Monday, July 20, 2009

Out to Lunch

During lunch at a quaint New York teahouse, my lunchmate Connie Ray starts to wonder, oddly enough, about her lunch.  As in, where is it?  My salad sits before me, looking delicious.  Her salmon rolls remain elusive. It would be rude to start eating before Connie’s food arrives, and so I stare at my salad with longing, moan a bit, and fondle my fork.

Tall and gorgeous and southern at heart, Connie doesn’t like to cause trouble. She leaves that to me. When there’s a situation, she checks her watch and fidgets and smiles a lot until I take charge. “You want me to get the waiter’s attention?” I ask her. “Yes, please,” she says.

I do my beauty queen wave in his general direction. The results are negligible. I must do something soon, or the theatre district will suffer. Connie, you see, is starring off-Broadway in a play called “Next Fall,” and since I’ve come a very long way to see her, it’s up to me now to make sure she’s served lunch, or else she’ll be late and the curtain will go up without her, and won’t that suck for all concerned? Her co-stars will notice her absence, most certainly, as will the audience.

At the same time, it would be reckless on my part to let her go on stage, unfed. I could just gobble up my salad in one ladylike bite, and offer to step in for her. I’ve starred in many plays myself; mini-dramas that unfold nightly in the recesses of my brain. I’m more than qualified to replace Connie, whether I know her lines or not. I’m a writer. I’ll make something up. It’ll be fine.

And yet, good friend that I am, I keep the suggestion to myself. I won’t bring it up until she starts to bang the table in despair and weep openly. Meanwhile, my salad begins to wilt under the warm teahouse lights. I need to take action. I creep up behind the waiter and scare him half to death.

“Hi. Excuse me. My friend over there is still waiting for her lunch. She’s going to be late for the theater. What’s going on?”

The waiter looks at me, alarmed, as if I’ve just informed him that the restaurant is on fire. “I’m very sorry,” he says, bowing slightly. “There’s been a delay. It will be out in a minute.” He hurries toward the kitchen, anxious to get away from me.

I return to our table, to find Connie in her stage clothes, with full-on makeup and poofed-up hair, already in character. Apparently, the show must go on, with or without lunch.

I compliment her transformation and tell her the salmon rolls are on their way. We clink our water glasses in celebration. A moment later, the waiter reappears, carrying a big fat plate of nothing. “I am so sorry,” he begins. “We opened the oven and there was no fish.”

Connie and I look at each other and erupt into laughter. The waiter has just summed up the absurdity of life. Rather than admit that someone in the kitchen messed up, he blamed this inexplicable occurrence on the universe. He spun the screw-up into Zen-like gold.

Well. It happens to all of us, doesn’t it? Sometimes, we open the oven, figuratively, and expect to find something wonderful awaiting us, only to come up with zilch. Sometimes, all we can do is shrug and say,
“Next.” Sometimes, all we can do is change the order and move on.

“I’ll have a salad,” Connie says. The waiter brings it quickly and tells us it’s on the house.

In the end, she makes it to the theater on time, and all is right with the world, fish or no fish.

"Next Fall" moves to Broadway in March 2010, with the original cast

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I'd Like to Thank the Academy

As we like to say in show biz, it’s an honor just to be nominated – pretty much for anything. But it’s a lot more fun to win. The nature of the award, the size of the statuette or plaque, doesn’t matter. Best Kisser. Best Slacker. Best Cell Phone Yakker. Whatever you’re offering, we’ll take it and prop it on our mantle or hang it on our wall. We have no shame. Hand it over and we’ll find a place and spotlight for it. When it comes to acknowledgment we can’t get enough.

The other day, I picked up an award in a little-known category of achievement. The venue was understated, if not altogether lacking in glitz. There was no red carpet, no paparazzi snapping my mug. I left my gown, tiara and stilettos at home. I dressed casually for the occasion, in shorts and flip-flops. I was in summer goddess mode, as I stepped into the office of my esteemed dentist, Dr. Dixit. All I had to do was sit down in the chair and open up my pricey, orthodontured mouth, to receive instant recognition, delivered in a charming, Indian accent, to boot:

“Carol, I have to say, you are, without question, the very worst teeth-grinder I have ever seen. In all my years of practicing dentistry, I have never seen anyone destroy a bite plate the way you do. These appliances generally last my patients for years and years, and yet, you mangle them in record time, within the first few months. You seem so calm and happy, at least while you’re awake. I am really at a loss.”

In between tears of joy and embarrassed giggles, I thanked Dr. Dixit, not to mention the Academy of Dentistry, for this honor. I felt so touched, I could barely speak. Of course, I hadn’t prepared my acceptance speech. This award took me by surprise.

“Dr. Dixit, I’m deeply humbled by…” I paused here for dramatic effect, gazing at my X-rays, as if reading a teleprompter… “your awareness of my talent, my gift for pulverizing my molars till there’s nothing left. I may appear calm and happy to you, but it’s only an act. I’m really a tortured soul. Naturally, I blame my sons. The college boy, home for the summer before jetting off to Copenhagen to ‘study,’ returns most nights at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. Whatever he’s doing, I don’t want to know. As for the boy of seventeen, he wails at night, bemoaning his latest SAT scores, thinking of ways to repay us for the thousands we’ve spent on tutoring, only to see his scores improve forty points. I tell him that handing over his Bar Mitzvah earnings will suffice, but he doesn’t believe me. He’s holding down three summer jobs and looking for a fourth. Is it any wonder why I’m a champion teeth-crusher, a gold medalist in mastication? And so, with heartfelt emotion, I accept this award, along with whatever new appliance you dream up to help save what’s left of my mouth. There are others to thank, but I’ll narrow it down to my husband, who puts up with my nightly chomping and gnashing, and my sons, for their endless supply of angst.”