Bill Murray and Me
by Jen Choi
The first time I met Bill Murray, I was 18 years old and wearing a miserable brown ensemble.
The garments belonged to my mother, and for unknown reasons I had filched them to add to my own wardrobe in New York: a chocolate, polyester blouse, light-washed jeans, and mahogany, backless loafers in the style of re-imagined Mary Janes. I had just moved to the city for college and the independent film I interned for consisted of a tidy editorial crew (Editor, Assistant Editor, and me.) Rather than cool clothes, I outfitted myself with that spirited, blind alacrity only youth affords. I was thrilled to work on a real film — in the Big Apple! — and anytime a celebrity popped by to visit our director, I feigned (poorly, I’m sure) aloofness. These icons largely ignored my existence, which I considered a common gesture in the feudal world of filmmaking: they noblemen, maintaining an understood distance, to my serfdom.
We all had crushes on our lead actor, Bill Murray (who we called by first name, naturally). “Bill might stop by today,” was a regularly quoted possibility that for months never materialized. Then one afternoon he appeared in our cutting room — very tall, sharply be-suited, his silver hair neatly combed to frame his genial face. I stood statue-still as he approached me, his arm extended.
“Hi, I’m Bill,” he said.
“I’m Jen,” I squeaked. “It’s… such a pleasure to meet you.” It was a phrase I had practiced often — one that, in our Korean family, I never grew up utilizing, but had fancied a polite, white-people-expression I ought to use more often. We shook hands for a good while.
Someone decided I should go on a fresh juice run. “Jen, do they have blood oranges?” Bill joked. “Nah, they’re probably not in season.”
I returned, giddy, and distributed the ginger/citrus/wheatgrass concoctions. Bill asked me where I was from, and wanted to know the particulars (“OK, but where exactly in southern California?”) and I was pleased he did not probe the way some strangers do (Where are you from originally, in Asia? North Korea or South?)
“I could tell you were new in town,” he said. “I noticed the Band-Aids on your feet. Are those new shoes?”
I looked down in horror. I had forgotten about the Band-Aids. My mother’s feet were smaller than mine, and with all the city-walking, the ill fit produced several unsightly blisters. They weren’t new, per se, but I said, “I guess,” and mentally crawled into a shame-cave with my mother’s ugly brown shoes.
“New to New York. New shoes. There’s a connection there,” he said. He sipped the dregs of his juice and smiled. I thought it’d be the last time I ever saw him.
Ten years later: 4:30 a.m., Brooklyn. It was a particularly sweltering summer, but during the wee hours, that warm blanket of heat peeled back, gifting night owls like me a brief respite. I had just finished my shift slinging Prohibition-era cocktails to the score of a live New Orleans swing band. It was a decent gig to pay the bills.
Meanwhile, internally, I trudged my way through the bog of post-grad school malaise. Any high from completing my MFA had disintegrated entirely, and each morning as I closed the bar, I felt a little ridiculous changing out of my Peter Pan-collared dress, or while shutting the doors to the vintage icebox. In my normal clothes, I felt cripplingly stunted, bartending as if I was twenty-two again, this time deeper in debt and rankled by the fear of unfulfilled potential — unpleasantness only adulthood affords. I pondered these concerns while riding my bicycle down a desolate street. Suddenly, a man appeared, crossing without the right of way. He stared at his phone while walking. I slowed down, so as not to hit him. We were alone.
“Hello,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” he said, startled. “I wasn’t looking.”
“That’s OK.” And instead of letting the moment pass at that, I continued.
“We worked on a film years ago. I’m Jen,” I said, arm extended.
“Hi Jen,” he said. “I’m Bill. Bill Murray.”
We shook hands for a good while. He was still tall, his hair this time white and unruly, like some mad scientist. Though he had noticeably aged, he was as charming as I remembered. Since our last encounter, I had moved six times, earned two degrees, lived abroad once, fell in love twice, quit film. I was now 28. Funny thing, though, meeting someone again a decade later. All those years collapsed instantly; air and time flushed shut like the bellows of an accordion. I had altogether forgotten that unabashedly hopeful girl I used to be, in Band-Aids and brown shoes. But then there I was, shaking hands with Bill Murray.
I took off my helmet and Bill tussled my hair. We spoke about the film we worked on (it was special to him, to me) and his most recent project, shooting in the neighborhood. He asked me where I was from in California (“I’m so glad we got you out of there”) and what I was working on these days (“A book,” I said. “Good. Very good,” he said.”) We talked in that easy way, somewhere between acquaintances and friendly strangers. But it was getting late, so I said I ought to be on my way — truthfully, I didn’t want to ruin the moment. I doubt he remembered my brown clothes, or perhaps ever meeting me at all, but I could suddenly see that old version of myself with telescopic clarity. Our encounter revived some small part of that girl I used to be, who was eager, spirited, who wanted everything, in that way, as an adult, you begin to think is foolish.
I said, “It was such a pleasure to meet you again.”
He said, “Goodbye Jen.”
I hopped on my bike, and he insisted he give me a push. Then, I stared straight ahead into the empty street, and Bill Murray propelled me off into the dark toward home.
Jen Choi is a freelance writer in Brooklyn. She is currently working on a memoir.