I Don’t Know My Ass from My Aardvark

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By the time I graduated from NYU with my Masters degree in English and had sat for the Praxis we were elbow-deep in renovating our 1920’s era farmhouse. Overseeing various workmen left me no time to teach so I subbed on days when no construction was ongoing at the house.

One morning the phone rang before dawn; a local district needed a kindergarten teacher for a day.

“Hmmmmmm,” I mumbled into the phone as Jamie shoved his head under his pillow. “I am not really qualified to teach that. I am an English major and I intended to teach high school.”

“Oh, please,” begged the disembodied voice of the recruiter through the phone. “The flu has decimated the district. Teachers and subs are both out with it.”

I considered; we could use the money. “Okay,” I agreed. “I will be there.” I rolled out of bed regretting my decision. I have no gift for friendship with small children. I really begin to like kids when they are high school age and understand my sense of humor. I am a lot like Jamie’s late grandmother who only warmed to her grandchildren when they were old enough to have a pre-dinner Scotch with her.

When I arrived at the school and saw the classroom I knew I had been correct in my original assessment. The walls were painted primary colors. The rug in the reading nook had large numbers dancing with mathematical signs. The chairs were the size of doll house furniture and the people sitting in them barely reached my knees. What had I been thinking?

The day progressed much as I had feared. Sing an alphabet song. Take a little person to the potty. Distribute healthy snacks. Take another little person to the potty. Clean up after healthy snacks. Call for the nurse when one small person threatened to throw up. Take several little people to the potty. Play a cd of Raffi songs so all of the little people could sing. By noon I was exhausted.

Finally it was story time and the kinder scrambled over one another to get a good seat on the dancing mathematics rug.

“So what book do you want?” I asked staring at the overflowing wooden book shelves.

“Arthur!” all of the Lilliputians shrieked at once.

“Arthur?” I wrinkled my brow. “Where is it?”

A cute little girl in rhinestoned jeans and a floral peasant top pointed.

I lifted the book. The cover read Arthur’s Pet Business. Okay, why not? I sat in the big wing chair and began reading aloud. The protagonist was a weird little brown animal with an oval head, round ears, and huge, round, black glasses: It looked like a rodent Lew Wasserman. I stopped reading and stared at the full-color illustration on the cover and asked, “What is this Arthur thing, anyway? Is he a mouse?”

A collective gasp arose from the entire rug of little people in response to my heretical question.

“What?” I asked.

Soprano voices quivering with threatened tears howled in unison, “He’s an aardvark!”

I stared at the drawing. “He can’t be an aardvark. Aardvarks have little ears and long snouts. He looks like a mouse. Are you sure he’s not a mouse?”

“No! He’s an aardvark!”

I peered down at the rug. Many of them were sniffling, some had actually begun to cry, and the rest were just . . . staring at me open-mouthed . . . as though they couldn’t believe any adult was so stupid as to think Arthur was a mouse. “All right, all right,” I mumbled, digging in my pocket for tissues to give to the weepers. “He’s an aardvark.”

Years later I told the story to the high school librarian who stared at me. “You’re an English major?” she asked in disbelief.

“Yup,” I nodded. “Victorian Lit.”

“It’s a good thing you are at the high school, Cella,” she snorted “because clearly you don’t know your ass from your aardvark.”

And I have remained in high schools for over twenty years because indeed, I still don’t know my ass from my aardvark.

Young Love in NYC

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Today is the thirty fourth anniversary of Jamie’s and my first date. All things considered about the evening, it is a wonder there was ever a second date.

We met in a crowded elevator at Saks Fifth Avenue when, in front of everyone, he asked me out to dinner. Mortified I snapped, “I don’t even know you!” and exited at whatever floor it was when the doors opened.

After scurrying to the escalator and sighing in relief at leaving the crazy man in the lift, I heard a voice behind me.

“If you won’t go to dinner with me, how about the beach?”

I whirled around, overbalanced, and nearly tumbled down the moving stairs. “What are you doing? You scared me!”

He shrugged. “Sorry. But do you want to go to the beach with me? It is supposed to be beautiful tomorrow.”

“I can’t go to the beach with you. I work. I work here.” I pointed to my tiny SFA lapel pin.

“Well, you get days off, don’t you?” he asked reasonably.

“Sure, but mine was yesterday.”

We reached the eighth floor and I stepped from the escalator to the marble floor. I pointed myself toward a door that read Employees Only and stalked away purposefully. Growing up in New York teaches you to leave the psychos in your wake so I didn’t look over my shoulder as I ascended the stairs to the ninth floor Executive Offices even when I heard the door swing behind me. I was nearly at the top when a voice called “So if it’s no to the beach, how about dinner?”

Startled I turned and flared downward. The man from the elevator and escalator was standing on the bottommost step looking up with a wide-eyed , hopeful expression.

I surrendered. “Okay, sure. I will go to dinner with you. I get off at six so meet me at the employees’ entrance at six-fifteen tomorrow night.”

“I’ll be there,” he grinned.

“I doubt it.” I muttered. “Asshole.”

The next morning I awoke glazed in sweat and feeling nauseous. Whatever was going around the store had landed on me. I considered calling in sick but then I remembered that I had made a date for that night with a good-looking, well-dressed lunatic whose name was a mystery so I had no way to contact him. What if he actually showed up? He didn’t know my name either so he wouldn’t know who to ask about. I sighed, ruing my idiocy, and heaved myself from the mattress. I felt a bit better after standing under the shower stream and drinking ginger ale, so I decided I would definitely go to work: I could always leave if I felt worse.

I stared at the clothes squashed together in my overstuffed closet and tried to figure out what to wear. It was an Indian summer September Friday so I needed something that would suit the air conditioned store, the sweltering day, an iffy restaurant, and a cool evening. I chose a fuschia cotton Calvin Klein shirtwaist and ironed it.

I made it through work without any problems, most likely because I was too busy to notice how awful I felt but as the afternoon wound down I grew hot and nauseated again. Convinced that my admirer wouldn’t show, I decided to just go home and go to bed. Punching out and exiting on Fiftieth Street I headed west when someone grabbed my arm. It was the man from the elevator.

“Hi.”

“Hi. I thought you wouldn’t come.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because I thought you were kidding.”

“I wasn’t. Come on; let’s go to The Top of the Sixes for drinks then to the Village for dinner.”

We entered the express elevator at 666 Fifth Avenue and floated silently upward. Just as the doors opened, I turned to my escort. “What is your name, anyway?”

Brown eyes met brown eyes. “Jamie. Jamie Cella. What is yours?” I told him as we were ushered to a tiny table for two. We both ordered sodas, he a Diet Coke and me a ginger ale.

The view from the forty first floor was spectacular. As we admired it and sipped our drinks we began to know each other. He was neither a stalker nor a lunatic. He was in grad school at NYU and worked part-time in his mother’s family’s construction business. I began to like him even as I fought my nausea. I didn’t want to go to dinner but neither did I want to go home.

He whistled to hail a taxi headed downtown. We were going for dinner to Marylou’s, an Italian restaurant on West Ninth Street. The night was warm and I was beginning to run a fever so I lowered my window and practically shoved my head into opposing traffic all the way there.

We trotted down the steps into a lovely old townhouse and had just been seated when I knew I was going to be ill. I excused myself, walked as quickly as I could to the ladies’ room, and practically threw myself into the first stall where I vomited. After rinsing my mouth and wiping my face, I returned to our table, certain that everything would be fine now.

It wasn’t. I began sweating and feeling worse. I ran to the ladies’ room every ten minutes or so purging ginger ale, salad, and shrimp scampi. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten, hell, I shouldn’t have even come, but I had and I liked him now and didn’t want to go home, so I sucked it up and stayed. Reflecting on my decision in a silent taxi ride uptown as he escorted me home, I realized that I had been foolish and troublesome and he would probably never want to see me again.

Paying the taxi, he walked me to the elevator in my building. “I am sorry I cannot ask you up,” I mumbled, bleary-eyed “but I am not feeling too well.”

He gazed at me understandingly and kissed me good night. The elevator door opened and I entered, holding it open until he had exited the glass and wrought iron front door. Immediately after I lifted my finger from the Hold Door button I vomited again. The smell was making me swoon. When it reached the ninth floor, I jammed a chair from the hallway into the door so it couldn’t close and ran to my apartment. I was barely able to open the three locks on my front door before I vomited again.

Afterward, I brushed my teeth and stared at my reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. I looked like hell in a pink dress. My hair was clumped from sweating, my mascara had run, and my eyes were dull. I just wanted to get into bed. Spitting into the sink I realized that the worst of the evening’s entertainment still awaited me: I had to clean the elevator. Grabbing a roll of paper towels, I crept into the hall. I spread the Bounty sheets all over the mess to absorb as much as possible and returned to my apartment for a pail of hot water and antiseptic cleaner. While kneeling in my designer dress and scrubbing the tile floor, fat, hot, tears mixed with Lysol as self-pity washed over me much as the nausea had earlier. I had actually liked that guy and now he would probably never want to see me again. I couldn’t blame him; after all, I had seemed like a crazy person tonight.

That was over three decades ago and, to quote Charlotte Bronte, Reader, I married him. Nevertheless it was nearly a decade before I learned the rest of the story of my first date with the man who became my husband. Jamie’s parents were also dining at Marylou’s that evening and, not wanting to embarrass their son on a date, did not call attention to their presence, however, after watching me rush to the rest room every quarter hour my future father-in-law couldn’t resist. Tiptoeing behind Jamie on their way out, Carlo tapped him on the shoulder, leant close and whispered in his ear, “What are you doing to that girl, son? You are making her sick!”

Laura Meets the Lakers

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I was sitting on the front steps petting Spencer and chatting with Debbie when my cell rang.

“Hey.” Jamie’s voice crackled in my ear. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing much. Why?”

“Do you want to go to a Lakers game tonight?”

“Really? Yes! I have never seen a pro basketball game!”

Jamie was silent for a beat. “You do? You do want to go?”

“Sure. Didn’t you think I would?”

“Truthfully, no.”

“Why?”

“You hate sports.”

“I hate sports on tv.”

“We went to Giants games and you spent an hour in the ladies’ room.”

“That was because it was December and the ladies’ room had heat. I won’t be cold at a basketball game; they’re inside.”

“Okay, I will tell Nick that I want his tickets.”

I turned to Debbie. “Guess what. We are going to a Lakers game.”

“Have you ever been?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Oh, you’ll have fun. They are playing really well this year and the crowds are a hoot.”

“Okay, good. Usually I don’t attend sporting events.”

Debbie rose and descended the steps. “No, you really will enjoy this,” she said over her shoulder as she headed toward her house.

I showered and fed Spencer then waited for Jamie to call from the driveway. I was really excited about this. I know nothing about basketball but Debbie said I would enjoy it and besides, the Lakers were my friend Midge’s son’s favorite team so they must be good. And anyway if the game sucked, there were always the other spectators to observe.

After Jamie arrived and I hopped into his car we drove across Fourth Street to Pico and got on the 10 heading East. Jamie glanced over at me as he merged into the traffic.

“I can’t believe you really want to do this.”

“Why?”

“Because when it is up to you to choose the evening’s entertainment we end up at the ballet or Shakespeare.”

I laughed. “And if there is no Shakespeare?”

“A movie with subtitles.”

“Hey, I was talking to my dad and he reminded me that he took me to see the Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden when I was twelve.”

“I think this will be different.”

“Where do they play?”

“The Staples Center.”

“Staples? Isn’t that where the Democratic National Convention was? Remember we were walking in to hear Al Gore’s acceptance speech and the police had the picketers fenced into one area like a dog pound? Remember one said to me ‘Don’t vote for Gore!” and I said “I won’t” and he was so shocked he dropped his picket sign?”

We both laughed at the memory, then Jamie’s phone rang and he started a long conversation with a client, so long that we were pulling into a lot on South Figueroa before he said, “Okay, I am at Staples so I have to go. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

After the valet took the car, we joined the throng waiting to enter the venue. The crowd was raucous and the atmosphere was so festive it felt like New Year’s Eve only everyone (uh, except Jamie and me) was wearing purple.

When we entered the arena I realized that it looked completely different from the convention. I poked Jamie as he stood in line to buy popcorn. “Has this place been remodeled ?”

“From when?”

“The Democratic convention.”

“No, just at the convention most of it was blocked off. Remember we were herded like rodeo animals to the arena?”

We wandered around a bit, window-shopping through the merchandise and observing the fans. When we finally found our seats I was amazed: They were in the second row, just behind the floor seats. Emilio Estevez and Andy Garcia were already seated in the row behind ours.

“Hey, this is really cool!” I exclaimed digging my right hand into the popcorn bag.

“Watch the Jumbotron,” Jamie said as he folded his blazer. “They find all the celebrities.”

I looked up. The two people pictured weren’t celebrated for any achievement that I knew of but there were their faces and electronic hearts burst around them with the words “Kiss Cam.” Realizing they were being projected in hi def on a fourteen by twenty-two foot screen they leaned toward each other and kissed.

“Look, how cool!” I poked Jamie again. He grunted in response. “That reminds me of once I went to a Mets game with my dad. He was friends with someone in the broadcast booth and they spelled out ‘Welcome to Shea Stadium Larry Koster’ on the scoreboard.” Jamie nodded then looked away as the Lakers and the Knicks ran into the court.

The game was great – loud, colorful, and incredibly fast-paced. I was really enjoying it. Halftime came and a Cirque du Soleil troupe appeared before I noticed time had passed. As Jamie rose to get sodas the Laker Girls came onto the floor with a little boy whose ticket stub had been chosen to allow him to win a prize if he made a free throw. As if the kid weren’t nervous enough just standing on a pro ball court in front of 20,000 people, the Jumbotron showed every twitch in great detail to the folks at home. He missed – hardly a surprise since he was only about four feet tall – but the crowd cheered anyway.

Jamie had just settled back into his seat before cheering began again. I looked at the court; no one was doing anything. I felt a tap on my shoulder: I turned. Andy Garcia was poking me. “It’s you!” he exclaimed pointing at the Jumbotron. “You are on the Kiss Cam!”

“Oh? Oh!” My head snapped around and I saw our images on the screen. Blushing, Jamie and I kissed.

I turned around again. “Thanks. I hadn’t noticed it was us.”

Andy Garcia laughed. “I know. You nearly missed your chance at immortality!”

I think of that night every time I hear anyone talk about basketball or the Lakers; heck, I think of it every time I see the color purple. It remains a perfect moment captured in . . . well, not amber, exactly . . . but in my memory.

Fairy Tales Can Come True, It Can Happen to You

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When I was little my mother told me about the time she and her friends climbed up to a beer billboard and threw snowballs at people passing by. Not long after I heard the story a huge billboard of Tom Selleck went up in Times Square. He was dressed in a cowboy hat and a tuxedo and grinned out at me from a red sports car with a Chaz license plate. I wanted to climb up there, not to throw snowballs but just to sit. Alas, neither my mother nor I could find a way to climb up and I figured the police were a lot more observant now than they had been when my mom was a kid. Reluctantly I surrendered my fantasy of sitting next to Tom Selleck.

Fast forward to Labor Day forty years later. I was seated in the American First Class Lounge awaiting my flight from LAX to JFK. Flipping idly through the LA Times I looked up when I heard a familiar voice. Tom Selleck had entered the lounge and taken a seat not ten feet from me. My heart banged; maybe I would get a chance to talk to him and this time, really do it.

See, I had had chances to talk to him before; his television series about Las Vegas shot on Jamie’s lot and whenever I was there I would ask casually whether they were on set that day. Jamie answered every query with a scowl that would have melted the abominable snowman, so I never visited the set.

One afternoon I asked Jamie’s close friend Robert Santoro, a Teamster captain who worked on the show, what Mr. Selleck was like. He assured me that he was very nice and wouldn’t mind signing an autograph for my mother and me. At that Jamie raised one eyebrow. “She won’t get the opportunity to find out,” he stated firmly, facing Robert but really talking to me. “He is on this lot to work not to entertain fans.” As he returned to the papers stacked on his desk, I resisted the urge to stick out my tongue like Lucy Ricardo and instead looked sadly at Robert. He shrugged helplessly.

Well, today was the day to test Robert’s hypothesis. Since Mr. Selleck was not here to work and he wasn’t with his family, I would see just how nice he was. I dug in my purse for a pen and a scrap of paper and approached him. Planting myself directly in front of him, I “ahem”med loudly. He raised his eyes over his reading glasses.

“Mr. Selleck,” I began. “My mom and I have had a crush on you since you were the Chaz man. May I please have your autograph for her?”

He smiled slightly and reached up. “What is your mother’s name?” he asked kindly. I told him. He wrote then handed me the paper.

I accepted it then said, “You know, when I was a little girl there was a billboard of you in Times Square. It was the last shot in the commercial where you roped cows . . .”

“Steer.”

“What?”

“Steer. They’re not cows, they’re steer.”

“Oh. Okay, steer. Then you showered and dressed in a tux and climbed into that red Corvette. . . ”

“It was a Ferrari.”

I squinted at him. “Really?”

He nodded.

“Well, I guess you can tell I grew up in New York and know nothing about either cows or cars.”

He smiled then turned as his name was called. His escort had arrived to take him to his flight.

“Well, ‘bye,” I said. “Thank you.”

He nodded, hoisted his brown leather bag, and turned away.

I looked at my watch and realized that I should get ready to walk to the boarding gate, too. I slipped the autograph into my tote bag and headed for the ladies’ room.

Within about ten minutes I was boarding my plane. Flashing my boarding pass for seat 1A at the flight attendant I turned right and saw Tom Selleck sitting in 1 B.

“Hi Mr. Selleck!” I exclaimed.

He looked up from his script and peered over his reading glasses. “Hey, it’s Corvette Girl,” he smiled.

I tossed my carry on in the overhead bin and couldn’t stop myself from giggling as I plopped into the window seat.

“What is so funny?” my seat mate asked.

I told him about my childhood dream about climbing the Chaz billboard and sitting next to him high above Times Square.

He laughed. “Well, today you will be higher in the air than the billboard was,” he observed.

I looked at his script. “Is that the new cop show you are going to star in?” I asked nodding at the script.

He nodded. “It looks like a really good show. I hope it does well.”

“My mom and I will watch it, although she will miss Jesse Stone. She loves those.”

“Oh, tell her that they aren’t going away. We have three more scheduled.”

“My husband will watch, too, even thought you are no longer shooting on his lot.”

At his raised eyebrow I added, “My husband Jamie runs Culver where your last show shot and I always wanted to meet you and get your autograph but he said he’d kill me if I bothered you. Robert said you wouldn’t mind but I never did, anyway. I remember one day when someone’s daughter hung around the set all day mooning after Josh Duhamel, his agent chewed Jamie’s ear off. I learned from her mistake.”

Mr. Selleck nodded. “Robert who?” he asked curiously.

“Santoro.”

“My driver?”

“Yes, he is friends with my husband.”

“You should have asked him to get it for you. I would have signed. Robert is a great guy.”

So I sat next to Tom Selleck all the way to New York and he was charming. When he fell asleep I thought of laying my head on his shoulder and snapping a selfie but just my luck he’d be a light sleeper and I would turn into Lucy Ricardo yet again when she chats with the sleeping Van Johnson and he wakes, embarrassing her.

When we landed at JFK, Mr. Selleck’s next escort arrived to walk him from the plane to collect his luggage. Just before exiting, he turned and hugged me. He smiled that Magnum smile, turned again, and was gone.

RIP, Sir Roger Moore

IMG_5153Jamie is friends with Christian Moore, the younger son of James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore. Every time he spoke about meeting them for lunch or dinner I became as jealous as Lucy Ricardo when she learns Ricky is lunching with Richard Widmark at Chasen’s. I had had a crush on him since he played The Saint but it turboed into overdrive when the action-adventure series The Persuaders hit the Saturday night airwaves in 1971. The show starred Sir Roger as Brett Sinclair, an Oxford-educated playboy who destroys a hotel bar on the French Riviera in a brawl with American self-made millionaire Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis). Rather than serve jail time, both agree to use their considerable intellectual and financial resources to assist Judge Fulton in solving crimes or righting wrongs. It was filmed all throughout Europe and the cars, the clothes, the hotels, and the beaches combined to spark my incipient wanderlust. Unfortunately I appeared to be the only person in the US watching the show (as I was eleven years old I probably had few other evening options) and ABC dropped it before its entire series was aired.

Sir Roger went on to play Bond and I went to high school and college and rarely thought about him again outside of a movie theater until the day that I was meeting Jamie at the studio and he told me that Christian was dropping by and, since his dad was visiting from Monaco, there was a good chance he would come along, as well.

I had read Sir Roger’s autobiography, My Word is My Bond, and I knew from it that he considered playing Bond, or anything else, for that matter, less important than his United Nations work, especially ensuring a reliable supply of clean water for every child in the developing world. He wrote at length of purification processes and how cost-effective they were.

When Christian and his father arrived, Jamie introduced me; both were charming but were not overly interested in me. It was obvious that they preferred talking to Jamie about the James Bond stage at Pinewood and prices for stages at Culver. I sat quietly in Jamie’s office and listened to the conversation, trying to remember as much as I could in case I needed it for a story one day.

Finally, they decided to go to The Polo Lounge for lunch. As they rose I didn’t move.

“You coming?” Jamie called over his shoulder as he exited his office door. I knew that was what passed for an invitation from him – he had proposed in much the same fashion – so I grabbed my Birkin and trotted after him.

We took Jamie’s car so he could talk on the phone for the entire drive while Christian ferried Sir Roger in his own car.

“Am I going to get to talk to Roger Moore?” I queried as a valet opened my door when we reached The Beverly Hills Hotel and Jamie disconnected.

“Yeah, sure, just don’t say anything stupid.”

I scowled at him; I had been giving him that same advice for years but he rarely accepted it.

After we were seated in a banquette Sir Roger turned his body to face me, laid his hand over mine, and said kindly, “You have been so quiet. Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself.”

I seized my opportunity. “Actually, Sir Roger, I would like to talk about UNICEF. I used to raise money for it as a child with the Trick or Treat for UNICEF program and I am very interested in the work you do with it, especially the fight for a steady supply of clean water in villages in developing nations.”

It was as though I had changed his batteries and flipped the switch to begin the flow of conversation from Sir Roger’s mouth. He talked through the Arnold Palmers, through the burgers, and through the fresh fruit for dessert. He was still talking as he held my left arm and walked me under the awning to the valet ninety minutes later when I went to get Jamie’s car. (He was returning to the studio with the Moores and I had a nail appointment.)

Sir Roger kissed me lightly on both cheeks as he held my hand. “This has been a lovely afternoon,” he said just before I drove away.

Two hours later I received a text from Jamie. “Roger Moore said to give his love to my charming wife. He found it so refreshing that you didn’t ask about James Bond but only wanted to know about third world water purification programs. You are such a suck up.”

I snickered as my fingers tapped on the keyboard “I don’t read books for nothing, you know.”

Good night, Sir Roger. Rest in Peace. The children of the developing world aren’t the only ones who will miss you.

Beverly Hills Cop, Part 1

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When Jamie first began running the studio he lived at The Beverly Hilton. It was nice, clean, stylish, and an easy commute to Culver via Motor Avenue.

Because he chatted with me every morning as I drove to work, he was generally awake at four a.m. and continued his days on East Coast time. I did the same whenever I was there but it worked differently for me: He merely began work extra early but I was nearly arrested.

Every morning after Jamie left I rose and dressed in black yoga pants and a white t shirt. After breakfasting in the poolside restaurant I began a long, early-morning walk throughout the neighborhoods of Beverly Hills. Sometimes I watched the kids enter the schools. Sometimes I stared at the houses and tried to recall which Golden Age of Hollywood star had lived where. Sometimes I petted dogs held on leashes by housekeepers. Sometimes I just walked and thought or listened to music. Every once in a while when I grew tired I would plop on a curb (there are no bus stop benches to speak of in BH) until my heart rate had decreased enough for me to continue.  One morning after a late film premiere the night before, I set off rather lethargically for my post-dawn walk; soon l ran completely out of energy and I collapsed on the curb in front of 730 North Bedford Drive to catch my breath. The house was the one in which Lana Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane, is said to have knifed gangster Johnny Stompanato in defense of her mother. Gazing absently at the house’s facade I daydreamed about 1940’s Los Angeles and wondered what that night had been like. I must have sat there for quite a while, staring at the house, lost in my own reverie, because I nearly had cardiac arrest when I felt a tap on my arm and heard a voice ask, “Can I help you, ma’am?”

After I returned to earth, I turned and saw two shiny, young, Beverly Hills police officers. “Can you help me? Only if you know how to give CPR! You scared me practically to death! And help me with what?”

“You have been sitting here for over twenty minutes, ma’am. Are you all right?”

I squinted in the morning light and shaded my eyes with my left hand as I gazed up at the officer. “Sure, I’m fine. I’m just thinking, sitting and thinking.” I considered for a moment. “How do you know I have been sitting here for over twenty minutes?”

The officer didn’t answer my question but continued asking his own. “Do you have business here, ma’am?”

“Business? Here on this curb?” I tried not to sound incredulous.

“At this house, ma’am.”

“That house?” I pointed toward the beautiful white colonial.

“Yes, ma’am.”

I shrugged. “No, not really. I was going for a walk and I had been walking rather quickly for about an hour and I was tired and wanted to rest. Finding myself in front of Lana Turner’s old house – it seemed as good a place to sit as any other – I just plonked down and started thinking about the murder there of Johnny Stompanato.” Tired of peering upward into the sun, I stood: At my sudden movement, his and his partner’s right hands both jumped to deliberately rest on their guns.

That scared me. When NYPD officers pulled their guns, they intended to shoot. “Officer, have I broken some law?” I was growing nervous and began to babble. ” I walk every morning. I need the exercise and I like to watch the world. I’m just . . . I’m just . . . walking.”

The young policeman stared at me for nearly a minute. “You’re not from around here, are you, ma’am?”

“No, I’m not. I’m from New York City. My husband recently took a job running a studio out here and I am visiting.” He continued to stare and never smiled. “I’m a writer. I’m a teacher. I’m walking just to see the sights, to absorb local color.”

“No one does that here, ma’am.”

Growing peeved, I wasn’t sure how to answer that.  “I have no malicious intent, Officer. I just like to walk.”

He pushed his hat back slightly and glanced over his left shoulder at his partner standing closer to the squad car.

“Do you have any identification on you, ma’am?”

My heart sank. Who carried i.d. to go for a walk in the safest suburb in America? I grimaced and shook my head.

“What studio does your husband run, ma’am? And what is his name?”

I told him.

“Where do you live, ma’am?”

“In New York?”

He raised one eyebrow. “No, ma’am, here.”

“Well, nowhere yet; he has only had the job for a month and we haven’t found a house or apartment. We are staying at The Beverly Hilton.”

“Let us drive you back there, ma’am.”

“I’m not sure I want to return to The Beverly Hilton in a squad car, Officer.”

“Well, ma’am, that may be true but it is also true that you cannot continue to sit and stare at this private home.”

I sighed. Even I know when I have lost. And this LA policeman didn’t seem to find me as appealing as the one in SoHo who had stopped traffic for me.  “Sure, drive me home. But could you please drop me on the Wilshire side? It will be really embarrassing if you hand me over to the doorman like an errant school girl.”

So that is how I was escorted back to the hotel by two of Beverly Hills’ finest. True to his word, they dropped me on the Wilshire side so no snooping doorman or nosy tourist could wonder what kind of criminal I was or, to use the British euphemism, with what enquiry I was assisting the police. As soon as the shotgun officer opened the back door I trotted, mortified, into the hotel without looking over my shoulder once.

I never learned whether they called the studio and asked for Jamie or checked my residency at the Hilton. Beginning the next morning, I walked on the treadmill in the hotel gym then lounged and read by the shimmering blue pool.  There was no point in pushing my luck. I cannot expect to charm police forever.

 

No Livestock Allowed or Nina Meets the Leader of the Free World

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A few years ago Jamie and I attended a Democratic Party fundraising luncheon at the beautiful Casa del Mar Hotel on Ocean Way in Santa Monica.

While it is now completely refurbished to its original 1920’s Italian Renaissance Revival style, the grand old lady of the beachfront has had a difficult life. The building was constructed in 1926 to be the Club Casa del Mar, a private beach club; it became one of the most successful clubs in Southern California, popular with local socialites and the Hollywood crowd until 1941 when the Navy commandeered it for the duration of World War II.  Afterward she, like much of Santa Monica, fell on hard times: Her glory days appeared over.  By 1960, she was shuttered.  Then she had a few additional incarnations on her journey – as a drug rehab center and a nutrition and health facility.  Eventually property values began to rise and a developer saw the great bones under the tired mask and she was reenergized as a stunning European-style hotel, truly a jewel on Ocean Way, the location of many big ticket events.

The main draw of this gathering was that President Bill Clinton was the guest of honor so everyone would be really well-dressed. Considering we lived so near we probably could have walked along the Strand but we planned to drive as I was in no mood to dodge rollerblading tourists as I tottered my way along the ocean front in a peach and white houndstooth Chanel pencil skirt and jacket and my usual stilettos.

Now I love clothes and I like nothing better than getting dressed up, but, I had begun to notice that at the political and Hollywood events we attended, everyone looked pretty much alike. LA casual (female) consisted of the tightest, most expensive jeans Barneys carried worn with a white James Perse shirt, skyscraper heels in the contrasting color of your choice (I often chose scarlet or fuchsia) and a Birkin. LA daytime formal (female) was the tightest, most expensive pencil skirt Barneys carried, a contrasting jacket, skyscraper heels, and a Birkin.  Because of Jamie’s job, I dressed the same as all of the other women we knew but occasionally I felt the need to rebel, to display my essential New York contrariness, so I would ditch the Birkin for something funky, like an oversized pencil case from the Met or one of my mom’s lightship baskets. 

Today I pulled out a tiny child’s handbag I had bought in Germany crafted in the shape of a lamb.  While small it held my lipstick, cell phone, and license which I needed to show to the Secret Service to gain admission.  I dangled the lamb’s blue braided strap from my hand and stood in front of the full-length bathroom mirror.

“How do I look?” I asked Jamie as he tied his coral Hermes tie.

His eyes darted from the basin mirror where he had been watching himself craft the perfect Windsor.  “You’re carrying Nina?” he asked, gesturing toward the lamb. “Won’t Emmett be jealous?”

Emmett was a similar purse, only in the shape of a brown Dachshund that I had bought the same day.  “No, he has plans today so it’s Nina’s turn to go somewhere.”

“Well, you look fine to me.”

We held hands and squinted in the hazy sunshine as we strolled down the rise of the walkstreet to the garage. Since it was a Saturday traffic was the usual nightmare but it got worse the closer we got to the beach. Ocean Way was always crowded due to the number of hotels located there but with road blocks and three separate security car checks, it took nearly an hour to go two miles.

After parking, we followed the crowds to the first security checkpoint where we each provided our photo identification, were wanded, and passed along to the hospitality table where we received our seating assignment. The final checkpoint was a Secret Service one at which everyone was patted down and all shoes and bags were searched. 

When we finally inched to the front of the line, I slid off my beige and black spectators and plopped them alongside Nina on the table.

“Thank you,” said the first Secret Service agent absentmindedly as he pushed the shoes along.  Then he saw Nina and laughed.  “Is that yours?” he asked me.

“Yup.”

“Hey, Carl, look at this,” he called to another agent as he lifted Nina up into the air.

The second agent walked closer and took Nina.  He frowned at me. “Is this yours?” he asked.

I nodded.

“Sorry, lady, no livestock allowed. Isn’t that right, Terry?” he called to another agent.

Terry looked up, saw Nina, and grinned. “That’s right; no livestock in a nice hotel like this.” He turned to a woman agent. ” Shelley! Shelley!”  She pivoted. “Come look at this.” He pointed toward Nina.

Shelley walked over and took Nina from the first agent’s hands. “That is so cute!” she exclaimed. “Is it yours?” I nodded again.

“Well, since no livestock is allowed you may just have to leave that adorable thing with me!”

Somehow I hadn’t imagined that the Secret Service would find my purse this enchanting but they were being so nice about it, I decided to just roll with it. “I can’t,” I answered. “I promised Nina that she could meet the President.”

“Nina?  Is that her name? How funny.  Seriously that is the cutest bag. My daughter would love it. Where did you get it?”

“In a children’s clothing store in Germany,” I told her.

“Oh, too bad. I guess I had better let you go; the line is bottlenecking. But, hey, if Nina gets bored, you just bring her out here to sit with me.”

I laughed and we continued into the ballroom where the luncheon was being held.  We found our table companions and the whole “where did you get that purse?” began again with every new woman who sat at the table.

After the luncheon and the speeches, the wife of Jamie’s client  – huge donors and our hosts at the event – said to me, “Would you like to meet the President?”

I started. “Hell, yes!” I exclaimed.

We rose and Sylvia pushed her way through the throng. When Bill Clinton saw her he smiled broadly and waved her over. He greeted her enthusiastically then turned to me. Sylvia introduced us.  “Is that your handbag?” he asked pointing at Nina dangling from my shoulder.

So I met the leader of the free world and we chatted for a few minutes, mostly about where Nina was from because he knew Chelsea would just love one.

Years later, at Bob Rubin’s book launch at The Four Seasons in Manhattan, I met Mr. Clinton again.

After greeting me effusively at Bob’s introduction I said, “I have actually met you once before, Mr. President, at a luncheon in Santa Monica. Sylvia Steiner introduced us.”

He stared at me intently for about thirty seconds.  “Did you have a handbag shaped like a sheep?” he asked.

I nodded.

“I told Chelsea about that. One of my security agents just loved it, too.”

“Was it Shelley?” I asked. 

“Yes, I believe it was,” he answered then looked me up and down.  “You aren’t carrying it tonight,” he observed.

“No, sir, it’s past her bedtime.”

He laughed and as he turned to speak to Henry Kissinger, he winked at me. “Give my best to the sheep!”

I sighed. I could come or go but everyone remembered Nina.