The thing about getting a chance to interview David Beckham is that you really can't prepare enough.
Sure, I trimmed down to a nice stubble in the morning and put on my Kenneth Cole short-sleeved shirt and black linen pants, which seemed appropriate for the uncharacteristic 78-degree San Francisco weather.
But as I'm waiting behind a stage erected in Union Square, trying to memorize the four questions that I might have time to ask, all I can think about is everything that I didn't do. Why didn't I exfoliate? Or spend $5 to get my shoes shined? And what I wouldn't give right now for some shea butter hand lotion. I pray silently that he doesn't reach to shake my hand, which must feel as if I've been digging stumps out of the backyard all week.
Perhaps I should rewind a little. Less than 24 hours ago, when a more fashion-conscious colleague had to opt out, I was given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interview Beckham. He is in San Francisco to promote Emporio Armani underwear and unveil a giant mural of himself on the side of the Macy's building that faces Union Square. Beckham's previous sexy photo spread for Armani, most celebrated for its come-hither bulge in the nether region, created a bit of an uproar when it premiered in the United Kingdom in December.
As I arrive on Wednesday afternoon, I'm greeted by a very perky, well-dressed public relations professional who reminds me that all of my questions should be fashion-related. (Scratch off the query about thermodynamics that I was dying to ask.) Shortly after this meeting, a black drape will fall off the mural, and 175 fans who each bought $200 worth of underwear will get to meet Beckham and ask for an autograph.
Beckham arrives Posh-less, and is quickly ushered into a white tent with the approximate dimensions and party vibe of Brad Pitt's quarters when he played Achilles in the movie "Troy" - easily the most metrosexual movie of the 21st century. The tent is packed like Muni during rush hour, so I don't see the man until he's right in front of me.
Beckham is, for lack of a better word, man-tastic. He leans on a stool, wearing a crisp white shirt and silver tie, having just taken off his cream suit jacket. His hair is cut short and simple, ceding attention to his long stubble, which covers his face except for two Band-Aid-size vertical stripes shaved clean on either side of his goatee. (Note to self: Try that one at home. See if wife goes crazy with passion.)
He has the blank but engaged look of someone who has been asked every question a million times, but is still a professional, so why not take four more? I honestly don't hear a word he's saying, and I am more than a bit relieved when I listen to the recording later and all of the sentences are complete. A few highlights:
This is David Beckham's first time in San Francisco: "Just driving around the streets you can see the different fashions of different people. It's similar to London. ... It's one of those places where you can drive or walk around the streets and people are dressed great. ... I've always wanted to visit here, and it's a great excuse. I'm having a good time so far."
David Beckham isn't worried about the attention the campaign created: "I think I'm always surprised by the attention that certain things create. But the attention that the campaign created was pretty incredible. I was shocked, but obviously it was great for Armani. It was what they wanted, and what they love to create and what sells the items. So it's great."
David Beckham doesn't like my Jim Palmer question: Or perhaps he doesn't know who Jim Palmer is. When I ask what he thought of Palmer's 1980s advertisements for Jockey briefs, and also mention San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig's 1990 journey into underwear modeling for Macy's, he changes the subject and says some more nice stuff about Giorgio Armani. Evasive, but still very classy.
After that, we shake hands for a second time - I can almost hear my palms crackle when they touch his perfect skin - and I take my place in the crowd of at least 2,000, which is filled with children, young women and a few men, many wearing David Beckham L.A. Galaxy soccer jerseys. (He plays soccer?)
As we wait for Beckham, I worry that the brevity of the meeting might mean he totally hated me. But as he emerges to deafening squeals, worries are put to rest. His speech is no longer than 25 seconds. I've heard longer grocery store price checks. What follows isn't the entirety, but it's pretty close: "Thank you for coming. ... This is my first time in San Francisco. ... It's a beautiful day. ... Thank you for coming."
No matter. The people didn't come to hear David Beckham speak. They came to see the man in his drawers. And few seem disappointed when the drape falls off the mural, revealing a 6-story-tall shirtless, pants-less Beckham in profile next to a weathered white fence. The bulge alone is 8 feet tall. The goddess Victory, perched high on her statue in the center of the square, seems to be blushing.
The crowd, all standing now with bags filled with underwear at their feet, squeals again as one.
Paige Stoveland, 10, of Foster City is more into soccer than fashion (seriously, he plays soccer?) and got him to sign her jersey.
"He shook my hand and asked me if I liked the day," she recalls, moments later. "And I said, 'Yeah,' and I asked him if he'd sign my shirt. He said 'Of course.' "
She points to her shirt, where the black ink is still fresh. His signature is less graceful than I expected, made up of a few clumsy loops that seem to spell a completely different name. Could he be human after all?
Mekdi Admassu, Fija Reed and Natalie Wolfrom, all 18 and from San Francisco, lean over the fence that separates the people who bought $200 worth of underwear from the people who didn't. They're a bit disappointed in the long wait and the short speech, but not with the man.
"He's hot," Wolfrom says. "Really, really hot."