“Come on, come on, be uploaded!” I muttered under my breath, typing the keywords into youtube’s search bar. I’d found out from the fansites that Ben Harper, my personal god, was finally making an appearance on one of my favorite chat shows that evening. Given the speed at which people uploaded stuff online, I was near positive that the episode would already be there. At least, I certainly hoped so.
“Yes!” I said, pumping my fist. There it was; “Ben Harper Interview—Part 1 of 2”…uploaded today. I clicked on Part 1, taking a deep breath as I did so. This would be his first banter style interview in three years, and I always learned something new from them. What would it be today?
I drummed my fingers on the desk impatiently as the host went through his usual banter, introducing his guest. Then, finally, Ben emerged from the back room. He looked great; black jacket, pale blue shirt with faint stripes…class act the whole way. I felt my heart fluttering in the old familiar way, and smiled; I’d missed that feeling.
Now Ben and the host were approaching each other, and I leaned in to try to hear what they were saying to each other. The host was greeting Ben cheerfully, but Ben was murmuring something I couldn’t pick up, no matter how high I turned the audio. Giving up, I settled down to watch.
“Well, then, how are you, Ben?” the host said, settling himself down behind his desk.
“In good spirits, thank you.” Ben said with a smile. His voice sounded odd to me, and I quirked an eyebrow; surely I hadn’t actually forgotten what he sounded like. I mean, it had been a while since I’d watched something with him in it, but still… And then he said it.
“I’m sorry for not shaking your hand, by the way. It’s just that I’m getting over a cold.”
I sat bolt upright, my entire body rigid. Ben, with a cold? The very thing I had been fantasizing about for years? My heart was no longer fluttering, but outright pounding. My brain, ever rational, was trying to calm me down. He said he was “getting over” a cold. That doesn’t mean he still has one. He’s congested, yes, but that’s probably it. He doesn’t strike me as the type who would risk getting other people sick.
During all this flailing, I had missed some of the interview. I quickly went back, only to hear Ben add reassuringly, “No, no, I’m not contagious anymore. I wouldn’t dare risk getting anyone else sick.”
Told you, said my brain. I pouted and tried to ignore my eagerness, instead focusing on the interview. Easier said than done, especially since Ben’s congestion was both obvious and, well, kind of adorable. Even as I watched, he sniffed a little and rubbed at his nose with a finger. “Aww…” I said, feeling the first stirrings of my hurt/comfort gene. Cold or no cold, he was still really sweet.
The interview progressed apace, and was as amusing as I expected it to be. Ben still told his stories in an understated way (aided and abetted by the much more vocal host), and said stories were both funny and charming. Ben hadn’t lost his touch at all. Other than a few quiet sniffs, and the ever present congestion, it was hard to tell that he was even sick. Even I’d managed to give up on seeing a sneeze.
But then, just as Ben was about to answer one of the host’s questions, he stopped, holding up a finger. The host looked non-plussed, but I leaned forward immediately, my heart pumping double-time. Even my brain knew what was going on. Ok, maybe you’re going to get lucky. I had abysmal luck when it came to Ben and sneezing, but this time, I was positive the odds were in my favor.
Ben’s eyes fluttered closed, and I could actually hear the little intakes of breath (I may or may not have turned my computer’s volume all the way up and was pressing the headphones into my ears). Then he pressed a handkerchief over his nose and mouth, and despite that covering, I was able to hear the sound loud and clear. “Heh-ISSHH!”
I went rigid for the second time in fifteen minutes. Then I sat back, starting to giggle. It wasn’t that his sneeze was funny—far from it—but something like ten years of sneezeless frustration had finally been released. I paused the video and took a few minutes to laugh/squee, actually bouncing up and down in my seat. Then, composing myself, I went back to the matter at hand.
If YouTube had had a freeze-frame option, I would have taken advantage of it that evening. As it was, I had to go back and watch that glorious moment three times, just to get all the nuances (obsessed? Me? Never!). The first time, I focused on his hands. He’d continued to hold up a warning finger through most of the build-up, but his other hand had dug around his jacket pocket, finally coming up with the handkerchief. Once the cloth was against his face, his other hand had come up to press against it more firmly. Whether that was supposed to prevent spray or muffle the sound, I wasn’t sure and frankly, didn’t much care as long as I could hear something. The second time, I watched his shoulders, which had quivered a little with each intake of breath and then shot upward when he actually sneezed. The final time, I kept my eyes on his whole body, which tightened up with the sneeze, then went slack. The only exception was his legs, which had been crossed when he started but involuntarily split apart as he snapped forward. I could have spent the rest of the night listening to the sneeze, but I figured I’d better finish the interview first; who knows, maybe he’d sneeze again. So after the third analysis, I let the video continue.
After the sneeze, Ben sniffed again, much wetter than the previous ones, and looked supremely embarrassed once he’d lowered the handkerchief. “Pardon me,” he said with a half-laugh, rubbing at his nose, “My cold really doesn’t want to give up the ghost.”
“Are they usually that stubborn?” the host asked, before quickly adding, “Bless you, by the way.”
Ben acknowledged the blessing with a nod, as he answered the question. “It depends. I had an absolutely miserable cold way back when I was filming Flying Ace. God, that one hung on for what felt like a month!”
My mouth was hanging open. This was even better than I could have hoped for. I wasn’t just getting a sneeze; I was getting sneezy conversation. I was so finding a way to save this video to file.
The host leaned forward, eager for some gossip. Ben noticed and gave a wry smile. “I was surprised when I attended the premiere and realized that I didn’t sound congested at all. Talk about the magic of moviemaking.”
“So you worked through your illness?”
“We were on a tight schedule and I was young and eager to be a star. I wasn’t about to risk upsetting the crew. So once the doctor told me it was just a cold, I kept working. Come to think of it, that may explain why it took so long to leave.”
“I was going to say…” the host responded with a laugh, “Did it disrupt filming any? I mean, did you pass out or anything?”
That’s when Part 1 ended. I nearly shattered my mouse button clicking on Part 2. Fortunately, my computer was in a good mood, and loaded the video quickly. Ben shook his head in response to the question. “Nothing so dramatic, I’m afraid. I ruined a few takes when I started coughing, but everyone seemed sympathetic rather than annoyed. Although there was this one time…”
I was glued to the screen, feeling my grin growing wider and wider. Ben waved his hand (which, I noticed, was still holding the handkerchief at the ready) and said “We were filming the part where the flight crew received news of the flu epidemic sweeping the country, appropriately enough. So we’re filming this scene, and I look up from the letter I’ve been reading. I’m supposed to say, ‘Looks like we’ll have to keep our eyes out for germs as well as Germans’ or something like that, when I sneezed. It came out of absolutely nowhere, so I had no time to cover it or even turn away from the camera. I felt like the world’s biggest idiot.”
“Did they do anything?”
“Chris, the director, yelled ‘cut!’ but not before some extra yelled out ‘He’s got the flu, run for it!’” Ben laughed at the memory, and I laughed too; sounded like something I would have done. Smiling a little, Ben continued, “And that sort of diffused any frustration anyone might have had. So instead, I got a chorus of blessings and a call for makeup.”
“Does this sort of thing happen often?” The host asked, as if he was reading my mind. Ben laughed a little. “No, thankfully. I have since learned of the magic of cold medication, and assuming we aren’t behind schedule, I’ll take a day or two off if I’m feeling really terrible. I do have some problems if we’re filming during the first few days of Hayfever season, though. God, I’m a mess before the medicine kicks in.”
Tragically, that’s when the host announced that they were out of time, and wished Ben well. He nodded, and rubbed his nose one last time before he got up and left. I jumped out of my seat at that point and started dancing and twirling around my room, going “Yes! Yes!! YES!!!” It would be hyperbole to say that this was one of the best nights of my life, but it was certainly going to be a fond memory for me. Dimly, through my joy, I wished I could have been backstage and seen the whole thing first hand, but hey, you can’t have everything.