, who by then had become our unofficial third/token Asian friend, laughed at us. “Wow, you guys sure have a serious plan about this? It’s like you’ve done it before.”

But we have, because this is not the first time we’ve squeezed our way into barriers just to meet a celebrity. Back in high school, we regularly terrorized the back stages of school fairs and bar gigs just to meet our local idols. Were we told we couldn’t do it? Yes. Did we do it anyway? Absolutely.

We decided to stick around and see if we could make a big enough menace of ourselves, then rush to meet James Franco in his car. The signing was halfway done, and the Waterstones employee looked like they were getting fed up with telling us off. Besides, there were already so many of us that they could barely handle us. So the manager came out, angry that we formed a line even longer than the actual line.

I suppose the Waterstones employees who probably hate us just as much as we hate them finally got fed up. They called a bouncer whose particular responsibility was to make sure we didn’t make it inside.

And by “we” I mean, my friend and myself. I know this because I heard one of the Waterstones folks say, “Those two girls? That one and the one with a hat? They’re not coming in.”

Um, super rude. We found a way to sneak in anyway, running up to the first floor where James Franco was meeting his fans. We tried to spot him between the tarpaulin banner erected to keep off the riffraff (a.k.a. us), but even the Waterstones employees asked us to hit the road.

I took a really bad camera phone photo of James Franco from meters away, but I did see his gray beanie and pornstache. I wanted to yell for him to notice us, but I had a feeling that it would not only be illegal, but kind of pathetic. If eight years ago, I would do anything just for Diego Mapa or Raimund Marasigan to give me their guitar picks, here I was today, giving up on my James Franco quest.

That should’ve been the end of it, but we got the genius idea of waiting at the backdoor.

If we really were geniuses, then we were just as smart as the 15 teenagers who were already staking out the place. After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we learned that the bouncers had tricked us. Franco left the other back entrance, because if there’s any place in the world with two backdoors, it’s gotta be Waterstones.

Very pleased with themselves, the bouncers high-fived each other and literally just walked down the street in separate ways. Like they were just hired by the bookstore on a whim and they were going to spend the day at Shake Shack. (I know I would.) (Actually, I did.)

When I tried to look for my friend, she was looking at her phone, devastated. Amid the crush of screaming girls trying to chase James’ car, some dinkhead elbowed her whereupon she dropped her phone and cracked it on the pavement. You know, because things weren’t bad enough yet.

Hours later, as we were nursing our overpriced cocktails in Soho and finding even more creative ways to curse James Franco, my friend saw that he’s posted a spontaneous fan meet-up somewhere nearby.

To be honest, we did consider going. We’ve gone through so much trouble anyway, so why not? But then in what ways would meeting James Franco enrich our lives? How will meeting our favorite celebrities become better people, better human beings?

The answer: it won’t. It’s certainly a treat to meet someone you admire; after all, very few joys can compare to the feeling of knowing that your favorite writer knows just how much you loved a character or how much truth an actor gave to the line “Would you like us to assign someone to butter your muffin?”

But to revere them beyond their work can be unhealthy and unrealistic. At the end of the day, despite his good looks and PhD, he still farts and picks his nose just like everybody else. Only difference is that he gets paid millions of dollars to act like a schlub.

So we downed our drinks and watched the newsstand across the street get robbed by the British equivalent of a jejemon. That kind of excitement, we were much bigger fans of. James Franco had hurt us enough. And we wasn’t even that hot anyway.

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