Me and Carolyn on the brink of a brush with celebrity.
When I first lived in Los Angeles during the early ’90s, my colleague Carolyn and I often met after work for a drink. We usually convened at a bistro-type joint on Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills, a mecca it turned out for celebs looking for a casual, anonymous dinner. As such, the two of us sat at the bar for the five-o’clock happy hour, talking shop and boys directly across some pretty recognizable SoCal folk. Fresh out of a midwestern college, I initially flustered at the sight of famous people, until Carolyn told me enough times that in L.A.? Homey don’t play that. You pretend celebrities are like regular people and barely cast a glance their way.
So on we’d sit, Carolyn with her Chardonnay, and me with my Milwaukee-brewed beer, ignoring the likes of Steve Perry, Eddie Murphy, the police captain from 21 Jump Street, and Chad Lowe. Although, I will admit to once being openly agog at Eddie’s gold silk track suit and bevy of bodyguards. Also, Jim Carrey looked really lonely once and Carolyn physically restrained me from giving him a comforting hug. Every now and then, I broke her L.A. rules and gushed at the 21 Jump Street guy (who later appeared in my beloved X-Files) or asked Alicia Silverstone for a cigarette, but all in all, I attempted to be a vacant citizen face of non-impressedness.
My L.A.-ification didn’t take long and soon enough, celebrity sightings became de rigueur. That guy from Talk Soup? Big whip. Courtney Cox? So what. Of course, my skin also thickened at the number of people, men usually, who claimed to be celebrities when they weren’t. High-heeled, red-lipsticked women often accompanied these caddy men in the hopes that they weren’t lying. And did I tell you about how once I rode in the back of a famous movie producer’s car after the L.A. Open? I totally thought he was full of it, until I saw the stack of marked-up screenplays in the back seat of his Mercedes.
Ah L.A. There’s nothing like you in the world.
Meanwhile, after a break-up with a decided non-celebrity, and in the jarring aftermath of putting my heart back together, I frequented my little bistro more often. A few years passed since I first began to visit the place, and so when two men came up to us for conversation, I sneered at their VIP posturing.
Despite the self-importance of the guys who approached Carolyn and I, the tallest looked like a hobo. Long curly hair twisted and fell into his decidedly past-40 eyes, sandals encased his feet, and a rumpled t-shirt and baggy shorts completed the shabby shab look. His pal looked just like Teller, and stood back to let Mop Top take the lead. I rolled my eyes at Carolyn, because as nubile below-30s, we’d grown used to approachment by the opposite sex, and this particular pick-up wasn’t looking promising. Despite our obvious apathy, the men took seats next us and spent the next hour regaling us with tales of Hollywood and of the celebrities I’d grown up watching.
Of course, we heard the “regular” stories everyone’s heard at one time or another: Apparently, Sharon Stone slept her way to the top, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, and Richard Gere formed a formidable circle of man love, and Robin Williams was cah-razy and addicted. Allegedly. Although this news was nothing fresh, the way the men told it made it seem like they knew stuff. Important stuff. Real scoop kind of stuff. By the end of the juiciest of these stories, I liked these guys. They seemed real, you know? Although sure in their coolness, they were confident in that way where you knew they probably moved and shook importantly at one time. They just needed to dress better.
We spent long hours talking shop. Where “shop” was Carolyn and I rapt and wide-eyed at the stories as the tale-tellers tried to get under our white-washed Gap miniskirts. I don’t know. Maybe they just enjoyed our curiosity. Either way, the subject of what these men did for a living came up. Truly, I don’t recall at all what Teller did, but Moppy McHobo confided that he appeared in and wrote DC Cab, and founded Comic Relief and…
But wait! DC Cab? OH MY GOD. That was my favorite stupid weekend movie that I watched over and over again on HBO, second in inanity only to Teen Witch AND WAS AWESOMELY HORRIBLE. Plus, Mr. T was in it. AND ALSO: BEST DUMB MOVIE EVER! I couldn’t wait to tell my siblings, who often sprawled with me on the tweed couch in our shag-carpeted den watching this REALLY DUMB ASS MOVIE over and over again, that I’d maybe met someone who wrote DC Cab. Maybe.
Wait. Who WAS this guy?
Solemnly, he continued.
He’d been Andy Kaufman’s best friend.
I gasped. I’d heard the stories about Andy. Bizarre stint as a professional wrestler, rumors that he’d faked his death, and so on.
Of course, I didn’t know the real scoop, which the man, Bob, told me in vivid and delicious detail.
The milk and cookies concert, the lounge singer act, the lung cancer diagnosis. This all happened plenty before Wikipedia, so afterward I couldn’t research the authenticity of the details, but now that I can…WOW. But back then, in the early ’90s? He spent hours, literally, telling us about his best friend Andy.
And one of my favorite parts?
He told me that he and Andy were good friends before Andy made it big, and that Andy told him that if he ever reached success, he’d have Bob write for him.
Well, they lose touch, Bob starts living on the streets, a homeless man, and eventually makes his way to Ocean Beach, CA to become a short-order cook. By this time, Bob hadn’t spoken with Andy in years. Then, one day, the manager of the restaurant where Bob worked, handed him a telegram. It was from Andy, and it instructed Bob to quit his job and move to L.A., where he would become Andy’s comedy writer. So Bob went from making $100/week to $5,000/week in the course of a day. The rest is history: He makes it big as Andy’s writer and best friend, and tells grand tales about this ride to girls in bars.
Because in the end, I found the stories fascinating while unsuccessfully trying to fight the scent of skeeze that’d descended over everything. It seemed a little like Bob was too with Andy still, who’d passed away years and years before. Also, I wondered…what is Bob doing now? I hoped to see less coattail-riding. And then…
Bob asks me out on a date.
Whoop, there it is!
We’re to see “Sleepless in Seattle,” and I’m to pick him up in North Hollywood because he didn’t have a car.
No vehicular assets, curly mop of random crazytude, toe-revealing man sandals, sense of self-importance.
Still, I’ll always remember that night as one where I received a behind-the-scene glimpse into creative genius. Because no matter who tells the stories, Andy Kaufman was certainly that.
(Impressed by all the FAMOUS people I’ve met? Here’s another! Dusty from As The World Turns is even better looking in real life! I got a million of ’em!)