Me and Cronkite…

Since the life and times of Walter Cronkite have been covered this week like a blanket, with every Tom, Dick and Mary coming forth with an anecdote, your friendly bartender has decided to come forth with his… his Cronkite moment. And though he’d like to share with you something on the order of, While sailing on the great man’s yacht, about a mile off the coast of Nantucket, I leaned into his good ear and inquired with devilish delight, “Tell me, Wally, who was the better man at holding his drink? Was it Harry Reasoner or Eddie R. Murrow?”… to which Walter replied as he threw back his head and roared into the saline air, in that marvelous basso profundo we’d all come to revere, “Scribbler, you’re incorrigible, ya’ know that? Now have another cold one or it’s man overboard!” Yes, he’d like to share with you tidbits like that but alas the facts won’t permit it… his encounter took place on land, in a place called Barnaby’s Hotel, and the whole ordeal took less than thirty seconds. Here’s what happened.

It was my first day on the job… a bartending gig in Manhattan Beach, California, to make enough money to get back to New York where I belonged… when, clad in my brand new Barnaby’s vest, emblazoned with the hotel logo, I rounded a corner and headed down a very long hallway. It was a Sunday, as  I recall, because they wanted to break me in by working the brunch crowd. And as I proceeded down that hallway, filled with first-day earnestness, I noticed I wasn’t alone in this carpeted portal. There, some forty feet ahead, another was walking towards me in equal earnest. It was Walter Cronkite.

Holy shit, I said to myself, this must be a classy joint. First frigging minute on the job and look who I’m seeing!

And since I had on my logo-ed uniform vest, announcing to the world I belonged there, I figured I’d give it a shot and say hello to the man. I mean this is Walter Cronkite (no?), “America’s Most Respected”, how do you not take a shot at something like this? So when I got about three feet away I threw out my greeting.

“Good morning, Mr. Cronkite,” I said, in a voice as warm and sunny as sunny California.

And in a silence as cold and bitter as a North Dakota winter, Mr. Cronkite set his jaw and brushed right by me. His eyes straight ahead.

Excuse me? Or, as they say out there in cyberspace, WTF? Did this just happen? Did America’s Most Respected just disrespect me? Did everyone’s favorite uncle just put coal in my stocking? I guess so!!!!

Now besides this being quite awkward to the “nth” it also kind of puzzled me, for it had to be harder for him not to respond than to respond. I mean we’d easily observed each other’s approach for a good twenty seconds or so, so how do you not acknowledge that other presence? Especially a presence wearing that Barnaby’s vest. This was calculated coldness.

So standing there feeling (at best) like a fool, licking my internal wounds, I finally took solace in the fact that I had me a  scoop. That’s right… a big scoop. “Guess what, America, everyone’s favorite uncle is a pompous ass! Change that word ‘avuncular’ to fucking ‘rude’! America’s Most Respected is most disrespectful! Cronkite is just another full-of-himself jerk!” I couldn’t wait to get to the bar to broadcast my scoop.

The first person I saw was the food and beverage manager, it was an hour before we opened and he was there to give me a crash course on how things worked. You know, where the inventory was located, what glasses go with what drinks, how they fill out their checks, how to work the computer register… silly shit but shit that had to be covered. Every place has a system and I had to learn theirs. But before my boss could utter a word I cut off his tutelage for a recap of what had just happened.

“Wait til you hear this,” I blurted, like some twit on Entertainment Tonight with the latest on Britney. “I just said hello to Walter Cronkite, no one else in the hall, and the son-of-a-bitch walked by me as cold as ice. Not a word, not a smile, not one freaking nothin’ but a nasty scowl. Can you believe it?”

“Yeah, I can believe it,” he said, “I’m just surprised he didn’t try to strangle you. He’s down at the desk and he can’t check out of here fast enough.”

Well, it turns out that everyone’s favorite anchor had chosen this cozy little establishment precisely because it was a cozy little establishment… an out of the way refuge under the radar. And not because he was up to no good, (this is Walter Cronkite we’re talking about) but because he was after some good old peace and quiet. But from the moment he’d picked up his room key on that previous Friday morning, to the moment he gave me the cool breeze up in the hall, the man had gotten almost none of that peace and quiet.

The owner of Barnaby’s… a Kennedy wanna-be with a mop of Kennedy hair, a gang of kids in tow and an “I’m to the manner born” pervading air about himself… had hassled the man his entire stay at the hotel. It started by asking Mr. Cronkite to pose for a family photograph portrait, to be used in the hotel brochure, which Mr. Cronkite graciously agreed to and did. Then from that moment on it spiraled into insanity. “Would you care to dine with us tonight, Mr. Cronkite” “Can I show you around the area, Mr. Cronkite? “Do you mind if I introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. (so and so), Mr. Cronkite?” “Would you mind just signing this photograph if you would, Mr. Cronkite? “Is there anything else I can get you since the last time I asked if there was anything else I could get you?” A-I-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E!!!!

And now here comes me, after a full week-end of this non-stop intrusion, boppin’ down the hall like a long lost cousin. No wonder the man couldn’t get himself past me fast enough. He was probably afraid I’d ask him to join me for a swim. Or to sing the National Anthem in two-part harmony. Jezuzzz!

And I only share this story this week not to compete with those real life Cronkite memories, that would be ridiculous, but to share with you this mighty lesson I learned. When you encounter a so-called celebrity, some hero or person of note, you never know in that moment in time what happened the moment before, what devilish act might’ve sprouted the horns on your hero. So try not to judge.

In fact just last week I encountered someone I think is pretty cool… famous chef and author, Anthony Bourdain. He’d just come out of his bank and since he was walking right beside me I threw him a compliment. “Mr. Bourdain,” I said, “loved your book, love your show, I’m really a big fan!” But after I said it, with an expression on his face that couldn’t come close to melting ice cream, it was all he could do to just nod and mouth the words, “Thank you.” Not say the words, mind you, just mouth them. But since my encounter with Uncle Wally and the wisdom accrued therein, I didn’t judge Mr. Bordain I gave him some slack. The man owed me nothing. And hey, who knows what heinous news he might’ve gotten in that “moment in time” in his bank? Or what other unhappy horseshit the man was dealing with.

So again, the moral of the story? If you ever encounter one of your favorites and he doesn’t grab you and kiss you on both cheeks, just remember, it might be because the fan before you grabbed the man and kissed him on both cheeks!

And as for you, Mr. Cronkite, I more than forgive you that moment in time, it is I who owe the apology. I’m sorry I all but scared the living be-Jesus out of you.

“And that’s the way it is….”

Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end!

13 Responses to “Me and Cronkite…”

  1. 1 Comrade PhysioProf July 25, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    When you encounter a so-called celebrity, some hero or person of note, you never know in that moment in time what happened the moment before, what devilish act might’ve sprouted the horns on your hero. So try not to judge.

    True dat! In fact, this is true about everyone you encounter in public. Maybe that bartender or drugstore clerk who just scowled at you found out earlier today that her dog is gonna fucking die. You never know, and it’s always worth giving the benefit of the doubt.

    Of course, if someone is always a fucking grumpass, then fuck ’em.

  2. 2 Donna B. July 25, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    two part harmony is OK, but four and five are better. Am I the only one that’s ever wondered how three people can sing four or five part harmony?

    If I had ever met Arlo Guthrie on the street, that’s what I would have asked him.

    I’d be the person that would cause him to look at you cross-eyed when you greeted him a few minutes later.

  3. 3 scribbler50 July 25, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Spoken like a true comrade, Comrade, thanks!

  4. 4 Anonymoustache July 25, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Great anecdotes, Scrib50, and you’re right on with the moral of the story.
    Also, dude, the list of accomplished people you have met is pretty impressive, as are your anecdotes and experiences.
    I think that from now on I will picture you as the guy who appears in the Dos Equis commercials as “The most interesting man in the world”!

  5. 5 scribbler50 July 26, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    Anonymoustache: Hah! That’s funny. Those commercials started out with a pretty cute idea but have swiftly moved into preposterous, ridiculous territory. Based on the last one I saw… he’s running from the national army with a chicken or something under his arm… Mr. Dos Equis is now the most ridiculous man in the world. But I appreciate the sentiment.

    I have met a lot of so-called accomplished people but a lot of that has to do with just living in New York. They go to restaurants, they walk down the street, they shop, they’re here. It’s all about proximity. I once had a humble, one bedroom apartment down in the Gramercy Park area and my next door neighbor was fashion giant, Oleg Cassini. Now I should say, I never went and rapped on his door and discussed his new fall line, but his five story brownstone DID abut my building so technically “technically” we were neighbors. I had a lot of fun with that one, Stache. “Where do you live?” “Who me? Oh, I’m down on Gramercy Park next door to Oleg.” Proximity!

  6. 6 goosenyc July 26, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    As we do with the Dos Equis Man…Scribbler, we hang on your every word…even the propositions.

    Another great post Scribbler…we should all remember to give people the benefit of the doubt.

  7. 7 scribbler50 July 26, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Goosenyc: Thanks… and as always, you’re too kind!

    And ya’ know what, G.? This is one of the things I love most about blogging… the comments. By that I mean, you never know when you write a piece just where those comments will take us. Case in point… “Dos Equis Man” is now a part of the dialogue. Freaking “Dos Equis Man”!!! Hilarious.

  8. 8 Katherine July 26, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Stephen Fry wrote quite the essay on what is going through the mind of the famous person when they are approached on the street. He also pointed out that many fans say the same things as each other while thinking they are terribly original e.g. “gosh you must get a lot of people coming up to you in the street to say hello” “I’m your biggest fan”. And the more famous the person, the more random approaches they have to put up with.

    I think if I were famous, I’d only go outside in disguise.

  9. 9 scribbler50 July 26, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Katherine: Couldn’t agree more on the “if I were famous” thing, especially these days. You can’t burp in a restaurant without it being showcased on You Tube.

  10. 10 Anonymoustache July 26, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    I guess I haven’t seen the later versions of the Dos Equis commercials, Scrib50. Sorry if the guy now appears ridiculous.
    I remember loving some of the lines in the ones that I did see….”he lives vicariously through….himself” comes to mind!

  11. 11 Jennifer July 27, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Scribbler… aka Cronkite’s buzzkill. Nice…

    When I’ve run across those with more notoriety than myself, I usually just smile. I promise I’ll do that to you as well… no running up, yelling, ““Scribbler, you’re incorrigible, ya’ know that?!!!”

  12. 12 scribbler50 July 27, 2009 at 6:12 pm

    Jennifer: Well then how will I know it’s you, blog friend? I want running, I want yelling, I want screaming, “It’s me, Jennifer!!!”

    Thanks, as always, for dropping by.

  13. 13 mvpalex August 18, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    I am shocked (not really) that “America’s Most Respected” could’nt say hello after being addressed so politely. I grew up with this guys broadcasting and it took me my adult years to realize he was just another left wing progressive with an agenda.I have seen him and was not impressed or taken aback. Our country has lost another lefty dinosaur.
    PS He is a good joke teller, honestly.

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