Tim Gunn: My Hero

"You're that guy! You're famous."

My son Simon loves celebrities. But Simon, age 25, is different from most fans. He has fragile-X syndrome and is mentally impaired. His disability is obvious: He has the typical odd, long face and stick-out ears of fragile-X. His speech is difficult to understand; when he does talk, he often repeats the same few phrases over and over. One of those sentences is, "I met Tim Gunn!"

Simon is not your typical "Project Runway" fan. His entertainment choices center around NASCAR, professional wrestling, and shows that feature beautiful women.

Simon is thrilled with any celebrity sighting. He met Jason Kidd, the basketball star, five years ago and still talks about it. He once spied James Gandolfini and immediately called my husband, a big "Sopranos" fan.

But Tim Gunn has vaulted to Simon's most exalted category. Here's why: We were returning to New Jersey from a family wedding in Kansas City, boarding one of those smallish jets that require all passengers to traipse through first class. We stood, crowded together, in the slowly moving line. Simon was in front of me as we paused in first class.

"I know you!" I heard him say in that too-loud voice that lets me know he's excited about something. "You're that guy! You're famous."

I peered around Simon and saw Tim Gunn: the shock of silver hair, those shiny wire-rim spectacles. Tim Gunn was smiling at my son. Simon turned to me: "You know him!" His voice boomed through the cabin. For once, his speech was perfectly clear.

He faced Tim Gunn again: "You're famous! You're on 'Project Runway!' My mom loves that show. Don't you, Mom?" He grinned at me. "Yes, I do," I said, my voice pitched low. I was trying to be discreet. "Move on, Simon, you're holding up the line." Beyond Tim Gunn, passengers were looking at us. Maybe some of them had wanted to greet Gunn, too, but their behavior filters prevented them from doing so.

Simon didn't budge. Elated at being face-to-face with someone he had watched on television, he beamed at Tim Gunn, who then held out his hand. Simon shook it enthusiastically. Tim Gunn also patted Simon's arm with his left hand. I nudged Simon. "People are waiting," I said. He reluctantly let go of Tim Gunn's fingers. I made eye contact with my new hero, then leaned down and whispered, "I'm a big fan." I paused a beat. "And I don't watch reality television." Tim Gunn bent his head toward mine. He whispered back, "I don't, either."

Simon sidled down the aisle. All around us, people smiled. The plane buzzed with excited voices. "Call Sue!" Simon yelled over his shoulder. He knew that my friend and I exchange news of celebrity sightings. As soon as I found my seat, I reached for my phone.


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