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My first real encounter with a celebrity happened when I was a radio talk show producer at KABC Radio in Los Angeles. The title sounds impressive but truly my job consisted of keeping the FCC commercial log (read checking off commercials after airing), greeting guests, getting coffee and screening incoming calls. My first celebrity contact tragedy happened the day Maya Angelou was scheduled for an interview. I had read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and was anxious to meet this phenomenal woman. As I walked to the lobby to escort her to the studio I made the conscious decision to call her Maya out of fear of mispronouncing her last name. Youth stupidly covered me with the hard turtle-shell of ignorance. Only now do I recognize the look of displeasure that registered on the face of our guest. I kept up a stream of conversation totally ignorant Ms. Angelou’s clipped and terse responses. After settling her in the studio, I asked if she desired coffee, again, a smile-less “no.” I then proceeded to outline the morning referencing the talk show host as Mr. Jackson. That, apparently, was the last straw for her. “Oh, he’s Mister Jackson and I am just Maya!” There it was, my mistake, standing out there naked on the chewed and faded rug of studio A. My quick, first responder defense mechanisms sprung up with the words “I figured you knew who you were” dangerously teetering on the tip of my tongue. I was saved by the voice on the intercom asking for the guest. I fell into my chair holding my head. How could this have gone so wrong? What is it about me that pisses people off? I sat through the interview putting through the best of the many callers hoping Maya Angelou would accept my apology after the show.
Later, as I escorted Ms. Angelou out of the building, I lamely apologized saying I always refer to the host in formal terms (no love lost here but that’s another story) and it was not my intention to offend. Ms. Angelou turned to me pulling her hand from mine as she said something to the effect of yes, yes. I’m sure. I do remember she her last two words to me were, “Be well.” After 36 years, I’m not sure that I am.

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