(original post-date: February 2, 2011)
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:
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.)