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A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized .

-- Fred Allen

'What's that?" David asked, pointing to the bag of romaine lettuce on the conveyor belt. I had hoped he would be too distracted with the electronic thingamajig he was running his credit card through to notice my sly maneuver of slipping the periodicals beneath the lettuce. "What's what ?" I responded, thinking Good one, Barb. Keep up the idiot act and he'll never suspect a thing .

David reached over and, as though shooing a fly, brushed off the bag of lettuce to reveal my little stash of magazines. "Those," he said quietly.

It was too late for him to do what he did last time, which was put the divider between our groceries and my magazines and pretend he didn't know me; the girl behind the checkout counter already knew we were together. I decided to take advantage of the situation and embarrass him.

"Oh, these ?" I said, loud enough for cashiers and customers within a two-aisle radius to hear. "I picked these up for you , beh beh! I know how you've been following Britney's pregnancy, and didn't you just tell me last night that you were concerned Nickie and Paris would never speak to each other again?" David's expression was priceless. Why didn't I tease him in public more often? He had no idea who I was talking about, but his face still reddened when he caught the cashier's lips curling up in amusement on his behalf.

I never used to buy gossip magazines like People and Star . In fact, I used to look down on others who did. What a waste of money , I thought. Who gives a shit whether or not some woman I've never met and probably wouldn't like is cheating on her fiancé? Even now I tell myself I don't care. I don't care if Brad is serious about Angelina. I don't care if Paris dumped Tinkerbell for a smaller purse pooch. And why would I care who wore what to that recent awards show I didn't even watch? Despite my apathy, despite my disgust at the petty problems of the rich and famous, I can't seem to stop myself from sneaking them in with my groceries, hiding them beneath other products whether or not David is with me. I want to know what celebrities are like in real life .

I remember the precise moment when my trashy-mag vice began. I was in San Francisco for Grace's bachelorette party last year and met her friend Alex for the first time. Alex is a hot bitch in every way -- she's gorgeous, she's pushy, she gets what she wants, and because she works with movie stars every day, she's quick to shatter the popular belief that they are perfect. Alex strutted into the hotel room in white pants and stiletto heels and, with a flip of her long, dark hair, tossed a magazine on the bed next to me and launched into an explanation as to exactly how she obtained for us the best room in the hotel for the cheapest rate -- and that, "by the way," complimentary bottles of wine were being brought up by a bellhop at any moment for our "trouble."

The headline on the cover of the magazine caught my eye: "Stars Without Makeup." While I listened in awe as Alex described for the room full of curious women the dates she'd been on with one A-lister after another, I flipped through the magazine. Were these pictures PhotoShopped? Or could it be possible that this model or that actress was pockmarked or freckle-faced? As though reading my mind, Alex said, "I always pick up a few of these magazines before I get on the plane. Let me tell you, none of these people are good looking in real life." Drawing from her personal experiences, Alex explained how much lighting and post-production work goes into removing all of the "flaws" from actors and actresses.

I hate to admit that I found this information liberating. If someone like Alex wasn't ashamed of spending money on those fluffy rag-mags, it must be an acceptable thing to do. It's in my nature to be nosy about other people's lives, whether those people are high-profile or not. But there is an aura of mysticism that surrounds celebrities, one that keeps the public yearning to learn more about them.

When I lived in Hollywood I was submerged in the subject of entertainment. I knew a woman named Fancy Free (I'm not kidding). Fancy was dubbed a "starfucker" because she would only date men who had starred in (costars never made the cut) a movie or television series. Most of my friends wanted to be stars -- auditioning by day, waiting tables by night, and getting a small break every now and then. Everybody else I knew, from coworkers to newscasters, was content to simply talk about stars.

"Did you hear about the latest divorce?"

"No, do tell! And then I have to fill you in on the party last night. You'll never guess who I saw there!" No conversation was complete without mention of who was spotted walking down Santa Monica Boulevard or sitting outside a café on Sunset. Other people's sightings are boring -- hearing about such an encounter is the pale, scrawny cousin of experiencing it firsthand. What is it about seeing someone famous in the flesh that gets most of us so excited?

At David's last photographic art exhibition in L.A. I trailed off in the middle of a sentence and announced in an emphatic whisper, "Oh my GOD , Zach Braff just walked in the door," to the woman I had been explaining long exposures to.

"Zach who?" She asked, following my star-studded gaze. "You mean the guy next to Mandy Moore?"

"Mandy who?" Now it was my turn to be stumped. But no sooner had I asked the question than I decided coming up with a scheme to speak with Zach was more important than finding out who the tall chick on his arm was. I loved his character on Scrubs , but it was his movie, Garden State , that I had watched with David just last week that sealed my affections for the actor/writer/director.

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