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When Your Dog Gets to Kiss Viggo Mortensen and You Do Not

Once I was in love in Viggo Mortensen. Yes, I know that this was just a fantasy, a celebrity crush, and that I was yet another not-twenty-year-old woman who had a crush on Viggo, who fantasized about being swept away on a white horse by Aragorn. And I know that Viggo, to date, does not know that I exist.

But there is one thing that sets me apart from all the other Oh, Viggo won’t you rip my bodice masses: Viggo Mortensen knows my dog exists. He kissed her. And she kissed him back. And then he kissed her again. On the mouth. I kid you not.
Before I explain how their First Kiss came to be, let me first say that I’ve never had a serious celebrity crush before. I don’t have the time have a crush on a real person, let alone someone unattainable and two-dimensional (referring to their photographs, not their personalities). Secondly, I don’t even know who most celebrities are. I don’t watch TV or read gossip magazines or even see all that many movies. (Yes, I live in a bubble and that bubble is called Woodstock.) And I certainly have never followed celebrity gossip. My sister fills me in on all the crucial details (who has been outed and who remains closeted) but other than that I stick to my fictional world of novels. I am a typical Aquarian: head in the clouds, not grounded to reality, preferring to linger in the safer fictional worlds of my own creation. Except for the New Yorker magazine. And The New York Times. But for eight years I refused to read the Times because I couldn’t stand to see the words “President” and “Bush” strung together. That’s eight years without reading movie reviews.
So how is it that I managed to hear of Viggo during that eight-year drought? I discovered his poetry.
It was the summer of 2003, and I was visiting the apartment of a semi-famous Beat poet whom I was interviewing for Poets and Writers magazine. I happened to pull down a slim, interesting-looking volume of poetry from the shelves by one Viggo Mortensen. The name rang a bell, so I thumbed through the pages, and by the first page I was hooked. I don’t have the room to quote any of his poems here, but let’s just say they are honest and soulful and tender. The prose is delicate but the force of emotion behind them is huge. I could imagine them being whispered in a quiet room.
I found myself being moved to tears. And the only poet, to date, who has moved me to tears is Rumi. So that’s saying a lot.
I have a heart of stone, you see. But Viggo cracked it open.
“Remind me who this poet Viggo Mortensen is?” I called out to the Beat poet.
“He’s that cat from Lord of the Rings, man,” my friend answered. “He’s everywhere, man. Haven’t you heard of him?”
“Oh, right,” I said. It was then I had to confess that I had never seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was then I had to confess that I hadn’t even read Tolkein’s book series, because I have always been far too serious and deludedly intolerant of “unserious” books, and had therefore declared, at an early age, that had no use for elves and dwarves and hobbits. As a child I read Jane Austen and Hermann Hesse, and could not be bothered with furry-footed midgets.
“You can have that book, if you’d like,” the poet said. “I read it twice. It’s good. That cat’s got it all. Talent and looks. Fuck him.”
Would that I could.
Over the next few days, I read his poems over and over again, and fell more and more in love with the writer of these words. Then I began to Google him. And my crush quickly began to border on obsession. My cool icy exterior had melted and my life has never been the same.
First there were his pictures. Need I saw I was astonished—absolutely astonished—at how good looking this man was? (And still is, I’m sure … eyes as blue as the sea!) Then there was the fact that our Viggo not only was a magnificent physical specimen, but also a talented painter, photographer and musician. And he’s a Democrat. Perfect for an Aquarian artist like me.
I passed the next few months in a Viggo-obsession haze. I won’t bore you with the web-trolling, image down-loading, fan-site drooling details. We all know what it’s like to have internet obsessions. There I was, near 40, with writing deadlines and a life, and I was spending my nights googling him, or googling “Viggo” + “girlfriend” to see who was blessed with his presence; I joined chat rooms and fan sites, where thousands of middle-aged women would discuss the colors of Viggo’s ties, and his favorite flavor of yogurt. Once, I even tried to see a picture of him naked, because some seedy website promised this, but it was a trap, of course. I was lead to some insidious porn sight and got infected with some computer virus, which caused non-stop images of threesomes and blow jobs to pop up on my computer screen. I was certain even sensitive, feminist Viggo would have been embarrassed.
Thanks to Google, I found out Viggo was a lover of dogs. Perfect! I am a lover of dogs and a writer of dogs and part of my job is to write about lovers of dogs for Bark magazine. So, long story short, I contacted Viggo’s office and asked if he would like to contribute any poems to our magazine, and the answer—Halleluiah—was yes, and thus I acquired an essay of his for Bark quite easily (see Sept/Oct. 2006 issue).
I now had Viggo’s email address in my personal contact list. And no, I didn’t stalk him. I only stalked him in my mind. I created an elaborate scenario regarding our meeting and eventual marriage. It was love at first sight—he caught my eye at some film premiere— (my movie, of course, because in this fantasy I wrote an Oscar-winning screenplay in which he starred). Then we dated. Then we traveled the world and he proposed to me at some sacred site—say, the Mayan ruins. Then we had a small, intimate wedding ceremony (you know, just close friends like Orlando Bloom and Sean Bean), which included a Native American sweat lodge purification ceremony followed by a barefoot reception on the beach. Oh, what fun we had together! We would grow old together, and remain lovers and soul mates until the end of this lifetime and beyond.
Then, in March, I received a press release from Viggo’s office stating that his latest volume of poetry and illustrations, Coincidence of Memory, was being published by his own Perceval Press, and that a book signing party would be taking place at such-and-such gallery in New York City. I was going to meet him in the flesh! 
I went on a diet (speaking of flesh) and bought some new clothing. I spent two weeks sleeping with a tray of teeth-whitener between my teeth, which caused a lot of pain but was worth the effort. Two days before the event I had my legs waxed. One day before I got a manicure and pedicure (something one never does in Woodstock) and splurged on a bottle of mysterious organic perfume, which claimed to contain pheromones that would prove irresistible to eligible mating men. On the day of the book party, I had my hair cut, colored, glossed and straight-ironed. Then I recited some positive love affirmations and Wiccan incantations regarding the love-at-first-sight that was bound to occur.
And decided, at the last minute, to bring my dog. My cute, sweet, attention-grabbing, man-loving dog. What was I thinking?
Once, on a first date, I invited a man to a party in Tribeca that I knew knew Uma Thurman would be attending. Imagine being in the same room with such a shining beacon. I felt like a flashlight whose batteries were half-dead. You’d think I would have learned my lesson after that, but no. I had no idea my dog Chloe was going to steal the Viggo show. 
Neither did the other 800 women in attendance at the book signing. This was a small space, mind you: A contemporary, steel-and-glass gallery with polished white floors, and Viggo’s excellent paintings lining the walls. Viggo was at the far end of the room, sitting behind a long table piled with books. The table served as a kind of barrier between him and the throng of women. He looked a bit dazed and uncomfortable. It’s possible he was hungover, too. 
In fact, everyone looked dazed. All the women had hungry, pleading, somewhat desperate looks on their faces, as if they felt this would be their one, only and final chance at the happiness they knew they deserved. They had brought copies of his older books to be signed, and photographs of him, and even new copies of Lord of the Rings. And everyone had a camera, and the room was full of the sounds of flashes and clicks.
I hadn’t brought a camera, but I had brought a dog, so the crowds parted for me. They had to, because Chloe would have shimmied past them and knocked them aside if not. I don’t know what had gotten into her, but she was bee-lining, it seemed, toward Viggo. Perhaps if she too could not resist his magnetic pull.
Chloe pulled me all the way to Viggo, and when he saw her his tired face lit up. Hey, I thought, that look was supposed to be saved for me.
But Chloe? Viggo smiled broadly when Chloe reached his table, and he invited her around to his side of the table. He began to make smoochy noises, and he invited her to place her paws his lap, and I watched as Chloe kissed him and kissed him and he said “aw” and kissed her back. He stroked her fur. He told her she was so sweet, so pretty. She wagged her tail; she wagged her body. Viggo called over to an assistant to see if someone might bring over a few squares of cheese. “The good cheese,” he said. “The Spanish goat cheese.”
I was both tickled and crestfallen. Not once did Viggo look at me, or admire my tall Italian boots or my frilly French blouse. Not once did we lock eyes (his eyes were as blue as the sea!) or fall in love. No, it seemed my fantasy man had fallen in love with Chloe. I’m surprised he didn’t slip her a key to his hotel room, which is something groupies apparently do.
The caterers brought over some cheese—on a tray!—and Chloe took the treats from Viggo’s hand, and kissed him again. Then, to show her pleasure, she rolled around on the floor a bit, sashaying upside down like a fish and splaying her legs in the air.
Just what I would like to have done.
I was surprised at how crushed I felt! I felt ugly, undesirable, foolish, invisible. My months of fantasy-hopes, dashed in an instant. Wiped away. I know it was silly to be upset, but why can’t we dream? And if we’re going to dream of a Perfect Man then why not dream about a real-live perfect man? I dreamed, I came, I saw, I was not seen.
Eventually Viggo told Chloe, in a sweet baby voice, that it was time to say goodbye, because he had to sign some books. Viggo’s attention was drawn elsewhere, and I was left with my hand on Chloe’s leash, smiling dumbly at no one, staring into a void. My fifteen minutes of fame had ended after about sixty seconds.
I wish I’d had the courage to at least talk to him. I wanted to tell him how much I admired his writings, and his paintings and photographs. I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t there because he was a gorgeous and hot actor. In fact, I even wanted to say, “I haven’t even seen all your films.” But that would be offensive. Mostly I wanted to tell him I loved him for what was inside of him: a poet’s soul. I’m a writer, after all. So I know how nice it can feel to be told someone likes your work.
But instead, I stepped away, to give other women their chance at happiness. I went to get myself some cheese, and a huge honking glass of wine.
I wonder if people like Viggo have any idea how epic our encounters are with them can feel to us. I wonder if they realize we go through these high highs and these low lows, and question our self-worth, based on how they react to us. It’s really quite silly. I fully admit this. But it does not take away the sting.
While I sipped my wine, I watched the other women. Chloe stood at my side, drooling as she stared unblinkingly at the cheese buffet. And she wasn’t the only being in the room drooling. Every woman there was staring at Viggo with incredulous, nervous, giddy smiles. A bunch of middle-aged women, fidgeting like teenagers. We straightened our skirts; pulled down our blouses to reveal more cleavage (mine was fantastic that night, by the way).
In fact, we were all acting as if we were in the presence of Apollo. Or Adonis. Or an enlightened master. But I don’t think Viggo would like being compared to a god or a guru. He just wants to be a regular guy. I mean, it must be hard to be bombarded with all that adulation. 
At times, I sensed Viggo’s discomfort. I saw how he tried to deflect the attention away from himself and steer it toward a fellow writer, whose book Perceval had also published. This was a book signing party, after all, not a Bacchanalian rite. At times the vibe was that of a feeding frenzy a few moments before someone ladles the chum into the water. As the hours wore on and the crowd grew larger and the bodies pressed in, his smile seemed pinched and somewhat pained. The poor dear had reached his limit.
Then I thought of how his face had lit up when he saw Chloe. I realized that she was the only being who loved him not because he was the celebrity Viggo Mortensen, but because he was a simple, kind, genuine and dog-loving human. 
I realized that even my loving Viggo for his poetry was shallow and grasping. It was shallow, in part, because I wanted him to love me back. And marry me and all that...
But Chloe, she just kissed him without expecting anything in return. She gave him love him in a direct and genuine way, without disproportionate worship. She gave him the brief moment of happiness he deserved. That we all deserve. 
I wish I could learn to love like that.
A few years have passed and I still get embarrassed when I talk about my all-consuming crush and its devastating come-down. But then I had a conversation with one of my friends, who had had a similar obsession on Orlando Bloom. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” I remember her telling me. “This crush has awakened something in you. Since your divorce you’ve been kind of shut down toward men. You should be thankful that this person has brought back in you your capacity to love.”
“And lust,” I said.
“Oh yes, that too.”
I haven’t Googled Viggo in years, but sometimes I remember that it can just be so much fun to love someone. Now, any time I remember Chloe flirting happily and unabashedly with my fake-boyfriend, I remember all the happy times Viggo and I had together (in my head). 
Love is something you give, after all. It doesn’t matter if he does not love you back.


Lee Harrington is the author of the best-selling memoir, Rex and the City: A Woman, a Man, and a Dysfunctional Dog (Random House, 2006), and of the forthcoming novel, Nothing Keeps a Frenchman from His Lunch. emharrington.com

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