I was meeting a producer (who is not my age) and his lady friend (who is my age) at a cozy Italian restaurant I have driven by a million times and never even known was there. Restaurants on the westside are so often about the scene as much — if not more — than the food, so that walking down the steps into this place felt like entering a different city altogether. One that actually has neighborhood restaurants, where everybody knows your name…or at least pretends to…
This guy — let’s call him Octavius, so O. for short — is linked to a string of influential movies, including one of my all-time favorites. He’s so well-known within the film industry that anyone living in or near or beside said industry is liable not to realize that people outside the industry don’t know this guy from Adam. Or care. Which got jolted home to me when one of the nannies — it takes a village of nannies to help our house run — interrupted me in the kitchen and demanded, in a tone of honest perplexed exasperated astonishment I had never heard from her before, “Who is this guy? Why do people keep talking about him to me as if I already know who he is? You do it! Your friend did it! Even [E’s personal assistant] does it! Have I met this guy without realizing or something? Because I still have no idea who he is!”
What I like about O., though, is that he’s probably the only man in Hollywood who can be referred to in the same breath, by anyone who doesn’t like him, or possibly by someone who does, as a “notorious womanizer/playboy/toxic bachelor” and also “that freaking ballerina.” The last is meant literally, because he used to do ballet. I have seen him strike spontaneous complicated yoga poses in the middle of a backyard birthday party. It’s impressive.
He also has the same last name as the first and only name of a cartoon character in a television show I watch regularly. One of my young sons is very fond of that character. So my automatic tendency is to refer to O. not as O. but by his surname, because I keep conflating him with this cartoon dude, and I have to watch that I don’t call him this right to O’s face (don’t think I have yet, but probably will), which would come off as a bit too abrupt and familiar. So when I presented myself to the hostess of that Italian restaurant, thinking about my novel and thinking about my kids and cursing the scratch on my car, I had to take a moment to pull myself from my head and recall the very simple information you are supposed to give the hostess in such moments. Don’t refer to him like he’s that cartoon,I reminded myself, and then proceeded to do exactly that. But she looked at me and brightened and said, “Oh, Octavius!” By which I knew that he was a regular and long-time customer here. “Yes, he’s here!” She gave me detailed instructions on how to get to his booth and at what point in my journey I would see the back of his head. Then she explained what the back of his head actually looked like. I must have seemed bemused, or perplexed, which she misinterpreted, saying, “…booth? Do you know what a ‘booth’ is?” I didn’t take this to mean she thought I was an utter moron, although it’s possible. But whatever an American woman is supposed to look like, apparently I don’t quite look it — people ask me if I’m German or northern Italian or some other European thing, or when they ask me where I’m from, don’t seem to expect to hear Canada. So the hostess seemed to be thinking I was a young foreign woman with maybe not such good English showing up to have dinner with this producer/playboy/freaking ballerina, while uncertain of her ability to recognize the back of his head. The hostess seemed used to this. She walked me back through the restaurant. And there, just as promised, I saw the back of O’s head. I also saw his lady friend (let’s call her Augusta) sitting across from him. So did the hostess. “Oh,” she said, and looked confused, and retreated.
As I sat down, Augusta, who is not actually or no longer O’s girlfriend, and one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen, said, “Do you know [a certain supermodel]?”
“You mean the one who got hurt in the tsunami?”
“Yeah! Do you?”
A beat, and I realized Augusta wasn’t asking if I knew of her, but did I know her personally.
“Uh,” I said. “No.”
“Augusta thinks she’d be a good match for me,” O. explained. He seemed relaxed and amiable, munching on a breadstick. It was pleasant to be looking at the front of his head. “She’s trying to find me a wife.”
“Ah,” I said.
Augusta said, “I used to know her but I don’t anymore. I need to find someone who knows her.”
I continued to be unable to help her with this.
Octavius told me that he had met the model once — on some kind of boat somewhere — and been “enamoured”. I couldn’t resist a bit of scoffing. “That’s so cliched, Octavius. To be enamoured of a supermodel. Couldn’t you break the mold and find a nice attractive physicist or something?”
“Yeah!” Augusta said.
He thought for a moment. “I used to date a [network] reporter. She was always flying around to interesting places.” He thought another moment. “I used to date a surgeon. She was smokin’.”
“She was what?”
“A smokin’ surgeon.”
He folded his arms across the table and smiled at me — quite charmingly — as if he’d scored some kind of point. And I felt perhaps he had, although I had no idea what the point might be or how we’d arrived at it. Then the waiter showed up, and so did my spouse, and the conversation moved onward through rockets and movies and the Jena Six and pilates and American film crews dropping ecstasy on or near the China Wall. I ate some meatballs set in mussel shells. A pleasant LA westside night.