I was sitting at my desk, doing what I normally do on a Friday afternoon (fight sleep, look busy, work on an excuse to get out of there early and start my weekend), when the phone rang.
"Standard-Examiner, this is Mark," I said.
The voice on the other end came right to the point: "Yes, this is Kathy Bates. Do you remember a column you did about six months ago on the Westboro Baptist Church and the funeral for the Powell boys?"
"Well," I answered, "I've done a lot of columns between then and now, but, yes, vaguely."
"Let me refresh your memory," she said. "You wrote, 'So, to demonstrate that hate, God causes two boys to be chopped up and burned up by the biggest waste of skin since the Kathy Bates/Jack Nicholson nude hot-tub scene in "About Schmidt." ' "
Hmmm, yes. For good or bad, that certainly sounded like something I'd write.
She continued: "I just wanted you to know that I don't appreciate having my name associated with such a heinous crime."
OK. Clearly, what we have here is a local woman who takes umbrage at the use of her shared name with a celebrity. I'm probably talking to a Kathy Bates out in Roy. Or a Kathie Bates of Ogden Valley. Or even a Cathy Baitz of Brigham City. I'm sure she's just tired of all the Kathy Bates jokes she hears all the time.
However, as the caller continued to speak passionately of having her good name lumped in with a man who would murder his own young sons, ever so gradually another far less plausible but infinitely more interesting scenario began to emerge.
"Waaait a minute," I interrupted. "Are you telling me that this is THE Kathy Bates?"
At which point, everyone in the newsroom within earshot immediately turned to stare at me.
It was her response to my question that convinced me I might actually be speaking with the Academy Award-winning actress.
"Yes, this is the Kathy Bates," she said matter-of-factly, almost wearily, and then immediately went on to reiterate that it was inappropriate for me to use her name in connection with the Powell murders.
This woman was completely uninterested in convincing me that she was the real Kathy Bates -- something a prank caller would have taken the time to do, in an attempt to set the hook. She obviously didn't care whether I believed it was her or not. What she did care about was making sure I understood she did not appreciate that line in my column.
As I do with all callers who are truly offended at something I wrote, I immediately went into apology mode.
"Ms. Bates," I said. "Please forgive me if I offended you in any way. That was certainly not my intent. Sometimes it's a fine line between humor and bad taste, and I apologize if I crossed that line with you."
And then, Kathy Bates did something extremely classy. Typically, upset callers will continue to bend my ear, even after I've offered a sincere apology. She didn't.
"I accept your apology," she said simply.
We chatted for a moment longer, during which time I got the distinct impression that this had been bothering her for a while.
"I certainly hope you haven't been stewing over this all that time, Ms. Bates," I said.
"Well, frankly, yes," she replied. "When I first saw it, I was very angry. And I was going to call you right then, but I thought, 'No, I'll just let it go.' ... But I couldn't."
Which set off another round of apologies. Followed by another round of graciously accepting the apologies. We then wished each other well, and hung up.
And that's when the "should'ves" set in. I should've been a better journalist and asked for some sort of proof -- you know, just to be certain it really was THE Kathy Bates. Like asking her to say "Face it, girls. I'm older, and I have more insurance." Or I should've asked for an autographed photo.
But mostly, I should've asked if I could send her this screenplay I've been working on. She'd be perfect for the part of the irascible newspaper editor who is constantly on the verge of firing her puckish humor columnist -- convincingly played by Tom Hanks, of course.
The best part of all this is that, in the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, I now have a Bacon Number of 3. (I talked on the phone with Kathy Bates, who was in "Midnight in Paris" with Michael Sheen," who was in "Frost/Nixon" with Kevin Bacon.)
I don't know. Maybe it was THE Kathy Bates, maybe it wasn't. Maybe I was just being punk'd, and our taped conversation will turn up on an upcoming episode of "World's Most Gullible Journalists."
But all in all, it turned out to be a pleasant conversation with a pleasant woman. Which was a relief, since Kathy Bates won her Oscar for portraying an obsessed fan who holds her favorite writer captive, breaking his ankles with a sledgehammer at one point. (Imagine what she'd do to her least favorite writer ...)
And really, it could have been much worse.
Jack Nicholson could have called.
Don't forget to vote Tuesday. Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or email@example.com.