I've seen some famous people in my time, but have talked to very few. Perhaps meeting Linus Pauling, who was a personal hero, when I made a complete fool of myself has made me a bit shy. Mr Pauling gave a talk to my first year chemistry class at Reed College in 1985. After the lecture, I approached him and he gave me his full attention with everyone watching the exchange. I could tell that everyone was expecting a thought provoking question with an insightful and wise response from him. I kind of froze and asked a confused, misinformed clarification about his position on vitamin C. He corrected me politely and moved on leaving me groaning inside at my lack of having a prepared question.
In 1989 during summer break, I worked for Microsoft and was quite the wiseass. The marketing folks asked for quotes from the CalTech summer hires to put in the school newspaper the next year and I thought up some ultra-geeky quote that had a hidden, and very rude, message in it and everyone had a chuckle over the fact that the marketing people thought it was real. Toward the end of the summer, all of the interns were invited to Bill Gates house for an afternoon barbeque. At that time in my life I thought I was being a rebel by smoking nasty convenience store cigars and chewing tobacco. So I'm there at Mr. Gates house and I had perhaps my second "wad of chew" ever in my mouth, it was my last. I went to the bathroom to spit it out as it was making me feel sick but there was a line about 6 people deep. I look behind me and Bill himself is behind me in line and he strikes up a conversation with me about what I'm doing this summer outside of work. I tell him that I'm taking windsurfing lessons and ask him about the garage for boats he has near the lake edge. I realize that I'd flubbed another chance to ask someone famous a probing and insightful question. Feeling sicker and sicker as the nicotine leeched into my bloodstream through my raw gums, it was finally my turn and I made sure there was no residue for Mr. Gates to find as I spit it in the sink. The fact that one of the richest men in the world was waiting in line to use his own bathroom so he could talk to his young employees is amazing. For that, I will always have a great deal of respect for him.
I not even going to go into what happened when I met Vatos, the drummer from Oingo Boingo.