Guest Blogger, Vanessa Brook: Felt Like the Missing Link

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A couple of days ago, after my friend Paul graciously allowed me to share his “open letter to the 1990 graduating class of Ashland Middle School”, it occurred to me that there are a lot of bullying stories out there.  I reasoned, if I have friends who would be willing to share them, others might find connection or resonance or maybe even healing in reading them.  I cast my net and one of the first to respond was my long time friend Vanessa.  An actress and writer, she is one of the many riches that came to me in my time at Barney Greengrass.  You can really bond with a co-worker over being told repeatedly by the well heeled elderly that the matzo ball soup isn’t hot enough and “these aren’t REAL potato latkes!”  Work conditions like that often yield itself to a lifetime of mandatory happy hours.  I appreciate Vanessa sharing her story with honesty, vulnerability, humor and strength.  She is a special woman,  a perceptive writer and loyal friend.  Thank you Vanessa for sharing your story!

Felt Like the Missing Link

Grade school wasn’t my finest hour. I was the absolute bottom of the chain unpopular. Lower than the kid with snot constantly running out of his noise. Lower than Olivia, the heavyset girl with acne prone skin, coke bottle glasses and a lisp. Lower still than my close friend, Andrea who had such a deep voice the rest of the kids took to calling her “Sir”. Which was better then my name, “dog”. Maybe that’s why I grew up to love dogs so much. Who knows?

The mastermind who came up with this name who was also the master ringleader of the popular kids was Jimmy Scoottle. He was a jokester. He was a class clown, who was considered handsome, although I didn’t think so. He was so obnoxious and his comedy too broad for my taste. Everyone else, including the teachers, found him charming. Even if they didn’t, they pretended to because his parents were uber rich, and his dad was a local celebrity psychiatrist with his own TV call in show.

Jimmy had the kind of parents that would come in and demand better grades for him. He was untouchable. In the hallways he would bark when I passed and howl in class when I entered. Most of the time I just ignored him, but that became impossible by fifth grade.

So I was a hefty girl, and a financially challenged girl (my parents rented a small apartment in a nice neighborhood for the schools) and always wore my sisters hand me downs. All the other kids shopped at Bloomingdales in fancy Chestnut Hill (to give you an idea). Also, my parents where in the middle of a divorce. which was bad enough, but instead of the man moving out and the mother caring for the children, my mom moved out. It was a complete shock to my dad, because he was clueless at doing household things. So some days I wore pink clothing that was once white, but got mixed up in the laundry. Honestly, I might have made fun of me too on the outside looking in.

But Jimmy was a special kind of mean. He was my Iliad. Even then I could turn a blind eye to being bullied, but that just seemed to make Jimmy even more vicious.

In fifth grade I not only had all these problems, but I was beginning to develop. My breasts were bursting. With my older sisters at college, and only my dad at home, bra shopping wasn’t in the cards. I wore extra baggy clothes to hide the girls. I skipped gym class. I never ran down the hallway even if I was late for class. But whatever I did, it wasn’t enough. One day in the cafeteria. I was sitting (most likely alone) when he came up behind me and felt up my back. Loudly he yelled to everyone (every grade was eating lunch, and all the teachers were there) “No, She’s not wearing a bra, but she needs too” Seriously, it was the worst day of my grade school life. That moment seemed to last a lifetime. The girls in my grade were giggling. The kids in the lower grades were asking teachers what bras were. The boys let out cackling laughter and for the first time I think I let them see me cry. My horribly tenuous childhood was now gone and this jackass was the one to out me. Honestly I don’t remember what I did. I think I got up and skipped the rest of the day and went home and made a bazillion peanut butter and fluff sandwiches.

Later, things changed. I went to drama school and found a place to belong. Most of the other snobby kids at school had parents that were divorcing so they became a little more compassionate. Most importantly, I developed into a pretty teenager. Who was artsy and cool. I don’t know if Jimmy went to my high school. There were over 2,000 students and he was lost among the crowd. I guess.

Years later I ran into him on the subway when I was on break from college. At first he didn’t recognize me, but once he did his eyes went wide. He tried to talk to me, but stuttered and couldn’t get the words out. It was an awkward moment to say the least.

I wish I could hate him, but I don’t. All those people who treated me badly in grade school tried to be my friend in high school. I turned my back on all of them. Not to be cruel or seek revenge, but if you weren’t my friend then- you’re not my friend now. That was my thinking at least.

The few friends I made in high school were my tribe. Today, 20 years later, I’m still close with them. Being the bullies target made me realize who cared and who didn’t. That’s a lesson worth far more then anything else I’ve learned in life.

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A Whole New World

IMG_3731Eric and I returned from New York a couple of days ago. It was a cold, action-packed 6 days and as much as I enjoyed the adventure, I’m glad to be home. I might fantasize about living in New York again, I probably will for the rest of my life, but, first, I really enjoyed swimming in the 70 degree California sunshine the day after our return and second, our dogs would hate living in cold weather and probably try to pick fights with people and other dogs on their daily walks. Eric and I always marvel that we never see or hear barking dogs when we are in Manhattan. What’s the deal? Is it the water?

Anyway, Tuesday night, our last night, Eric and I tried to stuff as much into an evening as humanly possible. We had burgers at the Shake Shack in Grand Central, then drinks and clam chowder at the Oyster Bar. We walked up Lexington to 58th, popping into the various hotels along the avenue. I wanted to check out the East Side Marriott, formerly the Shelton Hotel, that was once the tallest hotel in the world as well as Georgia O’Keefe’s home from 1925 to 1936. The day before, we saw the painting East River from the Shelton Hotel at the Met and I read about the Shelton and wondered how I’d never heard about the hotel or O’Keefe’s inspired, lengthy stay there. Either way, the hotel is still glamorous and stately, even if a bit Marriott-ized. From there we walked into Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s shop where I could get one last spritz of my favorite perfume, Maison Francis Kurkdijan’s BG exclusive, 754. On every trip, I try to visit every day to spray a little. On Saturday, an employee, perhaps resentful that I wouldn’t try the fragrance she was trying to hawk, sneered at me, “That is a ladies’ fragrance.” “Oh, what’s going to happen to me?” “Nothing, I just wanted you to be aware of it.”

From Bergdorf, we walked along Central Park South to Robert in Columbus Circle. We had drinks in a lounge area that overlooked Central Park and the Upper West Side, specifically Broadway. We took pictures and Instagrammed them, talked about some of the highlights of our trip, the traditions like Barney Greengrass and Central Park and the Met and Mary Ann’s in Chelsea. We talked about the new experiences, discovering a great, new to us, hotel, The Roosevelt and seeing John Cameron Mitchell in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, from the second row, no less. We talked about the cheeseburgers at J.G. Melon. We talked about how much we enjoyed the snow. We talked about how much we missed the dogs, or as we call them, the babies.

After Robert, we took the subway down to Grove Street, to Marie’s Crisis, the iconic Greenwich Village piano bar. Several years ago, I did a show where I talked about visiting Marie’s Crisis with my best friend Michele and her new husband Stan. It was a fun, special night and because it’s on YouTube, the evening has had an enduring glow for Michele and me.

When Eric and I walked into Marie’s Crisis on Tuesday night, it was to the accompaniment of 15-20 Broadway loving souls singing Everything’s Coming Up Roses, an apt welcome. We ordered a couple of drinks and found a wobbly table to sit at and enjoyed taking it all in. There was a shift change and the early evening piano player was replaced by a pretty, zaftig woman named Franca who, we came to find out, was enjoying a bit of internet celebrity because a few nights earlier Jimmy Fallon made a drunken, passionate, raucous visit and several people had posted videos from the evening.

There were men and women, gays and straights, young and old. There were boys in their early 20s belting out show tunes and I couldn’t help but think of my own 20 something self. I never went to Marie’s Crisis. I didn’t have the confidence to stand at a piano and croon Corner of the Sky, but I wanted to. Instead, I would frequent Uncle Charlie’s or Splash and stand in a corner and suck in my stomach and wait for someone to come up to me and introduce himself.

Of course, I thought about those nights as I sat there with Eric. It could have been the bourbon, it could have been something else, but I felt an ache for those days of my youth. That ache comes and goes. It’s probably, at this point, directly proportionate to my weight. When I visit New York, and walk down 8th Avenue in Chelsea or 7th Avenue in the Village, I just don’t feel as visible as I once did.

The song after Corner of the Sky was from Aladdin, A Whole New World. I know I don’t write about my sex life here, but I think that even if you are super conservative, you have deduced, at this point, that I am no longer a virgin. Still, if you are related to me, in any way, please skip the next two paragraphs. Don’t get tempted to disregard my plea, just scroll down. I don’t want to think about you having read this while we are feasting on Italian sausage and spaghetti at the next family reunion.

The first guy I ever had sex with was a guy I met at the 23rd Street YMCA. We met and he asked me back to his place and we fooled around and it was very vanilla and after, the two of us lay on his bed listening to music. Aladdin had just come out and the song was getting a lot of radio play. Before we went to his apartment, I had told my new friend, I’ll call him Milton, because that was his name, that I was very new to all of this. As Peabo purred, “I can show you the world, shining, shimmering splendid…”, Milton turned to me and said, “This certainly seems like the perfect song for this moment.” And it did.

My body might have been at 2015 Marie’s Crisis, but my heart was in that one bedroom apartment with exposed brick on one wall on 18th street between 7th and 8th, circa 1993. I knew before we tumbled into bed together, on another snowy New York day, that Milton was not going to be the person I would grow old with, but what he was, still is, actually, was my first. I wish he’d been cuter, I wish I’d been more attracted to him. Because of my upbringing, I suppose there is still, over 20 years later, a part of me that wishes that my first had been my only. But alas, that is not the way the years played out. And that’s okay, probably for the best, really.

After the A Whole New World, Franca played and everyone sang I Dreamed a Dream and I remembered another boyfriend from those early years, an Israeli atchitecture student who was only in New York for one summer. Then, You Could Drive a Person Crazy, then another song from Pippin, Morning Glow. And then, Eric and I decided to call it a night.

Eric and I splurged on a cab to our hotel and I asked the driver to let us off at 6th avenue and 41st, so we could walk around Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. We went to Duane Reade to buy some water and bedtime snacks. And as we walked back to our hotel, bundled up in scarves and hats and gloves, carrying our booty with us, one of us said, “The babies.” And the other said, “I know, I can’t wait to see them.” And we walked on and on, sideways and under, on a magic carpet ride.

SJP and Me

HT_sjp_vogue_interview_ml_130212_16x9_992If 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.”

Guest Blogger, Barbara Cameron: Strike the Stage

barney_greengrassFather’s Day is about families. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I spent with the friends who became family because we all worked together, at Barney Greengrass.  As many of you know, Thursday was the last day of operation for the Beverly Hills restaurant, Friday was my last day of work.  It’s been a bittersweet time.  Laughs, tears, all of it.  I asked my good friend Barbara if she wanted to write a little something about our journey, her journey.  We started within months of each other in 1999 and I count her among the greatest gifts from working there.  If you were part of the ride, you will understand especially, but even if you never set foot inside the place, it’s a story of endings and new chapters and looking back, while still the memory is fresh, that anyone can relate to.

 
Strike the Stage

I am lost. I have nowhere to go. I don’t know who I am, or what I do. As in, I feel like I lost my identity. What I used to do? I managed Barneys New York Restaurant, and it has now seemingly (though it was anything but) come to an abrupt halt. “Barneys New York Restaurant, formerly Barney Greengrass, will be closing for renovations, to reopen in the fall as Fred’s. In keeping with the Barney’s brand.” I have said this so many times over the past four months I thought I wouldn’t be able to mouth the words and speak it again. It is a true statement: it is also a script. I am taking Ray up on his generous offer to finally go off script.

My displacement, oddly enough, didn’t happen when the people left. I thought I was weird for not being upset. I hugged them goodbye, when I had the time, I shared anecdotes, when I had the time, and once, with one friend, because I had even a little bit more time, I told her she was one of my favorites because she was.

Rather, my utter sense of loss began yesterday and culminated today when, of all things, the stupid furniture and the food were finally heaved and hauled out of there, all of it donated to charity, and, in one final act of good will, what was left of the food bagged and placed downstairs for everyone to come and “shop” as they joked, like a farmer’s market. I took my box of assorted goods someone prepared for me. I knew I wouldn’t eat most of it. I just couldn’t leave without it. It seemed such collective act of parting, like leaving a great dinner party, making sure everyone had something when they left.

Only now, tonight, do I think I know what happened to me. I think the people I worked wiith over the years, are so real to me, so vivid, so clearly a part of me and my life, who I am and what I really do, that they didn’t seem gone until all the props of the setting were gone. What do they call that, “strike the set”? They struck the set; the show was over, and with it, some of the best moments and times of my life. Empty and stark, it finally hit me that no one is coming back. Off everyone goes, they’ll get another part, we’ll all come see each other, but as I sit here now, silly fool, all alone crying by myself about missing, in no particular order, the cast and crew, Art, Ray, Vinod & Sean G., Florence, Kristin, Olya, Rudy, Jonathan M., Ian, Jamal, Alejandro, Gabe, Tino, Jacobo, Bayron, Mark, Oscar, Eli, Miguel, Mario, Flaco, Jonathan C., Oscar G., Juan H., Juan Pablo, Ruben, Juston, Diego, Brian, Jon V., Megan, Dawn, Cathy, Ben, Joy, Earl, Vanessa, Margie, Sharyn, Skye, Keith, Blake, Joey, Jennifer, Jennifer K., Robert, Roberto, Edgar, George, Andrea, Conrad, Christian, Kevin, Loriann, Marie, Matt, Bob R., Max., (forgive me if I missed anyone), I know what a hell of a job we did, how many people we affected and moved, together, as a cast of incredible characters. We had a long run, some recast over and over again, some of us staying the whole time, and we were really something! Let’s face it guys, the people loved us!

The proverbial “Barney’s Show” – had it all: the drama, the laughs, the births and even the death of our beloved Art. Some days, some of us weren’t quite able to play our parts, because we all had to flip a switch and perform at work, but we stood in, helped out, took over, supported each other through it. Needless to say, sometimes we had a tough audience. So we performed for each other! But sometimes they cheered for our little troop, and we basked in the praise; yes, we took pride in doing a good job because that is the kind of saps we are.

I left the dark stage today in a sad mood because I deeply miss my friends, on stage and off stage. I can’t say enough about the people I worked with. I will do this job again, no doubt, but for me, plays like this one, parts like this one only come along once in a lifetime, and I am so very grateful for it. By the end, I knew it by heart, by my heart.

Frozen

Never-Been-KissedI’ve definitely been a little sentimental lately.  You might perhaps remember a post from last week where I mentioned that my job of 15 years is coming to a close this week, Saturday is my last day.  A few days ago, I had a conversation with my friend and co-worker Gabriel about another recent blog post.  He chided me that the title of the blog Class of ’84 Reunion caught his eye because he wasn’t even born in 1984.  (Very funny, Gabe!) But we talked about the post, about something that happened long ago, and he mentioned that that’s the thing about people you haven’t seen in a long time, they are locked in, frozen, as the person that you last had contact with.  Years, decades could pass, but they are still that 9th grader or 7th grader or whatever.

And because that particular post had a certain amount of resonance, I have heard from many, many of my classmates in the last 36 hours.  And it’s weird, because that thing that Gabriel talked about, that frozen in time aspect, related to those people too.  I heard from P—–, who when we were in 7th grade, we were in all the same classes.  She was the prettiest girl in the 7th grade and I had a crush on her just like everyone else.  She’s obviously an adult now, kids of her own, but in our exchange, all I could remember was the statuesque girl with the feathered, raven hair.  It was sweet.  And I heard from M—–who reminded me of arm wrestling in the school cafeteria.  He flattered me by saying that he thought I won, but I’m sure he did.  I got a message from H——, my neighbor growing up and I remembered our summer before 9th grade where all the kids in the neighborhood hung out every day.  It was the only summer that we did that, but I thought so fondly about it today.  I talked to S—– who was on the French Club trip to Canada, and T—– who was one of the stars of my summer swim league, and C—- and A—- who, with me, comprised 1/3 of the gayest T-ball team in Kansas sports history.  With a few exceptions, I have little contact with these people in my 2014 life.  They are frozen, at 12 or 14 or 15 or 17.

Also today, I’ve been thinking about one of my favorite movies, Never Been Kissed with Drew Barrymore, as Josie Geller who had to go to high school twice to really appreciate it.  I tried to find a video of her voiceover at the end, where she talks about the people from high school.  I couldn’t find it, but I did find the speech. “Those girls are still there. The ones that, even as you grow up, will still be the most beautiful girls that you’ve ever seen close up.  The athletes, and the immense sense of fraternity and loyalty that they share. The smart kids- who everyone else always knew as the brains. But who I just knew as my soul mates, my teachers, my friends.”  I feel like I had my Never Been Kissed moment yesterday, reconnecting with these people who were my bright spots of youth, people I admired the most in my formative years.  

And now I think about Gabriel and my friends from Barney Greengrass, AKA Barneys New York Restaurant.  It’s a graduation of sorts.  There is a possibility that many of us will be back in the fall in the new incarnation, but the truth is, who really knows what the future holds.  Yesterday, was the last time another friend Kristin and I worked together.  As she left, I hugged her tight in a somewhat successful attempt to make her cry.  “You’re not going to make me cry, Ray,” she said with misty eyes. And then we laughed. It was a nice moment that I hope I never forget.

I’m trying to tie these groups together, old friends from youth and these co-workers who’ve been my friends so long that they feel like family. Some will remain fixtures in my life and others, of course, will remain frozen as they are in June 2014. But frozen is not a bad thing when the memories are warm. (Get it?) If I don’t see Gabriel or Kristin or Rudy or Jonathan or Olya or the rest for another 30 years, they’ll always hold a special place in my heart. And it’s nice to know that in my heart, my sometimes embittered heart that has survived a few hurts, there is room for love for so many, old and new.

I told you I’ve been sentimental lately.

What’s on Your Napkin?

Gotham City Improv gang @ Dwyers pubOver twenty years ago, I was cast in small role in a play in New York.  One of the leads was a woman I’ll call Amy, since that is her name.  She was one of the most magical performers I’ve ever seen.  I remember watching her in rehearsal, marvelling at how funny she was, and also so quick, too.  We seldom talked to each other, I was fairly shy and she was the star.  I remember one rehearsal when the entire cast went out to eat together and Amy sat there knitting while everyone else chattered excitedly. She was so mysterious, she made me think of the greats, like Geraldine Page or Maureen Stapleton or Sandy Dennis.  In fact, she sort of looked like a young Sandy Dennis.

A few months later, I took a class at a place called Gotham City Improv.  By fate, Amy was my teacher.  It was the second level of their program, I had taken the first level earlier in the year.  Although I passed, my first level experience was unremarkable.  Well, that’s not true, probably.  I didn’t connect with any of the other students, I did not feel like any of the other students thought I was funny or interesting.  I also did not feel like I was funny or interesting.  Level 2 was different.  I made three new friends in that class, 3 people who have been my friends for twenty years now.  I’ll call them Maryanne, Jerry and Rebecca, because those are their names.  Jerry loved every old movie, just like me.  Maryanne knew every detail of every 70’s sitcom, just like me.  And Rebecca, floated in and out of every scene like the Tennessee Williams meets Beth Henley character that she is, just like, well, just like I see myself in my dreams.  I thought that they were all three magical and funny and interesting and they treated me that way, too.  We laughed.  We wrote.  We sang.  We collaborated.  We actually took every subsequent level together.  We passed every class and looking back, I wonder if I would have succeeded in the same way, if not for them.  I wrote for them.  I would improvise for them, thinking, what will make Jerry and Rebecca and Maryanne laugh?

A few months after I moved to LA, Rebecca moved here, too.  Also, around the same time, I was walking out of my apartment building and I saw Amy walking in.  “What are you doing here?” I asked.  “I’m moving in here.  Do you live here?”  Of all the apartments in LA, by fate or by chance, Amy moved into my building.  And over movies we rented from the corner Blockbuster and budget batches of sangria, we became the best of friends.  

And then Jerry moved to LA and the four of us, Amy, Rebecca, Jerry and I spent a great deal of time together.  We’d see each others plays.  We’d take turns hosting little dinner parties.    And then Jerry moved away.  

Amy met a guy named Jonathan.  He added seamlessly into the mix.  It’s always nice when your friend dates someone you like.  And it’s even better, but actually a little rare, when you like them so much that they become your friend, too.  And of course, that’s what happened with Jonathan.  

I remember one night, several years ago, when Rebecca, Amy, Jonathan and I were at happy hour and Rebecca shared her napkin theory, how we all have a napkin with what we have available listed on it.  It can be objects, like a camera or a computer or a recording studio or a car, but it can also be your skill set, like accents or writing or improv or organization.  Also, on your napkin, you should list the friends that you have, that you can collaborate with.  At the time, we teased Rebecca about her napkin theory.  We still do.  But she couldn’t be more perceptive.  We all have a napkin.  And we owe it to ourselves to ask, “What’s on my napkin?”

I was thinking about my napkin last Monday night after my Spark show.  Rebecca, Amy and Jonathan and I went for drinks together.  There was a spirit of celebration, the show had gone well.  And those three have been friends with me long enough and seen enough shows that did not go well, that we revelled in the glory.

My napkin is very full.  I don’t say that to brag, because I don’t have a movie camera or a great talent for accents.  But what I do have is an embarrassment of riches in the talented friend department.  I feel so lucky to have collaborated with so many people, friends from Gotham City and Popover and Groundlings and Party and Barney Greengrass and Uncabaret.   You know who you are.  

Another thought occurred to me last Monday, which is, you never know, when you meet them, who is going to be an under 5 and who is going to be a co-star in your story.  As I sat with Rebecca, Amy and Jonathan, I marvelled at the prominence we’ve had in each others’ lives.  And how lucky I am that they are on my napkin.  

Remembering Art

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“You give them a good product, good service,” said Levkovitz, who has spent 50 of his 62 years in the deli business. “They come in, and over a period of years they feel at home. They live by themselves. If they went to other restaurants, they’re strangers. Here, they’re friends.”

The quote above is from an 1986 L.A. Times article about Langer’s Deli.  The man speaking was Art Levkovitz who worked there for over 25 years.  After he “retired”, he went to work at a restaurant named Barney Greengrass and that is how I had the privilege of knowing him.  He passed away two years ago at 86 on May 24, 2011. This morning I woke up thinking about him and his funeral which took place on the Sunday of Memorial weekend of that year.  I still work at Barney Greengrass and even now someone every day will ask about Art or tell us how much they miss Art.  Sometimes people offer stories about him, sometimes people get a little teary talking about him.  There are a few things that always make me think of him.  I have an orange Oxford shirt that once, when I was a little portlier, I wore it and 6 times that day he told me I looked like a jack-o-lantern.  I’ve never worn the shirt since.  I also think about, crave actually, his kippered salmon salad.  I know the ingredients: kippered salmon, red onion, celery, fresh dill, tabasco, lime juice, mayonnaise, but I will never know the exact recipe, the increments, that made it so delicious.  My other thing that I think about when I think about Art is how he always asked me how my parents were doing.  If you knew Art even a little, you knew his love for his family was at the heart of who he was.  He was always bragging about his son and daughter and grandson.  And you heard it in his voice every time he called his wife “sweetie” when he talked to her on the phone from work.

I have had a few friends over the years who have asked me when I was going to grow up and stop working in restaurants.  And by the way, if you are reading this and you were one of the people who asked me that and you’re wondering if I forgot when you asked me that, No, I have not forgotten you asking me that.  There is something inherently theatrical about working in a restaurant.  People don’t just go to a restaurant for delicious food, they come in for the experience.  Art understood that.  

I don’t know how long I will work in restaurants.  I wonder about it, sometimes I worry about it.  But when I think about Art and the legacy he left and the way he touched people’s lives in the decades he spent working in this field, I do feel like I’m in good company.