Thursday, August 25, 2005

Star Dating

I hate to disappoint “US Weekly” but, the stars, “they’re not like you and me.” I’ve dated several. I know. One, in particular, I will never forget.

First, let me say that New York City has many levels of stardom—we’re not just talking about Brad & Angelina, Paris & Paris, Di Caprio & Bundchen… There are recognized stars in every field whether they are in cinema, media, sports, culinary or literary circles. New Yorkers LOVE to build a person up to star status (and then take as much pleasure in bringing them down).

V. was a “New York Times” superstar. Everyone knew him everywhere we went.

Valentine’s Day at the Four Seasons Grill Room.

The elderly Jewish couple to our left stares, grins, shifts in their banquet seats, clears their throats for attention. “Umm, excuse us, but, you’re V.M. from the “New York Times, aren’t you?” the wife asks him.

“Yes, yes I am.” V. tries his best to look uncomfortable with the attention—repositioning his tie, twisting his mouth into a grimace—but he clearly relishes the fact that the couple recognizes him. He looks at me with big, brown eyes that try to say, “I’m sorry” when they really mean, “Told you I was a big shot.” (Mamma always told me to look out for the male ego, “They turn out to be ‘big shots’ but, with an ‘i.’” Big shit, indeed, Mamma.)

“Saul and I thought that was you! We want you to know that we read your articles religiously. We love your radio program and every time you’re on the “Today” show we record you! Saul, just look at him! So dapper in that suit!”

“I’m glad that you enjoy my pieces,” V says, instantly warming up to the octogenarian strangers. “By the way, did you check out my latest interview with Scarlett Johansen? It was tough getting her to open up, but…”

Blah, blah, blah. I sip my champagne, readjust my Dolce & Gabbana cocktail dress and imagine how unbearable it would be to date someone on the real A-list, say George Clooney or Ben Affleck. Ten minutes later, I hear him say, “She’s a real beauty, isn’t she? I can’t believe she’s my valentine…” Back pedaling to the humble act—classic maneuver.

And, yet, Valentine’s Day was just the beginning.

Every other weekend he tried to persuade me to go to Cannes, TriBeCa Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, a Hollywood premiere, Sundance. While the parties, famous friends, flashbulbs and endless supply of bubbly would have been fabulous, his “famous person” idiosyncrasies would have been unbearable.

My date should not eat less than I.
My date should not own more Kiehl’s products than I.
My date should not talk more about “green lighting” projects in Hollywood than he does about his friends and family.
My date should not subtract 15 years from his age (that’s right—I “Googled” him and found out the truth.)
My date should not propose marriage after an inappropriate length of time.
Yeah—back up. Read it again—V. proposed.

He had just left the “New York Times” (or been fired—whatever) and was re-evaluating his life. Somewhere in there, I suppose, I was on the positive side of his “Life Checklist.” It all went down on a New Year's Eve.

“Mario [Batali] has invited us to a New Year's Eve dinner party celebrating the opening of his new restaurant. You can make it, can’t you?” V asks, his voice oddly sheepish through the telephone wires.

“Sure. I don’t think I have any plans. How many of us will there be?” You see, I’m very excited but trying to act casual—I love any culinary concoction of Batali’s that crosses a sautee pan.

“Mario and his wife, Joe and his family, Lidia, Michael [Stipe], maybe J-Z. About 20 of us. I’ll pick you up around 8:00.”

8o’clock, New Year's Eve, my nails freshly manicured and I’m in my dinner party finest—Chloe navy blue blazer, green silk top, pencil skirt, stilettos. I stare out the kitchen window at my snow-covered patio, clutching a congratulatory bottle of wine for Mario. He’s as devilish as his red hair suggests, I think. This is going to be a great night… love speaking Italian with him when V. is around. My intelligence stock shoots up. V. shuts up about his career for about 5 minutes and tries to figure out the cognates.

Buzzz. Buzzz.

“A bottle of wine for me? How thoughtful” he says when I greet him outside.

“It’s not for you, crazy—it’s for Mario. You know—to congratulate him on the new restaurant.”

“Right, well, uh, I thought it would be nicer if it were just you and I tonight.”

“What?” I practically shriek. "But, it's New Year's and he's having a party with Michael Stipe. I see the cabbie staring at me, silently calculating his crazy date/after 7 p.m./heavy snow gratuity.

“Let’s just get in the taxi. It’s snowing and I have reservations at a romantic little bistro in TriBeCa.”

It takes a glass of Sauvignon Blanc for me to speak in a civil tone. Then, it happened--over my beet, endive and goat cheese appetizer.

“I thought we could talk about us tonight,” V says, peering over his Pepsi-filled wine glass (yet another idiosyncrasy—Pepsi at fine restaurants).

“Really? Oh, I don’t know… Why don’t we just enjoy our dinner and save that for another night?” My chest goes cold, my cheeks flush. It feels as if something akin to a small hamster is toying with my large intestine.

“No, no, I think tonight’s the night.”

The night? The night for what?”

“Belle, I want you in my life—all the time. I, I want you to be my woman. I want you to be my wife. Belle, will you marry me?”

I slowly set down my knife and fork on the plate. I stare. He stares. I search the room for triangulation—can’t we talk about something else? Anything else? Where’s the damn waiter?

“Belle, what are you thinking? Look at me. I WANT YOU IN MY LIFE. Do you understand?”

I run to the bathroom and get sick. That's my answer.

V. is now one of the vice-presidents of Sony (still single) and, well, I’m still Belle… in SoHo…writing, thinking, remembering, looking for someone (non-famous) that will do everything right at just the right time.

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