During the holiday season I happened to stop in Out of the Woods down Main Street in Belfast, and the store manager quickly alerted me that Sen. Olympia Snowe had just been shopping in the store looking over Maine-made wood products. Right away I jumped, thanked her and ran out to seek Olympia!

There was a guy in a suit standing on the other side of the street, and I figured he might be a security officer. So I went across the street, approached him with a smile and asked if he had seen Senator Snowe just a few minutes ago.

He shook his head no, and I understood. Even if she were nearby, this guy wasn’t going to point me in the right direction. Okay, I took off, quickly walking up the sidewalk to High Street, checking a few stores and asking anyone if they had seen Maine’s senior senator anywhere. Nope, nobody had seen her that day.

Discouraged and assuming I had missed this opportunity, I walked back down Main Street. There I saw a woman on the sidewalk, and I stopped to ask her the same question. “Oh yes, she’s shopping right there in that store!” No wonder, it was Molly Amber Gifts.

Springing into action, suddenly I also had second thoughts.

For many years (most when I lived in New York City) I have played a game with myself. When I would meet or see some celebrity somewhere, especially a comedian, I would toss them a punch line and see if I could make them laugh. And I have a stupendous all-star list of celebs who laughed out loud, e.g.: Steve Allen, nearby Bob Elliott, Betty Boop (Mae Questel), Soupy Sales and old pal Gilda Radner. But what about a U.S. senator who simply happened to be shopping here in Belfast?

It didn’t take an instant for me to realize that this would be totally inappropriate, out of the question, too rude for a responsible citizen. No way, José!

Also inappropriate would be any political discussion. No place and no time for the public option, Afghanistan, Social Security or Sarah Palin.

At last I had the right idea. We were having a bake sale to benefit our theater, The Playhouse, inside The Playhouse up on Church Street. I could offer her some delicious Playhouse cherry pie!

Okay, that was it, but by the time I found my strategy, I was down the stairs and right behind Sen. Olympia Snowe (and two ladies in front of her). She turned around with a smile that threw me off track right away. At that moment I grinned and hurriedly blurted out my blunder for all to hear.

“Hello, Senator Snowe, it’s nice to see you in Belfast today, and I just wanted to let you know that our children’s theater, The Playhouse, right up the hill, is having a benefit bake sale today with all kinds of goodies, and if you’d like to come up there in a few minutes we would be happy to give you a pie in the face.”

Oops.

Funny thing was, she laughed. I wasn’t expecting that, and I hastily rushed to apologize.

“Sorry, sorry, that’s not what I meant. My fault, my mistake. You see, it just so happens that I just happen to be the world’s foremost authority on the pie in the face…”

[See Esquire magazine, August 1974: “Schlop! Or the True History of the Pie in the Face” by Guess Who.]

Except Sen. Snowe didn’t (or couldn’t) stop laughing. Although utterly discombobulated, I kept stumbling to explain myself.

“…You know, like Mabel Normand, Ben Turpin, Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, Soupy Sales…”

Sen. Snowe stopped laughing, yet oddly enough she didn’t stop smiling as she sadly commiserated with all of humanity. “Ohhh, poor Soupy Sales, he just died, we lost him…”

That did it for me. We shared common ground with our appreciation of Milton Supman, a.k.a. Soupy Sales. Whatever one’s politics or opinions or priorities or preferences, you must respect someone who laughed at old Soupy.

Again apologizing profusely, I made a quick exit, having humiliated myself while making a United States senator chuckle.

Perhaps I learned my political lesson nonetheless. Should you dare to approach Sen. Snowe with the wrong idea, she will laugh you off the stage.