Dinner with the Ladies Who Lunch (from Texas)
October 31, 2014
Halloween seems a fitting time to have met with the Ladies from Texas.
Tonight was a little misty, a little warm, with lots of vivid lights reflected on sidewalks and windows. The mild quality of it all was nice, relaxing, so I chose to wait outside Souen, a macrobiotic restaurant just west of Union Square. I was about 10 minutes early, but it was such a nice night I thought I’d use it as an opportunity to check out some of the Halloweener’s who’d wandered over from the parade in the West Village. Didn’t run into anyone in costume, but did catch Alec Baldwin with his two little doggies. He was there to pick up some takeout. They wouldn’t let him bring the dogs into the restaurant so he tied them curbside for a minute while he ran in to get the food. I guess I could have offered to hold their leashes, but I was trying to pretend not to notice that I was watching Alec Baldwin pick up takeout. I didn’t want him to think I knew who he was, or that I was only going to hold the pups so I could get an autograph or offer a star struck smile.
Apparently I preferred to come off as just another ambivalent New Yorker who wasn’t interest in helping their fellow man. For some ridiculous reason, this was a preferable option. Rakesh would have offered to hold the dogs. I feel like such a dork.
Alec came and went, and I stood there looking at my watch. Finally, I went inside – they were in my direct line of sight, seated at a table about forty feet in front of me. As I made my approach, I was startled at the sight of them. Freshly blown out, matching 50s-style bobbed and flipped hairdo’s. At first I wasn’t sure if it was their actual hair or if they were wearing wigs; the question plagued me the entire evening, serving as a good distraction. They sat before me, two Stepford wives in their early 60s (one blonde and one red; both fresh from the bottle). Their tremendous diamond rings and gold bracelets mesmerized me. These women were expensive; these women had money.
An internal dialogue of criticism sparked as soon as I sat down, questioning the macrobiotic vegetarian restaurant I’d brought them to. I’d chosen Souen because the blond one, my primary contact (from now on I’ll refer to the blond as Ms. Dee (for simplicity as well as anonymity), told me she didn’t eat meat and preferred something that wasn’t too ethnic- which limited a lot of choices from my mental Rolodex of restaurants.
I was disappointed when she asked if it would be ok for one other person to join us, and then later made another request for one more. I’d had the impression that the sole object of this meet-up was to talk about ME and MY PLAY. Geoff suggested I take it as an opportunity to listen and see what I could learn, strongly suggesting I have an exit strategy if it went on for too long. I did – Rakesh was going to meet me in Williamsburg after his yoga class. I am so lucky.
Ms. Dee was in town to meet with heads of Bioethics and various big names in the end of life game. She was happy that we’d have a chance to meet with her as well. The redhead was there for moral support, to keep her company, and serve as a shopping pal.
The first seat I took was in front of Red, then I quickly reconsidered and sat in front of Ms. Dee. It didn’t cross my mind that Red might be offended, and maybe she wasn’t, still, I realized I’d committed a social faux pas. Ugh. Note to self: work on social graces.
A fourth person, a documentary filmmaker, showed up a few minutes after me. In addition to being a filmmaker, she’s a psychoanalyst and a Native New Yorker, so I felt a deep sense of relief when she sat down to join us. I dug the filmmaker. The other two felt like aliens.
Though the analyst and I weren’t shabbily dressed, there’s no way we were as manicured as the ladies sitting across from us; I felt like we were a couple of stray dogs who’d snuck into the Westminster Dog Show and couldn’t quite find the exit so we’d mistakenly wandered into the Winners Circle.
We exchanged the basic pleasantries, then talked about a lot of things that didn’t matter to me at all –particularly, Red’s luxury e-commerce site for women, their grandchildren, Red’s last three husbands (all deceased), and her aspirations to move to New York City. Really? We were already at the thirty-five minute mark and hadn’t even placed our order. Thankfully, the server, losing patience with our party, recirculated with determination, bluntly encouraging us to order.
Before the appetizers even arrived, I realized that this meeting wasn’t going to be about my play.
“We just met a wonderful playwright earlier today, such a hopeful story she told,” said Ms. Dee.
She said it was an upbeat piece about the ghost of a professor (recently deceased from some horrible terminal cancer), who had return to address his health ethics class, making an exuberant apology for not having his own Advance Directive in place at the end of his illness, an action he had been preaching at them the entire semester.
“Sounds riveting,” I said.
I again asked her if she’d read my play. “Oh, I’m about half way through. Love it, just love it.”
I wondered if she’d cracked the cover. I could have asked some specific questions to validate my instincts, but I was too apathetic by this point. Their anecdotal stories had worn me down.
“We want to produce your play,” she said.
“Great,” I replied. I doubted her sincerity. How could she have a desire to produce my play if she hadn’t even read it, if she hadn’t seen my website or read any of the comments (from audience members) on my blog?
“We want to bring you down to Austin to meet the team. You can stay in my house. It’s about an hour from the city.”
She’d mentioned me coming to Austin during our first phonecall. At the time, it thrilled me like nothing else — visions of me in a hotel room made me giddy. But the thought of staying at this woman’s house wasn’t part of my fantasy.
Red announced how important it was that Ms. Dee’s project make use of a play that wasn’t a downer.
“It should be a happy piece about approaching the end of life?” I politely inquired.
“Exactly,” Red replied. “Uplifting. Who wants to be depressed?”
They definitely haven’t read my play–it’s nowhere near puppies and rainbows.
I still couldn’t figure out why she was so interested in meeting with me; it became apparent when the conversation turned to their need for a team of health care professionals to do community outreach–on a voluntary basis. “You know,” she said, “Public speaking and just getting out there and talking to people. No one seems to have any time to get out there and just–talk to people.”
“True,” I said.
“What’s the most important thing to you right now?” she asked.
“Writing. I’m writing memoir, and I’m starting to perform my own material. That’s the most important thing to me.” During our initial phone conversation, I’d told her that I was interested in public speaking, but now I was regretting it — I wasn’t really honest — I think I threw that bone in to get her to like me more. I was paying for it now. I guess that made us both a little dishonest.
It had already been an hour and a half, and I couldn’t take it anymore; with no opportunity in sight to make a graceful exit, I thanked her and told her that it was wonderful meeting her, but that I had another engagement to go to.
Ms. Dee made her final appeal taking my right hand in her right hand, and the filmmaker’s left hand in her left.
“We came here to New York to meet you, and to invite you to join us.” Then she sort of tilted her head to the left, similar to the way a well primped pomeranian might make a sad face so that its owner would give her a biscuit. Her hang dog look lasted for what seemed an eternity — silent, frozen, fixed like two antiquated statues from the Big Oil state where the Bush family reins supreme.
First, hadn’t she just told us about her “schoolgirl crush” she had for the Bioethicist she’d visited earlier that day, and second, what was up with this approach? How was it that these women, their fingers filled with exquisite jewels, were actually asking us to donate large chunks of our time?
After the long pause that ensued, I gave a simple “No, I can’t do it.” Her gazed remained fixed steady. I squirmed, cowered and said I would give it some thought (their second round of persuasive stares was just too much for me to resist.)
I just wanted out of there – I would have offered up my right pinkie toe if it meant that I could hop on the L and return to the comfort of Williamsburg.