On not meeting Jonathan Gold

Last Friday I saw a listing that said Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Gold, who is without a doubt the best food writer in the nation (his evocative writing and obvious love for LA are what I turn to when I need reassurances that LA has something good to offer me) was going to be interviewed on stage at the Central Library tonight. I went to the organizer’s site to make my free reservation but received an e-mail that said due to overwhelming interest, blah, blah…we’d have to show up at 6:00 to get on the standby list. This afternoon I packed up my laptop and headed downtown, figuring I’d beat rush hour, finish up my work day on the library’s wireless, then go down around 5:30 to get in the standby line.

I wound up being #2 in line, behind this hippy-looking, energetic woman, about five feet tall with long brown hair that was greying on top. She seemed normal enough when we started chatting, but then she just didn’t stop talking, and she became more and more insane the more she talked. She shared her opinion on immigrants: she herself is the child of a South American immigrant, but she can’t stand people who come to this country and never learn English. Not the Armenians and Russians who live near her in Glendale, they’re serious, studious people, and most of them speak English or at least try. She just doesn’t like the lazy Spanish speakers who come to America but don’t speak any English. Pretty soon Spanish will be the predominant language in the United States and that just isn’t right.

Oooooookay. I steer the conversation to what I think are neutral waters, talking about the library. She tells me about the libraries near her, and I offer up that I live in West Hollywood. Her eyes light up. “I used to live in West Hollywood!” she exclaims. I smile, thinking we’ve found a subject that we can sustain with light chit-chat until my friends arrive. “That’s where Vanity Fair and the other parties are. I love to go to events, like the one tonight. I met Ringo Starr by accident at an event in West Hollywood.” I expressed surprise. “There’s a little log cabin building there on Robertson near Melrose and I always wondered what it was,” she said. I knew the building, a meetinghouse of some sort. “Turns out it’s where the AA meetings are. So I went to a few, and you know, there are all these skinny women, the actresses, who work in soaps and things.” She proceeded to describe the people she’d seen at the WeHo AA meetings like it was a party she had been fortunate enough to be invited to. “One time there was this guy there who had this British accent, and as he talked I placed it as a Liverpudlian accent. And I thought no, it couldn’t be, but then he stood up and said, ‘My name is Richard and I’m an alcoholic.’ I thought, Ringo Starr’s real name is Richard Starkey. Of course he didn’t say his last name, because I guess they don’t do that, but I was pretty sure it was him.”

Honestly, Reader, what can you say? When I related this to my friends later, one suggested that I should have replied, “You know, I’m in AA and I don’t take the tenet of anonymity lightly. I can’t believe you would attend an anonymous support meeting just to gawk.” How I wish I’d been so quick-thinking. But I was like a frog in a pot of hot water that doesn’t realize it’s being boiled to death; I started listening to a seemingly sane person, and I was only partly aware that the longer I talked to her the more insane she became. By the time my friends arrived she was all wound up, and I thought we could safely ignore her. But in the end she was so manic that she yelled at us for standing too close to her, and insisted that we listen to the reason she left all that space around her. Psycho!

Aside from Crazy Lady the whole event was very poorly organized. The line was chaotic and no volunteers were assigned to crowd control. I didn’t really worry about it because my friends and I were 2, 3, and 4 in line for standby, and given that the RSVP was free I figured there’d be a lot of no-shows. But after standing in line for an hour, and even as the line of people with reservations still snaked down the hall, we were told that there would be no room for standbys. “Don’t you have to seat all the reserved people in order to know that there’s no room left?” my friend asked the organizer. “No, we’re full right now,” was the reply. They’d overbooked AND told people they could show up for standby. So in addition to us hopefuls, about 30 people who even had confirmed reservations were being turned away. Fortunately we knew it was a roll of the dice when we showed up, so we were OK with just moving on to a few bars in the neighborhood.

Tomorrow: where we drank.

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