Why I Will Always Remember Michael J. Fox’s Birthday

My son loves many of my “80’s Celebrities” stories (from the years I lived in Los Angeles) and being a big Back To The Future fan, this one is his favorite.

On June 8, 1985, I had a date with Daphne Zuniga. We had met a few years before, her first year at UCLA, when she was in the Theater Arts program and I was a film student. I normally stayed away from actresses, but Daphne is as smart as she is talented, and very easy to talk to. The first time I saw her, she was sitting alone at a table in the student co-op where we both lived. She had just moved to Los Angeles from Vermont, her father was a University professor, her mother a minister. We chatted about Berkeley, where her father had taught and mine had gone to school, what it was like to be back in California after so many years, and discovered a shared passion for the work of Katherine Hepburn.

We had gone out a few times in college, but it didn’t take me too long to figure out that she was more interested in my annoyingly handsome roommate. Now we were both graduated and working in our respective fields. Following a shaky start (her first “feature” film, The Dorm That Dripped Blood, had actually been shot by a fellow UVA film student in the very co-op where she and I had lived as students. Don’t bother looking it up; it’s truly awful), Daphne’s career was really picking up. After a TV movie and some sitcom appearances, she had finally hit it big with a Rob Reiner film, The Sure Thing.

We were meeting at a juice bar called “I Love Juicy” on, ironically, Melrose Avenue (this was a few years before Daphne got a recurring role on Melrose Place). Daphne had actually looked me up and suggested we get together. I was single, she was single, and now that my roommate was firmly out of the picture, I was hopeful for a second chance.

I arrived on Melrose about an hour early, and had spent that time digging through the bins at Bleeker Bobs, a record store (yes, actual vinyl records), looking for bargains. I mention this only because I had carefully counted my money and frugally spent two dollars to get three records, then walked one block east to a juice bar where the cheapest drink was three dollars. In 1985, and on my salary, that was a chunk of change, perhaps equivalent to spending eight or nine dollars now. For juice. Simply put, I was poor, and Daphne was undoubtedly making a lot more money than I was, but I was determined to make a good impression. I also had a little ace up my sleeve: it was just two days after my 24th birthday, and I was hoping to convince her that we should celebrate together!

We met at the appointed time and immediately started catching up. She talked about working with Rob Reiner, and how he had taken her and co-star John Cusack to a screening of his previous film, This is Spinal Tap, in the very theater near UCLA where Daphne and I had gone to see films together. It was fun to talk about our school days and how far we had come since then, but I was quietly trying to change the subject from the past to the present, and waiting for my opportunity to play the birthday card.

Things were going pretty well, I thought, and then Michael J. Fox showed up.

Michael had walked in just to get a juice, Daphne spotted him and called him over, and he joined us at our table. She had done a few Family Ties episodes, playing Alex Keaton’s girlfriend. I was actually a fan of the show and had attended a few tapings at the Paramount lot. I had met many blowhard actors by then, and Michael was a genuinely decent guy, but I suddenly felt invisible. Daphne was a budding movie star sitting at a table with a successful, charming actor, and a struggling, unpublished screenwriter who worked in a film archive. You can guess who was getting all of her attention. They talked about their years of poverty before becoming successful (I could relate to the first part), and Michael mentioned the crazy schedule he had been running for the past several months, shooting Family Ties by day, and a little film called Back To The Future during the nights and weekends.

Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to meet him, at first, but it was clear that he was making better time with Daphne then I was. In a desperate move, I decided that the very next time the conversation turned to me, I was going to mention my birthday. In the meantime, I was urging Michael to finish his stories and move on to wherever it was he had to go. Inadvertently, I may have made things momentarily awkward for everyone, and during a pause in the conversation, Daphne turned to Michael and asked “so, what else is going on with you?”. He gave us that winning Michael J. Fox smile, glanced modestly down at his drink, and quietly murmured, “well, tomorrow is my birthday.”

To which Daphne squealed in delight, give him a big hug, and announced that they absolutely had to celebrate. Meanwhile, I sat there dumbstruck, finally blurting out “I just had a birthday, too!”, but in a tone of voice that must have sounded more like a child who has just been told that Santa Claus is a fraud. Michael suggested that we all celebrate together, but I could tell that he didn’t mean it. After a few more awkward moments, Michael left with a promise to call her later, Daphne and I finished our juices, and I went home alone to listen to my new records.

Daphne and I stayed friends, but only ever just friends, until I left L.A. a few years later (although I once asked out her house mate, Meg Ryan, but that’s another story). I never did meet Michael J. Fox again, but in retrospect, I’m glad to have this one good story. And every year on June 9, I wish him a happy birthday.

Posted via email from seanmccord’s posterous

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