The Fluke In Our Stars
by BRIAN DALY
My friend Charity and I were heading to the Hayden Planetarium, located at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. We were going to see the film Dark Matter, a short documentary about the 95% of matter in the universe we can’t see. Besides trying to wrap my head around such a concept, an even more mind-blowing fact appeared before us: the narrator of the film himself, Neil deGrasse Tyson, was standing at the entrance to the planetarium.
There was close to a dozen people standing around him, talking and taking pictures. I tapped Charity’s side and whispered, “Look! That’s Neil deGrasse Tyson! Neil deGrasse Tyson!!”
Now that might seem surprising to anyone who knows who NDGT is, but the fact that she did not know was a perfect catalyst for how I was able to capture this moment.
We walked through the entrance revolving doors, past security, and I was rattling off NDGT’s resume: Director of the Hayden Planetarium, host of TV’s Cosmos, TV personality, and Pluto’s nemesis, as he was on board with stripping our smallest planet of its planetary status (hey, no one is perfect).
She: “Then let’s get a picture.”
Me: “No, I couldn’t.”
In my 14 years of working in Entertainment Media, I have seen and met many celebrities in NYC. NDGT however, teaches us what it means to be human on this small rock hurling through space. Smart stuff. That left me star-struck for the first time.
She: “I don’t know him, so let me be the asshole!”
So she grabbed my arm and we went back outside. He was now talking with another couple, and everyone else had gone. When he was finished, she approached him and said, “Hi, I don’t know who you are but my friend here is a huge fan. We’re native New Yorkers, so we see celebrities all the time, but we’re never impressed – and don’t actually stop to engage.” (Spoiler alert: I am a native of Philadelphia…she said, “You’re welcome.”)
From there, NDGT was friendly and happy to chat.
I immediately asked if he had taken into account that Dark Matter might just be a negative electric field on a galactic scale that was left over from the Big Bang. His eyes widened and he said, “I had never thought of it that way!”
OK, maybe a voice-cracking “A pleasure to meet you!” is a more accurate description of what happened next.
Neil then looked at her and said, “You’re a native New Yorker you don’t who I am?” turning his head to smile at me. She said, “Nope.” I think I mumbled something about dialing up Cosmos when we got home. He then asked her if she knew who Neil Patrick Harris was.
She: (immediately) “Yes!”
NDGT: “Well, if you Google “Neil”, the first suggestion that comes up is me, and then NPH. Oh snap!”
(Yes, the “oh snap” hand movement was used.)
She took out her phone to do just that, and Neil took the reins himself to Google his name.
He types “Neil” into the browser.
Neil Patrick Harris comes up first.
NDGT: “Oh snap.” His voice lowered, dejected.
We all laugh hysterically.
He explains how he and NPH are always switching places between number one and two on such a search, and that NPH must have done something recently to put him back up on top. I mention that his annual Halloween family photos last week probably put him over the top, “but I’m sure you’ll be back on top in no time.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson can tell you how studying the stars is essential to humanity’s survival, and that not only are we part of this universe, but this universe is part of us: as we were forged in stars, inevitably to return one day.
I can tell you that NPH and his family dressed up like Batman characters for Halloween.
Humbling, to say the least.
He then agreed to take a picture with me, but not my friend because she didn’t know who he was – jokingly of course. The man is a supernova of self-aware humor. He then gave us hugs (hugs!), and we walked to the revolving door, he with us, still chatting, until two guys approached, “Mr. Tyson, can we have a picture with you?”
NDGT: “Ok fellas, no problem, but I do have to get to work at some point!” he laughed.
Neil deGrasse Tyson was just on his way to work, but graciously stopped to meet his fans.
A great moment and I have to thank Charity for making it happen.
Walking into see Dark Matter, Charity asked if I made the picture my profile picture on Facebook already. “No.” I answered defiantly. “But I already posted it.” I replied sheepishly.
As the lights went down and the introduction started, Neil’s smiling face and booming voice filled the room and all conversations ceased. She looked at me and mouthed, “OHHHHHH.”
We laughed as the lights dimmed.
By the way, the film was extraordinary. Kinda mind blowing too.
So that’s the story. One I almost missed, and one I’ll never forget.
Now I’m going to Google NDGT’s name incessantly to put him back on top over that hack Neil Patrick Harris.
Brian Daly is a gentleman both on the Internet and in real life. He currently lives in New Jersey while being one of the most consistently funny people on Twitter, and is also one of the first non-Brazilian people to ever travel through time. Follow him @_brian_daly.