I have led a pretty conventional life when it comes to the people I associate with. But I know that beyond the boundaries of my fuddy-duddy life are people leading wholly unconventional lives, whether in the spotlight or in the shadows.
I can count on the fingers of one hand my one-on-one encounters the people who live in the spotlight. As a teen-ager, I rode in the same elevator as George C. Scott in the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, just after he refused the Oscar for Patton. Charles Nelson Reilly once stepped on my foot as we were heading into a performance of A Chorus Line in Los Angeles. Ditto for the people who tend to live in the shadows. Only once did a Las Vegas streetwalker coo to me, “Care for some company?”
So imagine my surprise when the spotlights and the shadows converged a couple of weeks ago in New York.
I arrived in Manhattan for the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors conference. It was the weekend of the NFL draft, but I didn’t feel like watching it in my room at the Roosevelt Hotel, so I went down the lobby bar to watch and sip a gin-and-tonic. About halfway through my first drink, a stunning auburn-haired girl in her 20s came in. She asked if anyone was sitting on the stool next to me, and I said, “Just you.” She reminded me of Amanda Righetti, the actress who plays Grace Van Pelt on The Mentalist. She ordered a Red Bull energy drink, which I thought was odd for 9 p.m. at night.
Now, 20 years, 30 pounds, and 5 inches of hairline ago, I would have been chatting up this girl — whose name I later found out was Melissa — immediately. But in addition to being happily married, I also think it’s in poor taste for male Baby Boomers to hit on whatever sociologists call the current generation of twenty-somethings.
But then actor Chris Noth (Law & Order, Sex and the City) walked into the bar. Remembering how excited I’d been to be in such close proximity to George C. Scott, I discreetly pointed him out to Melissa. It seemed rude to just ignore her after that (there’s a guy statement if I’ve ever heard one), so I asked her if she was there for the conference. She said no, explaining that when she got bored in her hometown of Bethlehem, Penn., she came into the city.
The rest of our conversation was remarkable only in its banality. We talked football. She told me she liked the Green Bay Packers because her mother was from Wisconsin. I remarked that the bartenders were far quicker to serve women than men. After a while, she stood to leave and reached out to shake my hand. This struck me as odd as the Red Bull, until I realized that she was clasping a slip of paper in my hand. “Just slip it into your pocket,” she said. It was her business card.
And all became clear. Melissa was visiting bars in midtown Manhattan, cold-calling potential clients and picking the schlubbiest guys, those least likely to score on their own. I found this both highly insulting and as exciting as seeing Chris Noth.
Of course, she picked the wrong guy. While she might have been expecting a quick shoulder rub followed by what’s known (apparently) as a “happy ending,” as a writer I would have wanted to interview her about her career choice (another guy thing) and her clearly entrepreneurial capabilities.
As much as I would have wanted to hear her story, I’m not sure she would have been willing or even able to articulate it. And the customer who wants to rescue the hooker is such a hoary (sorry) cliché.
So I could only sit there on my stool in the Roosevelt Hotel bar and reflect on the boundaries of my wholly conventional life, only infrequently breached by wholly unconventional people like Chris Noth and Melissa.