"That guy over there? He's wearing an Olympic gold medal," the bartender whispered to Josh and I.
We were having a late-night Monday-night post-trivia drink, Josh and I, and he immediately leaned over to me and whispered, "This is why I go out on week nights."
"Should I ask him if I can hold it?" I asked the bartender.
"Sure, he's totally cool. He's been talking to people about it all night."
Josh and I approached the man that I would later learn is Steve Holcomb, who led the American Olympic bobsled team to victory this year for the first time since 1948. Not only did he let me thoroughly manhandle his medal, he was kind and outgoing and clearly just fine with the attention.
"It's got teethmarks on it," he joked.
Once we'd gotten our fill of completely molesting an Olympic gold medal (which, by the way, is incredibly heavy), we ambled back to our bar stools.
"He was so nice about that!" I said to Josh.
"Well, I imagine if you're wearing your gold medal out to a bar, you don't mind people asking you about it," he said. Touche.
"I have met the cast of The Wire in here," the bartender said, "and I will tell you that meeting that guy was so much cooler to me."
There is something pretty amazing about meeting someone who's a celebrity because of a pretty kick-ass victory. I've met film and television stars (including the Epic Subway Ride of 2002 when I got into an argument with Katie Holmes back in the day when she was more Pieces of April and less Batshit Crazy), I've met politicians and musicians, and somehow I was more floored by holding an Olympic gold medal worn by a guy who brought his team to victory. He's famous because of a hefty accomplishment.
This isn't to say that actors and musicians are somehow less worthy of idolatry or that their talents rank somehow less than that of an athlete, but it is worth pointing out that Olympic athletes are famous for not being famous. They're not professionals, they do it because they love the sport. And there are thousands of people who can claim celebrity for being an actor or a musician, but there's only a handful of gold medals out there.
And, holding that heavy piece of metal in my hands reminded me that there are so few material objects in the world that can sum up an entire career. A medal, an Oscar, maybe. Something so iconic and blatant is rare. To me, it will be a book. And rest assured if I can figure out a way to get a silky blue ribbon attached to it, I'll sure as hell wear it out to a bar, and I'll sure as hell let people touch it.