Alison Garwood Jones

The nearness of you

May 16, 2011

One of the things I like best about journalism is how it shrinks the phenomenon of Six Degrees of Separation — the idea that we’re all six steps away from any other person on earth — right down to zero so that one day you find yourself standing face-to-face with Kevin Bacon and asking him all sorts of impertinent questions about his personal life and career.

I haven’t met Bacon, yet, but I have stood close enough to Robert Kennedy Jr. to study the parrots on his tie and ask him questions about growing up Kennedy. He said when he was a kid his mom would send him outside when he complained of feeling sick. “She thought the sun cured everything.”

I noticed he wore the parrot tie again in a photo shoot for New York Magazine:

(Photo: Jason Schmidt)

I’ve also sat beside the late great Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop. She smelled like vanilla. I asked her tons of questions about her human rights activism as she squeezed my arm red to emphasize the changes that were needed in the world. I liked her immediately and I miss her influence.

Later, stuffed in a back room with Paris Hilton, the heiress stretched her arms up over her head half way through our interview and squealed out a yawn before telling me, “I have to pee.” Was it something I said?

When I met the lithe Liz Hurley, she scanned me from top to bottom and remarked in a plummy accent, “Good God, you’re tall. Are you Dutch?” I’m not, and we sat down for a nice lunch and a chat about Hugh Grant. He lives down the street from her in London, and is god father to her son. Frankly, I think they’ve been married in spirit since they first laid eyes on each other.

When I met my writing hero Gay Talese, he had me at hello.

(Photo: Joyce Tenneson)

Gay smiled at me, just like he’s doing in the picture above, then asked me my name. “Alison,” I replied, with a grin so wide you would have thought two coat hangers were pulling back the corners of my mouth.”And your last name?” he asked. “Wait! Don’t tell me,” he interjected. “You”ll probably change it!” — like I was about to get married, or something. I ended up talking with New York’s biggest flirt about the challenges of the writing life, being an editor at Elle and what it was like to be so tall.

Back when I was an art historian, I shared a desk at the Smithsonian with Alex Nemerov, the nephew of legendary photographer,  Diane Arbus (Nicole Kidman played her in a 2006 film). Alex kept nudging me, saying I was space hog with my books and papers and once left me a sweet note with a volume on “Manifest Destiny” to make his point. Today he’s an art history professor at Yale.

Diane Arbus, “Identical Twins,” Roselle, New Jersey, 1967

Years later, I spent an afternoon with actor Peter Keleghan that was just plain silly. I loved every minute of the interview and photo shoot with the star of The Newsroom, Made in Canada and most recently 18-to-Life. No one, except maybe Alec Baldwin, is as good as Keleghan at playing vain and fatuous characters. He even played one on Seinfeld.


“Wait, I gotta get the lint off.” (Photo: Evan Dion)

Three weeks ago, when I was in New York, I had dinner with a friend who had lunch the week before with Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, and his wife Anne Wojcicki. My friend is a neuroscientist specializing in Parkinson’s research and Wojcicki is the founder of 23andMe, a genetic testing company funded in part by Google. Brin is looking to genomics for a cure for Parkinson’s. His mother has the disease and so may he one day.

Unlike my friend, I haven’t met Brin. Yet. But maybe, just maybe, I can write my way towards him.

That’s the beauty of journalism.


3 responses to “The nearness of you”

  1. Jonathan says:

    Alison, you interviewed Gay Talese?!! Oh my God!! What I wouldn't give for ten minutes with the man!!!

  2. broadsideblog says:

    Fun! One of the weirdest elements of journalism is the people it gives us access to…and who they know. If you know me, and you do, you're one degree away from Queen Elizabeth, who I met in 1984.

    That "I gotta pee" thing is also odd. I interviewed a Bronfman heiress who, mid-interview, said "Let's pee!" What are we, three?

    • The things we've seen and heard, Caitlin! It's priceless. I hope your book tour is bringing you into contact with more characters. Take notes, maybe you could do a book about your book tour. I'd read that!

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