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.”

“You are Not Handsome.”

sc0036b468Okay, let me preface this by saying that I clearly haven’t been making a habit of it, but tonight, this post is entirely sponsored by Maker’s Mark and also a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc.  There will be typos.  I’ll say things I’ll probably regret in the morning, but that’s okay, my mom is out of town and won’t see this until Monday or Tuesday.

Let me start by saying, I am a little fascinated by the attention my last blog has received on Twitter.  Apparently, Jimmy Fallon has a lot of angry twentysomething female fans.  I’ve received several private messages about Let it Go?, some in support and others saying she was too sensitive.  All I can say is, while I do like anything that encourages dialogue, I don’t think it’s cool to hurt a person’s feelings.  If you hurt someone’s feelings, even if you think they are overreacting, just apologize.  You have nothing to lose and who knows how much it might mean to them.  Okay, end of sermon.

When I was swimming this morning, I thought about this young woman I worked with back at the Popover Cafe in NYC in the early ’90s.  Her name was Conan Morrissey.  If I was sober, I might have made up a pseudonym, but I’m not, so that is her real name!  We worked together.  She was an actress with dirty blond hair that bore a striking resemblance to a young Glenn Close.  She had a pedigree, I think she did her graduate program somewhere fancy (Louisville, maybe?)  Anyway, one night at work, we were talking about something and I casually mentioned I thought I was handsome.  I certainly don’t remember a time when I talked about my good looks, but at 25, in 1993, when I ran at least 5 miles a day through the streets of Manhattan, I probably was as good as I’ve ever looked.  Anyway, I said something along the lines of “I am handsome.”  My co-worker, a female who was quite literally the definition of a “handsome woman” told me pointedly, “You are not handsome.”  I was crestfallen, easily.  “Well, cute, maybe?” I offered.  “No, you are not handsome or cute.  You’re just NOT, I’m sorry.”  

And we went about our business and the rest of the time I worked with her, I kept trying to act handsome-ish in the hopes that she might come to me and say, “Ray, I’m sorry, I was wrong.  You are handsome.”  It never happened.  She moved away to Vermont or something to run a theatre company with her boyfriend, who seemed a little gay, if you ask me, not that you did.

Now, my last blog post, about my friend Carreen, who can hold a grudge for a very long time, made me think about myself and the grudges I hold.  I’m not saying I think about Conan every day, but when I do think of her, I do get kind of pissed.  She really knew me at my peak and if I wasn’t handsome THEN, then when?  

I just think it’s a good rule of thumb to tell your friends (or co-workers) that they are handsome or cute or look great in that outfit or that that sweater makes their eyes pop or whatever makes them feel good about themselves.  I think we all have enough negative voices inside our heads that we don’t need the people who are supposed to be our support system to tell us how average we are.  But, hey, that’s me.  

Conan Morrissey, wherever you are, I’m fine, don’t worry about me.  I have people who tell me on a daily basis how cute my plaid shirt is, even if they don’t always mean it.  But if you do happen to stumble across this someday, I hope that by now you’ve learned to be just a little bit nicer.  You could scar a person for life with the things that you say.

And for the rest of you, I’ve added at picture of me with my parents at twenty five. Maybe I wasn’t handsome, maybe I wasn’t even cute. But I’m very protective of that guy and I think he was very special. A little squirrely, maybe, but not without his charms.

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.  

“I Went to the Stork Club!”

One of my favorite William Inge characters is Irma Kronkite in Picnic.  She’s a school teacher who lives with her mother and every summer, she leaves Independence to go to New York where she studies at Columbia in hopes of completing her Master’s degree.  In every one of the few scenes that she’s in, she talks about the things she did in New York, at one point, excitedly sharing that she went to the Stork Club with a fellow (male) student.  “It was nothing serious,” she tells her friends.  “He was just a good sport, that’s all.”  I love her because I get the sense that her reality is those precious weeks in New York and during her long months in Kansas, she is merely marking the days until her return to the place where she is the happiest, where her life is the richest.

Eric and I have started planning our yearly New York trip and I must say, I kind of feel like Irma.  In the next weeks, I’ll scour the internet for hotel and flight deals.  I’ll make notes about exhibits or shows I’ve read about in New York magazine.  I’ll find popovers with strawberry butter, John’s pepperoni pizza and La Bella Ferrara’s cannoli making guest appearances in my dreams. I’ll remind Michele that we’re going back to Eataly, now that we’ve figured out how best to navigate it.   I’ll Google Earth Manhattan neighborhoods, make a list of streets that I haven’t been to in years, promise myself that this time, for sure, I’ll finally make it to the Cloisters.

I’ve talked about my years living in New York and it’s the only city that I know I’ll always feel like both a local and a visitor, it’s ever-changing and ever-constant.  The New York that Irma Kronkite visited was probably a little different from my New York, or Alicia Keys’ New York, but I’m sure if she heard Alicia sing: “these streets will make you feel brand new,
big lights will inspire you” she’d think, oh yes, that’s where I belong. And she wouldn’t be alone.

Ray’s Favorite Things

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There are two things that I have not fully recovered from:  1.  Oprah retiring from her talk show and 2. me not winning the lottery this weekend.  At work last week, we pooled our funds and bought Powerball tickets and Saturday was electric with the possibility that we would all be millionaires by 8:01 pm PST.  We did not win, but we laughed a lot, speculating how we’d spend our money.  

Who doesn’t love to give a gift?  Oprah did and her favorite things episodes were among her most popular every year.  Well, I’m not a millionaire and I do not have a talk show, but for a few minutes let’s pretend.  These are my favorite things!   Would that I could, they’d be coming to you in a big gift basket tomorrow morning!

1.  Magnolia Bakery Chocolate Cake.  Best chocolate frosting ever!  The cupcakes are good, but a slice of the cake is better!

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2.  A case of Piper Sonoma sparkling wine.  There are people that will never be able to look at a bottle of Piper Sonoma without thinking of me.  It’s my go-to bubble for nearly any occasion.  I could have sent you a bottle of Dom or a case of this.  I figured if I send you a case, you HAVE to throw a party!

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3.  Levi’s 501 Shrink to Fits.  My trademark dungaree since 1982.

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4. Pepperoni from Claro’s Italian Market.  The best!  And yes, there is a vegetarian option:  Olive Muffaletta.

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5.  Damon’s Gift Card.  There is a tiki steakhouse in Glendale, CA that is frozen in 1978.  They have the most delicious mai-tai’s in the world (I’ve done the fact-checking) and the prime rib’s pretty great, too.  

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6.  Sirius Satellite Radio.  When I bought my most recent car, it came with Sirius for free for three months.  Now I can’t imagine not having it.  And I love starting my morning listening to Frank DeCaro and Doria Biddle!

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7.  Four Plays by William Inge.  Self-explanatory.

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8.  Subscription to Sunset magazine.  For the little old lady in all of us.

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9.  A basket of popovers and strawberry butter from Popover Cafe.  

 

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10.  MAISON FRANCIS KURKDJIAN  Bergdorf Goodman 111th Anniversary 754 Eau de Parfum.  When Eric and I visited New York in January, I found this fragrance, exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman.  It’s $300 and my olfactory perception say it’s worth every penny.  I stopped into BG every day to squirt a little behind my ears.  It’s unisex, too!
 
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11.  My Mom’s Pork and Potato burritoes.  They are one of my favorite childhood foods.  I make them myself, but they never taste as good as Mom’s!
 
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12.  Tide Mountain Spring laundry detergent.  
 
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13.  Asics Tiger sneakers.  Sporty and comfortable and they look cute on everyone!
 
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14.  Izod Lacoste Polo.  Because for some of us, it will always be 1986.
 
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15.  A week at the Plaza.  It’s the only thing on the list I have not experienced first hand, but we’ll go together!  I’m sure it’ll end up being one of our favorite things!
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