If you’re one of those types who enjoys reading about the times I have embarrassed myself, you’re in luck. There is a little bit of that in this story. If you love reading about celebrities and how they behave in public, you’re also in luck. This story is about a famous person.
After working in restaurants in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles for over 20 years, I sometimes feel that I have seen it all. Nearly every famous person I have wanted to see, I have seen, usually in a restaurant setting. Also, many famous people I have no desire to see in person I have seen. I’ve become fans of people who I knew little about simply on the basis of the kindness they offered me or my co-workers. (Maxwell, are you reading this?) I have also stopped liking people, stopped going to their movies or watching their tv shows or downloading their music, in part, because of the way a particular interaction went. I don’t need to name names, I’ll wait until the next time I’m a little drunk or hopped up on Ambien to do that.
It was a Sunday morning, a couple of years ago. Fall of 2012, to be exact. I looked up from the host stand to see Sarah Jessica Parker, SJP herself, approaching me with a smile. Standing beside her friend, she asked if they could have a table outside, even though they were only planning to have coffees. I told her it was absolutely fine to just have drinks and I grabbed two menus and we headed to the patio, which I’ve mentioned before, is one of the most stunning views in Beverly Hills. It looks out on the Hollywood Hills and it is a beacon of possibility for anyone who has ever dined, or perhaps, more importantly, worked there. I don’t know how many times I looked up while taking a complicated order on Table 47 to see the vista, on a clear day it includes the Hollywood Sign, and think, there is always HOPE that this could one day be mine too.
On this Sunday morning, as we were walking to the table, SJP asked me, “You look very familiar, do we know each other?” “No, we’ve never met.” She told me that I had a particular look on my face when she approached and she wondered how she knew me. I told her that my look was, now, I can finally check her off my list of stars I’ve always wanted to see, but haven’t seen yet. (Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd.) She told me that I reminded her of someone, but she couldn’t figure it out. To my minor credit, I refrained from telling her that sometimes, some people, tell me I remind them of her BFF Andy Cohen.
They landed at the table, I asked if they knew what they’d like to drink, and one of them ordered an iced tea, the other an iced latte.
I went into the waiter’s station, even though I was not waiting tables and started making the drinks. My good friend Kristin, whose table it was, told me she could make the drinks, since it was her table. I shooed her away with an unnecessarily terse, “I GOT it!” “But it’s my table!” (Kristin is one of those dramatic types.) I can’t remember how it went down, but I think I let her bring the drinks to the table. But there is a chance I did not let her.
In my 15 years that I worked at Barney Greengrass, there were certain stars that when they came in, it shifted the dynamic of the entire day. Everyone was suddenly a little happier because of their brush with something that felt magical. It could be said that it’s about fame, but I believe it goes deeper than that. I think it’s about seeing a person who on screen or in music or on stage or on paper has somehow lived your story or the story you wish you were living. And let’s be honest, they probably did it better and prettier and more stylishly dressed than you.
I checked in on SJP and her friend a little later. She asked if there was a possibility I could do something to get them into the women’s shoe department before the store itself opened. I told her I would see what I could do. When I returned to tell her my manager was working on it, she again, asked me why I looked familiar to her. And in my defense, this WAS September or October of 2012. “Well, I have a Subway commercial running right now, maybe that’s it.” SJP paused. I looked at her friend who, understandably, rolled her eyes, un peu. Oh, God, Ray, you are an idiot, I thought. To make it worse, I mimed my action in the commercial, doing the $5 sub hand wave. “No, I don’t think that’s it.” Awkward moment. “But that’s great that you’re in a commercial.” It seemed like in that moment she was truly happy for me that I was in a (national, I might add) commercial, that she understood how hard of an industry this was. But still, I felt stupid, I should have played my cards a little closer to the vest. I should have just said, “I really don’t know why I look familiar, but I will definitely take it as a compliment.” My manager saved the day by coming to the table to tell the ladies that someone was waiting for them in women’s shoes. The ladies thanked both of us profusely. Not much later, they left, graciously thanking and saying good-bye to my manager and me, addressing us by our names. And though it’s a little indelicate to discuss such matters, they left their waitress Kristin a very generous tip.
I walked on cloud nine for the rest of the day. Kristin told me that I was in the wrong to not let her go to her table, I agreed. But nobody’s perfect. “Even Carrie and Miranda fought sometimes,” I told Kristin.
I’ve told the story of SJP and me probably over 100 times now, to anyone who will listen. If Eric had a dollar for every time he’s had to sit through one of my spirited retellings, we could buy a brownstone in Greenwich Village. It’s a story that stuck.
All my life, people have asked me why I work in restaurants. When are you going to grow up and get a real job? I don’t know. There are perks, for sure, I love food and love working in proximity to it. I love people who work in restaurants, those band of minstrels types. But, honestly, there is just something about that brush, since my second day of work at Popover Cafe, a handful of days after getting off a Greyhound from Kansas at Port Authority, when I waited on Andre Gregory and the person training me asked, “Do you know who that is? That’s the guy from My Dinner with Andre.” And I did know who it was, I had seen My Dinner with Andre on HBO.
Everyone is a commodity, especially in this social media culture. As I said earlier, there are actors and singers and writers that I will never want to personally make richer solely based on the treatment I received in the few minutes or, in some cases, hours, I spent with them. But as with SJP, there are those days, when you meet someone whose work you’ve always loved and they treat you like they are really taking you in, maybe complimenting the shirt you got from Land’s End or your Warby Parker glasses or the smile you got from your parents, and maybe you talk a little about plays or books or the best place in LA to get a mai-tai. Those days are the days. The brush. And it’s not about celebrity, not in any TMZ sort of way, anyway. It’s about one person saying to another person, “I see you.”