Like most people who live in Los Angeles, I’ve seen plenty of celebrities. I’ve seen Keanu Reeves wearing a neckbrace at a movie, Scott Thompson eating breakfast alone (twice), and on an elevator ride, I discovered I’m taller than the Fonz. But there’s kind of an unwritten rule that you don’t approach famous people in public. L.A. is like a gigantic celebrity zoo, and unless you’re a total jackass, you know better than to tap on the cages.

It’s a mutually beneficial rule: it protects them from us slobbering asskissers, and it protects us from finding out that our idols are big stinking jerks. Still, I think we all have one or two people we’d make exceptions for. You know what I mean, the kind of person whom you’d want to talk to so much that etiquette would fly right out the window and you’d be willing to sneak through the bars of their cage and toss them a few nuts.

On Friday night, Drew broke the rule for Brett Easton Ellis. As far as I’m concerned, just the fact that he recognized Brett Easton Ellis qualified him to break the rule. Writers probably don’t get approached much, and when they do, they can be sure it’s a true fan. Drew’s read all of BEE’s books over and over and always dreamed of meeting him. So Drew went up and gushed, and Brett was really nice about it, and Drew was giddy with glee for the next two days.

So it got me to thinking: who would I break the rule for? Who would I talk to if I saw them in a bar? Nobody immediately came to mind. After some thought, I came up with a few names, but none of them seemed quite right. I mean, for one, there’s Ellen DeGeneres. But what would I say that a hundred other people don’t say to her every day? And if she were at all rude or dismissive (as she’d probably have every right to be), I’d be really hurt. So forget her. Then there was Bill Clinton. I’d have so many things to ask him, and I’ll bet he’d friendly. But I’d also want to tell him what a schmuck he was for fucking his intern when he knew the bad people were out to get him. Couldn’t he just rope in his libido for a few years for the good of his country? Hmmm… with his Secret Service posse all around him, maybe I wouldn’t want to get confrontational. Better just to admire him at a distance. Maybe John McEnroe. If he were rude to me, I’d consider it an honor. But realistically, I’d be too intimidated to talk to him, and I wouldn’t have anything smart to say about the state of tennis today, or whatever you’re supposed to say to John McEnroe. I’d been thinking about it since Drew’s Brett Easton Ellis encounter, and I still didn’t have an answer.

This morning, I went to vote, and as usual, I’d done all my homework like a good citizen. I read up on all the less-publicized races and the ballot measures, checked the endorsements of organizations I trust and came in with my sample ballot all marked up so I could just poke my punchcard in a few dozen places, slap on my “I Voted” sticker and go home. But once I was in the booth, I realized I had forgotten to make a decision about the race on page 1: President of the United States. Oh, my God. I’d become one of those people: the Undecided Voter. The kind of person who tells exit pollers they didn’t make up their mind until they were in the voting booth. I mean, what kind of moron does that? Don’t they know what an important decision it is? Don’t they realize how much is at stake?

So there I was. It’s rare that there’s still more than one viable candidate in the race by the time I get to vote in the primaries, but the one time I had an actual decision to make, I wasn’t prepared.

I’m not the world’s biggest Kerry fan, but he seems like he’s ready to take Bush on, and it’s pretty much a done deal that he’ll be the nominee. Should I vote for him just to help wrap things up? Or should I vote for Edwards to keep Kerry on his toes a little while longer, like the LA Weekly suggested? I even toyed with voting for Al Sharpton, who’s by far the most entertaining candidate and probably the most liberal. But I take my vote far too seriously to throw it away on a kook with a bad moustache who’ll never win.

Then I saw Howard Dean’s name. Yeah, he’s still on the ballot, even though he dropped out of the race a couple of weeks ago. I was never a Deaniac, and I’m not even sure he would make a great president. But I like what he stands for, and I like what he’s done for the Democratic Party. He defied Bush while Kerry and Edwards were cowardly voting for the Iraq war and the Patriot Act. While other Democrats were content to roll over and do the Republican Party’s tricks in hopes of getting tossed a bone or two, Dean got people excited. He energized long-dormant liberals, and he said the things that so many of us couldn’t believe no other politician was saying. (Wasn’t anyone checking the figures on Michael Moore’s book sales? How could they have given up on liberalism?) I think back to a year ago, even six months ago, and all I remember is how everyone was saying that Bush was a lock to win reelection, and that the Democratic candidate would be whoever seemed the most like Bush, and that they would lose.

Everyone was saying that… except Howard Dean. He found new ways to campaign, new ways to raise funds, and utilized one very old-fashioned way to get people excited: he showed them that they had a choice. It took guts, it took brains and, sure, it took a little bit of crazy, but he transformed the race. He woke up the Democratic Party, and he turned Kerry and Edwards from play-it-safe politicians hiding in Bush’s shadow into candidates I’d consider voting for. To put it simply, he gave us hope.

That may not have earned him the nomination, but it earned him my vote. And it answered my question as well, because I realized that if I ever saw Howard Dean in a bar, I’d go up to him and thank him.

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