“No one will ever believe you.”
Legend has it that’s what Bill Murray says after he covers your eyes from behind and turns you around to reveal he’s Bill Murray. If you’re not familiar with the legend of Bill Murray, he’s also been known to show up at student loft parties, crash kickball games, and to be reachable only by an 800 number. No one knows which stories are true, but it doesn’t matter; the fact that we discuss them at all is what makes Bill Murray a legend.
I was lucky enough to run into the legend himself at a Tribeca Film Festival after-party. There he was, sitting at the bar. My first thought was, “Holy shit. That’s Bill Murray.” My second thought was, “Bill Murray looks old.” Straggly hair, bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows, baggy eyes. He had this smug look like he was the most important guy in the room, which he probably was. No one was talking to him. I had to try.
What followed was the weirdest, most memorable night of my life.
1. I sit next to Bill at the bar. “Bill, hi. I’m a big fan.”
“Oh, thanks.” He looks at me, turns away. I start to get up. Then he goes, “What are you drinking?”
“Me?” He catches me off-guard. “Beer – any beer is fine.”
Bill nods at the bartender. He brings me a Corona.
Bill turns to me. “Hey, cheers. Good festival. Great festival. We’re festivaling.”
He raises his cup, clinks mine. We sip, then put our cups down. I glance into his cup. It’s not beer or even a mixed drink. It’s chicken noodle soup.
2. I figure since Bill got me a beer, it’s okay to stay for a few minutes.
I hadn’t prepared for this moment, so instead of asking “questions I’ve always wanted to ask Bill Murray,” I talk to him like a normal guy. He asks why I’m at the festival. “A friend of mine has a film here.” He’s there because, “Bobby told me to come,” who I can only assume is Robert De Niro, one of the festival’s founders.
Bill asks, “You ever seen The Godfather?”
“Of course. I try to watch it once a year.”
“Yeah? Never seen it. Heard good things though.” Bill slurps his soup.
3. A kid and his dad ask to take a picture with Bill.
When the kid hands his dad the camera, Bill gestures for the dad to be in the picture. “It’s okay. Karl will take it.” I hadn’t introduced myself to Bill, so apparently my name was now Karl. I take the picture. Bill doesn’t smile, but smiles as soon as the kid and his dad walk away. He then goes, “How long til that’s on Facebook?”
4. Bill asks if I want to “go crash another circus.”
I assume this means another bar. Bill calls the bartender over and asks for two Bud Lights to go. They don’t have Bud Light, so Bill orders two Coronas. Bill stuffs a Corona into each of his jacket pockets.
Bill glances around, then turns to me. “Listen, kid. If you’re coming with me, I have two rules.”
“Hand me your phone.”
He taps at the phone, examines it, then hands it back.
5. I had never hung out with anyone as famous as Bill Murray. Every second it’s, “Bill! Bill Murray! Mr. Murray!”
It must be weird to hear your name so much. He was a gentleman, but didn’t take any pictures after the first one. (“I don’t have my makeup,” he’d say. People got over the picture thing once they became part of a Bill Murray bit.)
I leave the party. Bill shows up outside a few minutes after me. He walks and I follow. First down a sidewalk, then down an alleyway, then down another alleyway.
Bill turns to me. “You want your drink?”
Bill pulls out a Corona from his pocket and hands it to me. Then from his other pocket, he pulls out a Bud Light – the Bud Light the bar didn’t even have.
6. Bill leads me to an unassuming wooden doorway with a doorman.
The doorman doesn’t recognize Bill, or at least doesn’t act like it. He goes, “Y’all can’t come in here with ya beers.” Bill looks at me and shrugs. He tilts his head back and starts chugging his Bud Light. I tilt my head back and join him. When I bring my head back down, Bill’s gone. In his place is a crushed Bud Light can. The doorman points inside.
7. The bar is empty. Electronic music plays faintly from a speaker.
The bar looks like it’s closed or hasn’t opened yet. A bartender cleans glasses. She looks up at me, “You’re with Billy?”
“I think so.”
The bartender reaches under the bar, and then hands me a red, plastic kazoo. A kazoo! I laugh, look up at her. She’s not laughing. On the kazoo is a piece of white tape with my name written on it. My REAL NAME – not “Karl” like he called me before. She points to the back of the bar.
8. I walk down steps and arrive to a hallway with multiple doors. Was this a brothel?
I pace down the hallway; a door opens behind me. “Yo Gary.” I turn around and see Bill’s head sticking out of the doorway. I go inside. It’s a karaoke room.
It’s Bill and four others: Michelle, a cute Asian girl. Harvey, an “artist-in-residence,” although I didn’t catch where. Clyde, who I’m pretty sure said he’s a “ringworm.” And, a guy in a tailored black suit who didn’t introduce himself or make eye contact.
Bill points at me. “This is Mark. We met at Petco.”
9. I sit next to Bill on a couch. He shuts his eyes. I assume he’s taking a nap.
With his eyes closed, he goes, “You’re ready.”
“I guess. Ready for what?”
Bill reveals a red kazoo. On the kazoo is a white piece of tape with his name on it, just like mine.
10. I think I’m about to watch Bill Murray do karaoke, just like in Lost In Translation.
Then, Bill gestures for me to join him on stage.
It’s at this moment that I wonder if this is a “thing” – Bill Murray finds a stranger and brings him to karaoke night. Maybe Michelle, Harvey, Ringworm and Suit Guy were previous candidates. Okay, definitely not Suit Guy.
11. Bill points a finger at ceiling. “Play it.”
Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like A Wolf” blasts through the speakers. “Wait,” I think. “This song has no kazoo in it.” But I look over at Bill, and there he is wailing at his kazoo to the melody of the song.
Bill and I switch off singing the verses. We sing the choruses together. On the last verse, Bill pushes me to the front to lead. I briefly turn around while singing and see Bill playing the kazoo, although he holds the kazoo sideways like he’s playing flute.
The song finishes. Bill puts his arm around me. We bow, and in unison, blow our red kazoos.
12. Bill asks if I want to “go to level five.”
We make our way to the street and Bill hails a cab. “Good sir, take us to Columbus Circle.” I figure the cab ride is a good time to ask Bill one of the questions I’d been wondering all night.
“Bill, what’s your second rule?”
“Doesn’t matter. You followed it.”
The cab lets us out in Columbus Circle. Bill tells me he has to puke. “It’s what happens when I mix beer, karaoke and soup.” He walks to a fountain.
Bill leans over the fountain and hurls. Shortly after, so do I. I didn’t expect this night to end with Bill Murray and I puking into a fountain together, but there we were. I was puking with Bill Murray! I hate puking, but for that moment, I loved it.
After 30 seconds, I feel a hand on my shoulder. I lean back and expect to see Bill consoling me. But no, it’s a cop.
“You okay, sir?”
I wipe my mouth with my sleeve and glance around. “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Where’s Bill? I look around the fountain. Nothing. I look in the fountain. Nothing. I looked down the block. Nothing. I was half-expecting Bill to pop out, cover my eyes, and say, “No one will ever believe you.” He didn’t.
I start walking. My phone vibrates. It’s a text message from a number I don’t have saved. It says, “Did you eat ham, Karl?”
The next day I call the number. It’s disconnected.
I couldn’t wait to tell people about my night out with Bill Murray, but of course, no one will ever believe me.