New Heathens


Mazel Tov Chelsea Clinton! Her wedding yesterday in Rhinebeck, NY was picturesque. Beautiful day, beautiful estate, beautiful sunset on the Hudson Valley. It was fun to be part of the media scrum up there, canvassing workers at little boutique shops, perching in a fire tower in a forest preserve with three boozing college girls for a peek at the wedding, even being penned by police barricades and barbed wire next to a cow pasture just for a glimpse of the motorcade.

Of course what the press were really out to find were celebrities. Considering that Chelsea Clinton's wedding was hyped as THE social event of the summer, we were expecting massive ones. The rumors around town were dizzying. Who was coming? Spielberg? Oprah? Brad Pitt!?

The Brad Pitt rumor was so intense that this guy selling sandwiches was moved to tape a note on his shirt. "No," it read. "I am not Brad Pitt."

Rhinebeck, if you haven't visited, is a charming town. The little burg features the historic Beeckman Arms Inn, billed as "The Oldest Inn in America." It also has lovely shops selling coffee, wine, paper products, soaps, cigars and real estate. Amenities include yoga studios and spas. I went up there a few weeks ago for a preview piece about the wedding and everyone was awfully friendly.

One of the questions I asked townsfolk was why, out of every place in the world, would the Clintons chose to have their big wedding party in Rhinebeck? The answer was unanimous. I'll quote a lady I spoke to in a bookstore, who put it best.

"Rhinebeck is so used to celebrities," she said. "Ben Affleck, Jennifer Gardner, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts, Lenny Kravitz, we see them all the time. It doesn't phase us. We don't even notice. So I think the Clintons chose to come here because we're so comfortable with celebrities, they know nobody will bother them."

Well, ok. I took her word for it.

When Bill and Hillary arrived at the Beeckman Friday night, he beaming and thin with a white shock of hair, her smiling and elegant in a long, aquamarine dress, a crowd of around 1,000 cheered. But it was their daughter's big deal, and they were sort of the town's guests of honor. They looked so genuinely affectionate in each other's company, I couldn't tell if it was the long-practiced acting of cynical pros, or a genuine bond forged from surviving about everything that can happen to a marriage. As this was a festive, romantic occasion, I hoped for the latter.

The only other "celebrities" we saw were Bill's longtime pal Vernon Jordan and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who was actually chased down the street by teenage boys begging her for an autograph (she declined!) Surely this couldn't be right. Where were the REAL celebrities hiding?

Then on Saturday afternoon all hell broke loose downtown. I was inside a restaurant talking with two other reporters when I saw the hordes stampeding down the street. Women shrieked. Men clutched cameras and ran like Olympic sprinters. Scores rushed by the window. Hot damn! I thought. BIG celebrity on our hands here!

I dashed outside and saw a crush of people in the middle of the street, stopping traffic. I tried to make out the man in the middle of it all. Girls tore at their hair and screamed like they were in the audience at the Ed Sullivan Show watching the Beatles. My nerves fired and my heart pounded a little bit. It was my job to be objective and cool but, Christ, who was so famous as to grind celebrity-cool Rhinebeck to a standstill?

Suddenly, a woman's voice cut through the din.


Sure enough. The town of Rhinebeck lost its fucking shit over Ted Danson.

Danson, who was strolling hand-in-hand with his wife Mary Steenburgen, even seemed a little embarrassed by the hoopla.

"Are we the biggest celebrities in town?" he said. "I'm sorry."

When I was a teenager I used to fantasize about being Freddie Mercury, about being so famous that I could fill London's Wembley Stadium and by the sheer force of my personality make 80,000 people sing along with my every word. Now I'm older. And I've been through the rock 'n' roll ringer a little bit. I have a new fantasy now. To one day, one day, be so famous that I get noticed in Rhinebeck, NY.

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  1. Fun to read, Nate. 🙂

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