OK, so he was in my hometown for only a few hours, most people didn't see him, and the local newspaper accidentally ran a photo of him online in a space intended to picture "Citizen heroes saluted at banquet." What would the Scientologists think of that Freudian hiccup?
The consensus nonetheless was that Mission: Impossible III star Tom Cruise and his maybe-wife-to-be Katie Holmes made timber town Aberdeen at least temporarily famous with a drop-in promo visit Tuesday, May 9. On the celeb Richter scale, the post-birth TomKat moment (newborn Suri was with the nannies in L.A.) outshook even Britney Spears' same-day revelation on the Late Show With David Letterman that she's going to have a second baby to help drive her SUV.
"You are warm and wonderful people," Aberdeen's Daily World quoted Cruise as telling the crowd of 2,000 he had known for a few minutes. They rolled out a red carpet, sent their interim mayor out to declare Tom Cruise Day, and bounced around like kids on Oprah's couch. (Two local radio stations had to call off a couch-jumping contest when MI-3 studio Paramount grumpily objected.) Cruise met with overwhelmed Wal-Mart worker Kevin McCoy who, in a trivia-and-name-drawing contest, had won the fleeting honor of watching a screening with Cruise. McCoy hadn't been quite sure what he'd say to the megastar, but decided in advance not to tell him Scientology is weird science.
World editor John Hughes (he and I started our so-called careers putting out the local community college newspaper together, albeit without Spellchecker) noted it wasn't actually the town's biggest stardom moment—after all, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dropped in about 60 years ago. In more recent times, Bobby Kennedy, Pat Boone, Bill Cosby, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, the Beach Boys, and Metallica all visited or played the "Harbor," as the coastal Aberdeen-Hoquiam-Westport-Ocean-Shores area is known. Hollywood actor and producer Robert Arthur grew up there, coach/commentator John Madden briefly went to school there, Robert Motherwell learned to paint there, Nobelists George Hitchins and Doug Osheroff were raised there, and Joe Namath personally stepped on my foot there. But perhaps most memorable, in Hughes' view, was the visit of John Wayne, "a total jerk," Hughes said in a recent World column. "I watched him accept with barely concealed boredom a gift from a sweet little Greek immigrant couple who idolized his Western hero persona. He tossed it in the trash the second they left the room."
Most of them stayed longer than Cruise, who, after sitting down briefly at the town's last picture show in the local mall, left. TomKat and security entourage were chauffeured back to their jet and swiftly departed for their next movie-promo stop. Nonetheless, it was the biggest stir since native-son Kurt Cobain labeled his ex-Aberdeen neighbors "redneck, snoose-chewing, deer-shooting, faggot-killing, logger types." In contrast, the pleasant Cruise visit "puts Aberdeen on the map," the locals repeatedly told print and TV reporters.
But what map? The next morning, a KOMO-TV anchor relocated the community to "Kitsap County" rather than Grays Harbor County. For sure, the stunt garnered national news, except MSNBC's Keith Obermann made a point of advising Aberdonians to be aware of all the definitions of "we're cruising" printed on their hand-held signs. ABC News Online, among many, carried a national AP account that quoted an Aberdeen woman calling Cruise, á la Duke Wayne, "a jerk."
Aw, well. The same day, plans were announced for construction of the nation's largest biodiesel plant in the economically depressed Aberdeen-Hoquiam area. Ask yourself, what will affect locals the longest—a plant that will produce 100 million gallons of alternative fuel a year, or someone, as one teen put it, whose "finger touched mine!" What the hell, I can't forget Joe's foot, either.