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Leo, Prince of the City


"Well, sure!" he said.

My worst fear for this experiment was that nothing would happen, and I'd have wasted everyone's time on a harebrained scheme. Quite the opposite occurred, which turned out to be much scarier.

I brought along a photographer (Catherine McGann) and a bodyguard (a large fellow who goes by "Brick"), and I rented a limo, white stretch, from the Yellow Pages. It was all at the last minute, and the car was not exactly prime; it looked like the limo of losers.

The driver, Raymond, had a long shiny ponytail under his shiny black cap and a Pancho Villa mustache. He was told we were picking up "Leo," to which he stammered, "Oh! I will drive very carefully!"

It was a Friday night. We picked "Leo" up around ten. I'd told him to wear sunglasses. "Welcome to my limousine!" Raymond said nervously, throwing open the back door.

"Gee, thanks!" Troy said.

Three of Troy's friends -- Kara, Lee Ann, and Steve -- came along for the ride. They were all in their early twenties, all in marketing and the financial sector, all quite giddy at being part of the stunt. Troy confessed he had never been in a limousine before.

"How does it feel to be so famous?" I asked him.

"It's awesome!" he said, fiddling with the power windows.

He was taking to his role with alacrity. "What's Kate Moss like?" I probed.

"She's gorgeous," said Troy. "And she's a really nice person."

Our first stop was the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. There was a small crowd on the sidewalk surrounding a woman holding a large Gila monster on her shoulder -- you could touch it for a fee. When the limo pulled up, Catherine jumped out, snapping pictures of "Leo" emerging; the onlookers rushed over, leaving the Gila monster in the dust.

"Who's that?" they demanded. "Out the way!" ordered Brick.

Some of them zoomed after us into the store, where "Leo" pretended to shop for CDs; it was a bit difficult for him to concentrate, however, as a gaggle of teenage girls and so-excited-they-could-burst tourists were shamelessly scrutinizing his every move. Security guards were suddenly appearing, hissing at one another on walkie-talkies. "Gosh," Troy whispered, growing paler, "they really think I'm him! Let's get outta here!"

Back outside, as we moved down the street, the number of fans trailing us had tripled; some were running around in front of "Leo" taking pictures of him with disposable cameras and then dashing away, as if they had gotten away with something. Brick pretended to order back the limo driver on a cell phone. "Where's the limo at?" he barked. "We can't leave Leo out here on the street!"

While Raymond was circling the block -- perhaps nervous about his precious cargo -- he had gotten into an accident; a tow truck had hit the limousine. We were now driving "Leo" around in a dented limo. "Once you go down with the Titanic," "Leo" said magnanimously, "you can deal with just about anything."

But "Leo" was getting antsy; he decided he had to have something to eat. "I'm hungry!" he moaned, at which we all jumped, making suggestions. After all, he was the star. "I wanna go to Planet Hollywood!" he said.

Troy was not aware of it, but the real Leo has been talking to the owners of the wildly popular snack joint (Schwarzenegger, Bruce and Demi, et al.) about becoming a shareholder. I didn't think this would be a problem; in fact, I thought it might be a good cover for why "Leo" would have nothing better to do on a Friday night than go check out the movie-star tchotchkes at Planet Hollywood. I called ahead: "We're coming with Leo," I said.

"Oh, okay!" said the maître d', Kathy, her voice taking on a solicitous tone. Would Leo be comfortable in the main dining room -- or would he like them to set up the function room? "Leo" said to tell her he wanted to eat with everybody else, just like "regular people. Just because I'm a star, I don't think I'm better than anybody," Troy said sincerely.

Outside Planet Hollywood, a wait staff of about seven was waiting for us on the sidewalk. "They look like they should be holding up swords," Lee Ann observed. We all peered out the windows timorously. "Uh, this looks serious," Troy said.

Raymond flung opened the door. "Come on, Leo!" Brick boomed. Catherine started snapping pictures. "Leo" climbed out, baseball hat pulled down low.

They'd arranged for us to enter through a side door. Maître d' Kathy and Brett, the night manager, were following along behind us, peppering me with questions about Leo's visit. "Well, frankly, I was surprised he wanted to eat at Planet Hollywood," I said fishily. "Well, frankly, so were we," Kathy said.

As soon as we were in the main dining room -- packed with patrons devouring mounds of fried food -- heads began swiveling around; people were talking through their hands, mouthing "Lee-Oh," eyes wide, mouths full. Waiters from all over the restaurant were rushing into the room to get a look. "They on him," whispered Brick.

It all felt very dicey. I began to panic. "What do we do?"

"Talk to me. I'm the star!" hissed "Leo."

We sat down. I pretended to conduct an interview. "Uh, so you're thinking about becoming a shareholder of Planet Hollywood?" I asked.

"I don't want to disclose anything right now," muttered "Leo," sinking down behind his menu.

We had sent Kara and Lee Ann to the front to take the temperature (where, little did we know, Leo's tuxedo from Titanic is hanging in a large glass case; apparently, his legs are several inches shorter than Troy's). Later on, they told us that just then, a waiter passed by them announcing: "You girls are gonna pass out in a few seconds -- I'm gonna pass out, too!"

On our side, the room had become strangely loud and animated, everyone showing off the way people do when they feel they're in the presence of someone known. "They on him," Brick said again, in disbelief.

"Can I get a picture?" said a portly woman who had appeared beside our table, flashing us with a disposable camera before we could answer.

A sweet-sixteen birthday party was already in progress. Long Island girls in short, sleeveless dresses and chunky heels were whipping out cell phones, mouthing "Lee-Oh!" excitedly into receivers.

Two 12-year-old girls in jeans came right up to us, arms crossed, faces drenched with disgust. "That's not Leo!" one said, turning on her heel.

But others weren't sure; a line of maidens was now circling the room like little Nerf sharks, in Gap shirts.

Brett was back. "Can you come with me?" he asked, in a high, pinched voice. Uh-oh, I thought; I telegraphed alarm to my tablemates, but they were transfixed by the weird swelling of the room. "Don't let them tear my hair out or anything," Troy was imploring Brick.

Brett and Kathy led me to an empty back office, where I expected to be dipped in batter and fried.

Instead, I was handed a telephone. Patty Caruso, the publicist of Planet Hollywood, had been called on Long Island (it was midnight). "How long is he going to be there?" she asked urgently. "Because I know Keith Barish" -- the principal owner of Planet Hollywood -- "will want to come down and meet with him. Would that be all right? He could be there in fifteen minutes -- "

"Uh, I'll have to ask," I said, handing back the phone.

"We have to go," I told our party through clenched teeth.

Things were getting out of control. We got up. Brick had to wave people out of the way. "Leo just wanted to come down here and have a few drinks, get something to eat," he was shouting, "and look what y'all did! Y'all fucked up! We outta here! Come on, Leo, let's go!"

"Just let him know Eric took care of him," the waiter informed me politely.

We ran out to the limo. People were running after us, smashing their faces against the windows after "Leo" climbed in. "It's her 16th birthday; can't we get a picture?" People were taking pictures -- of the car.

Back inside the car, Troy said, bewildered, "I'm a superstar. I can't believe what they did to me."

We took off into the night. The limo phone rang. Brick informed "Leo" that Raymond wanted his autograph.

Troy took off his sunglasses; he looked dazed. "Being in that situation is really stressful," he said unhappily. "I don't like being Leo anymore."


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