Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Paul Newman Story

Last week, when I visited my mom’s-age-friend, Sue, she mentioned that she had recently “read” (which is the verb she uses for listening to an audio-book) a Paul Newman biography.

“Oh?” I said. “Did it mention that I had waited on him?”

“Of course!” she replied. “There was a whole chapter devoted to that!”

We love bullshitting like this, Sue and I. It’s part of what makes us such dynamic conversationalists.

Sue then mentioned how she had never found Paul Newman particularly handsome…

Which gave me the opportunity to hold my hands about five feet apart – the distance I once had from that face of his.

“Oh no,” I said, my homework having been done, “he was… handsome.

Here’s the story that didn’t make his biography…

I was waitressing at an eatery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Not a fancy place, but a place that wanted to be fancier than it was.

(It was really nothing more than a glorified coffee shop.)

I’d been there a while and I was ready to move on, but I also was intrigued with the clientele. I remember working a morning shift when one of the more European waiters on staff tended to a couple who seemed to be just waking up. He was nonplussed as he served coffee to Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton…

I admired my fellow waitperson’s cool as he fulfilled their breakfast orders.

There were other celebs who came into the place, too (I can’t even remember who), and I remember thinking – during my gotta-get-outta-here antsy phase – that maybe I’d stick around a bit longer. Long enough, anyway, to serve a celebrity.

And while I waited for that pivotal moment, I came up with a “line” – a really cool line that I thought I’d be able to deliver when the time came. My plan was to use the line at the end of the celebrity-serving meal, in the moment when I put the check down.

… And just a few weeks later, Paul showed up.

The manager put him in Ingrid’s station, and she seemed to handle the event quite well. The rest of us, of course, took as many opportunities as we could to pass by the booth where he and his guest were sitting. We couldn’t help but want to absorb his glow.

The very next day, he showed up again, and after he was seated, the manager passed through an area near the kitchen. Neither breaking stride nor inflecting, he said, “You got him today, Katie.”

With as much composure as I could assume in that moment of great surprise, I walked toward the booth that contained Paul Newman and his guest.

I must have been shaking both visibly and audibly as I proceeded to take their order. And I’m sure there was a certain amount of dreamy shock in my countenance as I looked into those eyes.

Paul Newman’s eyes…

The color of Equal packets…

“I’ll start with the borscht,” he said, with a dimpled grin.

And then, he and his guest (whom I only remember as not being Robert Redford) added to their order…

Two minutes later, I had returned to their booth with the bowl of borscht, only to discover that Paul had not seen it on the menu and had ordered it as a joke. I offered to take it back, but he said it was okay. I insisted, and I pulled the bowl away (remarkably not sloshing any of the purple liquid onto his slacks).

“Good,” he said, relieved of the inadvertently ordered appetizer. “I hate borscht.”

We got through the meal, but I never felt comfortable. I never acquired the cool that I once thought I’d be able to bring to a celebrity table. In fact, I was rather spastic throughout the process -- or at least, that's how I felt.

Still, though, I had that “line,” and I was determined to use it. So… when I put the check down in front of Paul, I said this:

“I bet you can’t wait to go home and tell all your friends that Katie Gates waited on you!”

To which he said: “Huh?”

In Paul’s defense, I must confess that the aforementioned lack of composure on my part had a major impact on my delivery of said line. I’m guessing that what he heard, at a chipmunk’s register, was something like this:

“I-bay-yu-ca-way-gu-ho-tay-fray-Kah-Gah-wa-wa-ooo!”

And even when I repeated it (which I did, after his “Huh?”), I’m sure it didn’t become any more coherent.

So I don’t blame him for not understanding me. Hell, even if I had been able to form the words more clearly, there probably still would have been some confusion. I mean, could he really have connected such a confident line to the young woman before him who appeared to be so dramatically off her meds?

Fortunately, the attempt at dialogue ended when he stood up and ambled to the cashier.

He then left the restaurant, untied his horse, and rode into the sunset, where he would continue to live out his biography...

(Okay, I made up the part about the horse.)

16 comments:

RosieC said...

Wow, that's awesome :) I love Paul Newman, and I can't believe anyone would find him any less than close to perfect in the appearance dept. Not to mention the NewmanOs, especially the ones with the ginger filling, but I digress...

I think your line is fabulous, and the delivery of said line is much cooler than I could have gotten it, I'm sure. Then again, I have problems talking to normal people (such is one of the side effects of too much time spent in post-BA circles), so putting such fame before me would probably result in mumbling goo. Then again, I might have gotten over since he said he didn't really like borscht. I love borscht. Eh, yeah, I'm over him :)

(Btw, I tried to respond by email your to comment on my blog, and I got the automated response. When I filled it out, it said my message had expired, even though it had only been a few minutes. If you get the reply twice, my apologies.)

Sioux Roslawski said...

What living creature could remain unsnared by his charm, his eyes, his boyish good looks?

If only you had taken your meds that day...(ha)

BECKY said...

I love this story. You must've told me about it before, or I'm truly psychic, because I remember it! I admire the fact that you could speak at all to the drop-dead-handsome Paul Newman! And not spill any food or drinks! I most likely wouldn've fainted....hopefully right into his lap! ;)

deborahjbarker said...

Ah those eyes! My friend once persuaded me to go on a blind date telling me that my date had 'Paul Newman eyes'. She knew I wouldn't be able to resist! I think you did well to avoid drenching the poor man with the soup - As for speaking, well, how often do we rehearse something in our head that sounds so so cool, calm and collected but comes out in a rambling unintelligible torrent? I am sure I would not have been able to speak at all. Love the intended line though, just the sort of line I would love to use - what a great memory to keep!

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Great story, Katie! When I was a kid my Mama adored Paul Newman and I was more in thrall with Robert Redford. The older I got the smarter I got. Newman was an amazing looking man, and I came to adore him over time, in part because of his devotion to wife Joanne Woodward (something not too usual in Hollywood) and in part because in all the interviews I read and saw he was never anything but gracious. And eyes the color of Equal packets? Brilliant. LOL And right on the money.

Martha Gates-Mawson said...

Chris and I are in fits of laughter over the chipmunk gobbledy-gook! No, stop, my sides are hurting...

Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

I'm glad you had the guts to say it! That's awesome. I admire Paul Newman because of his involvement in racing. My husband admires that and it's kind of contagious. I doubt you need to worry that he thought YOU were off your meds. Have you ever read the story behind the creation of his marinara sauce? Crazy stuff.

Jules said...

Thank you, I needed a laught today. Sorry it was at your expense :)
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Patricia said...

Very funny Story - Thank you for sharing it.

My mum was swimming in Long Island sound off of her brother's sailboat. The return ladder broke as she tried to get back into the boat. No problem in just a few minutes Perry Como came over and helped my Aunt (a fashion model - in her 60s and my mum - heavy and in her 70s) out of the water. Como had a better ladder - my Mother was so amazed to meet him if only briefly and said he was just stunning in person too - elegant. She was even happier to get out of the water and back on board ship!

Isn't it fun how we cherish those moments?

Cheryl D. said...

I think Paul was someone who was handsome inside and outside!

Lucky you to have met him!

Donna B said...

I am impressed. I am a huge Paul Newman fan. I swooned when you said, "his eyes were the color of Equal packets"....lucky girl, Katie...

Lydia K said...

This story had me gripped from the first line! I can't believe you met him. I'd be so nervous too. Love the blue eyes like Equal packets!

Facing50Blog.com said...

I am so pleased you came by my blog. I have been entranced by your story - Paul Newman, wow! I'd have probably not recognised him as all faces tend to be a blur for me. Had I done so I'm sure I would have been as inarticulate as you were :)I'm going to get a cup of cocoa and leisurely read your other posts. Of course I am now officially your newest fan/follower.
It's a pleasure to 'meet you'.
Warm wishes
Carol

Mel said...

Flawless, Katie. I feel as if I were witness to the coffee shop scene, as if I were watching a brilliant one act play being performed on stage and I'm sitting front row center. (And I didn't even have to purchase a ticket!) Incidentally, everyone knows those sexy blue eyes of his had no equal.

Some day I'll tell you my Harrison Ford story. It involves a poolside bar and an impressive pair of ta-tas which commanded his rapt attention. They were, by the way, not MY proud glories but, rather, belonged to the bartender with the blue eyeshadow. As a matter of fact, her painted eyelids were the color of Equal packets.

Write on, Katie Gates.

Deb Shucka said...

I really love the way you tell a story! If I'd had to wait on Paul Newman, I'm pretty sure I would have wet myself. Comparing his eyes to Equal packets was brilliant.

cj Schlottman said...

Katie, I love this. You never disappoint with your way with words. I felt as if I were standing in your shaking shoes, seeing and hearing everything along with you. I could feel the energy of the whole place, could hear your manager tossing out, “You got him today, Katie.” Like Deb, I think the Equal packets analogy is ingenious.

Thanks for another great post........cj

PS Thanks also for your comments on The Red Sweater lately. I love hearing from you.