Basking in fame as man of the hour and a half

Special to The Times

WHY do women want to kill me?

My name is in the newspapers. On buses and billboards. In flashing red lights at the Cineplex. No, I'm not famous. I just share the name of the main character in the latest teenage cinematic folly, "John Tucker Must Die." And though I haven't been invited to any post-screening Hollywood parties, I now walk around town with the swagger of a celebrity.

It all began about a month before the film's release, when friends started ribbing me about my new movie coming out. The title disturbed me at first -- it's never comforting when someone wants you dead. "Your mom must be so worried about you," said a concerned friend in a cellphone message. "I know my mom wouldn't like it if someone wanted me to die."

After seeing the trailer, I was relieved to discover that John Tucker was not some hapless target of CIA operatives or Mafia hit men. He was a studly All-American basketball star -- portrayed by Wisteria Lane's favorite shirtless gardener, the handsome Jesse Metcalfe -- and wooed by every girl in high school. "People only want you to die 'cause you're such a player," a bubbly restaurant hostess told me one evening.

Thankful I wouldn't drop dead but was simply drop-dead gorgeous, I joked that the movie chronicled my real-life high school experience. (Hardly: My high school days were a blur of pimple popping and bench warming, and I never had a girlfriend.)

Most 26-year-olds are past the urge to relive their adolescent glory days, but because my high school experience resembled a "Revenge of the Nerds" script, I decided that -- eight years after graduation -- I would become the BMOC I never was by seeing the movie and living vicariously through Metcalfe.

I felt a little awkward sitting in the theater amid scores of giggly 14-year-old teeny-boppers the day the film was released in Washington, D.C. My discomfort only intensified when the promiscuous girls on-screen -- who were cast to portray high school juniors -- began stripping down to their bras and underwear. (I actually felt so sceevy that after the movie finished I raced home to my computer to look up the average age of the four female leads: 23. Phew.)

The film probably won't be nominated for any Oscars, and it won't score many points for realism. (Am I totally out of touch, or are today's high schools really filled with students who can do somersault slam dunks and wear little more than training bras to history class?) But it provided one of the most thrilling, ego-boosting experiences of my life.

There, on the screen, hundreds of basketball fans were chanting my name and hoisting me onto their shoulders after I made the game-winning shot. Jumbo-sized images of beautiful women obsessed over me, in some cases with tears streaming down their cheeks.

"John Tucker's mine," they cried out. "I love John Tucker." "John Tucker is a statue wrapped in a painting in a frame made of muscles."

Those actresses must have said my name 100 times. Just once, I caught myself closing my eyes, transporting myself back to high school, and imagining it was all true.

Sadly, by the end of the movie, Metcalfe doesn't get the girl he had fallen for, and for the first time in the film, the fictitious John Tucker resembled the real John Tucker.

As the lights in the theater came on and my real life crept back into consciousness, however, I strutted out the door like a star on a red carpet. I was John Tucker, and for an hour and a half, women loved me.

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