Now if your friendly bartender told you he lived just across the street from Richard Price… famous novelist and screenwriter… you’d probably think he was doing pretty well. And if he also told you that right next door lived the great Oleg Cassini… the man who had women saying “Oh, Jackie!” before she was “Jackie O”… you’d probably think he was doing really, really well. And just as a bonus if he threw in the fact that Julia Roberts lived right around the corner, you’d be convinced he was doing not only well but stealing from the till and Chase Manhattan Bank. But of course you’d be wrong.
Because that’s just the way it is in Manhattan… the rich, the poor and the ‘tweens all stacked on top of each other. Oh, there’s Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue, those strips of opulence where peasantry need not apply, but they can’t house all the swells who’ve swelled on this island. For unlike most other big city lay-outs where the well-to-do are gated, guarded and acre-ed, here in New York they’re pretty much thrown into the mix. There isn’t enough space. It’s the high rise next to the low-rise, the high life next to the low life, and everyone in between simply rubbing elbows. Which is why I actually did have those neighbors… Rich, Oleg and Julia… back in the 90’s when I hung my hat in a neighborhood called Gramercy Park, and I often had fun back then dropping their names.
“So, Scribbler, where’s a good Italian joint in your neighborhood?”
“Hmmm,” I would ponder, with an expression on my face that could bluff the greatest of poker hands, “let me ask Oleg, my next door neighbor.” And Oleg actually was my neighbor (right next door!) but I had a unit in a building and he had a building. Yes I often would drop the names of the famous who shared my famous zip code, but never to try and impress but just to have fun. Unlike this clown…
He was about fifty years old. He had on a tailored herringbone blazer that molded tightly to his well-kept frame, and his shirt was starched to perfection and left unbuttoned. He had thinning grey-brown hair which he wore slicked back and wet, and had Lee Van Cleef’s cheekbones and squinty steel eyes. If you’ll excuse the play on words, dear reader, this guy could actually be called a real cool customer. He lowered himself onto the barstool, folded his manicured fingers and said, “Smirnoff, chilled… straight up.”
“Any vermouth in that?” I asked, just to make sure.
“No… Smirnoff, chilled… straight up!”
I could see he was taking himself way too seriously so I thought I’d push the envelope just for the hell of it. “Any fruit in that, my friend?”
“N-o-o-o-o-o, Smirnoff, chilled… straight up!!!”
“You got it, pal, chilled… straight up.” Then smiling my professional smile I made his drink. Funny thing though, just as cold as his ordering was that’s how warm his conversation became moments later… and after just three sips. In fact by the time he ordered his second drink, Lee Van Cleef almost turned into Chatty Cathy. He proceeded to ask me about the history of the place and background stuff in general, and even how long yours truly had handled “the stick”. Which opened the door for me to ask questions of him.
“So, do you live here in the city?”
“Well,” he said, “I have an apartment here in the city and a beautiful house that I keep up in Connecticut. You know where Joan Rivers lives, right? Well I’m right around the bend just a bit north.”
Excuse me? I thought. No, I don’t know where Joan Rivers lives, why in the hell would I, so I sure don’t where “just a bit north” is!
“And so where are you in the city?” I ventured further.
“I’m over on 56th in 819.”
Oh, you’re in 819, good building!” Now this is another thing that sets me off… people giving the number of their building as if that actually means something… what the hell does 819 mean anyway? Or 637 for that matter? Do you actually think your building’s that special that giving the damn number will set off some fireworks? Hey, unless you live at “10 Downing” please spare me the number of your fucking building, okay? It means nothing!
Now here’s where it gets downright silly and see if I’m lying.
“Yeah,” he says, “it really is a great building. I happen to be on the exact same floor where Hermione Gingold used to live.”
Jesus Christ, is this guy for real? That’s not dropping names, that’s Trivial Pursuit! Now no offense to the late Ms. Gingold… a delightful personality and comedic actress… but unless you’re as old as me and had watched a shitload of Merv Griffin shows, you’d wonder what the hell this man was even talking about. But wait, it gets better.
“I also got John Candy’s nephew one floor below me. Yeah, it’s a hell of a building.” Now again, no offense to John Candy who had his wonderful day in the sun, but is that a name to “real estate drop” and we’re not even talkin’ John but John’s frigging nephew?
Then, as the conversation moved further along, he also told me when out in L.A. he’d bought Dean Martin’s old house for a cool “two point three”, then sunk in another “two hundred G’s” to handle a hidden termite problem, then quickly sold the whole mess for “three point one”. Which brings up another point… people who talk in real estate decimals are just as ridiculous to me as those “819” types. And this guy was both!
Now remember, dear reader, all I said to kick this off was, “Do you live here in the city?” and that’s what came pouring out like a goddam Friar’s roast list. He was a one-man cavalcade of yesteryear’s “famous” which I found to be not only bizarre but downright hilarious. And this from a guy who looked nothing like the type… Lee Van Cleef in herringbone?… who now seemed more like Mary Hart on uppers. Good grief, Charlie Brown!
“Would you like another?” I asked, after his second glass showed empty, I was hoping he’d tell me whose building he’d parked his car in front of. But no such luck. He was two and done. So he paid for his drink, tipped to match his name dropping (which of course I appreciated), then strode from the bar a far warmer person than had entered. He became a semi-regular after that, much to everyone’s delight, for with every drink he attached at least six more names. He was our live version of Entertainment Tonight. All you had to do was ask him the time and he might say his watch was a gift from Zsa Zsa’s cardiologist. And to all this I say… only in New York, gang!
So where does your friendly bartender live now, I hear you asking, now that he’s left the confines of Gramercy Park? Well at the risk of blowing my anonymity I will tell you.
He lives on the upper eastside, atop a five story walk-up, right down the block from the building where James Coco’s niece almost bought. You know the one I mean… it’s right across the street from where Carol Channing’s agent used to live… which is a stone’s throw from that restaurant where Tommy Tune used to eat. You know the restaurant I mean… it’s on the bottom floor of that high-rise building where Mickey Rooney once spent an entire week-end. Is it making sense yet? Well if not maybe this will help… when I go out in the morning for bagels and coffee I walk right past that building where Craig Kilborn’s chiropractor lives. Now do you know where I live? Good, I figured that would do it.
Over and out from Celebrity-ville, see ya’ next week-end!
Note: When I posted this blog yesterday I had inadvertently typed in Jonathan Price instead of Richard Price (holiday hangover?) which I just now corrected. Sorry for the brain lock and sorry to any of my early readers for the error!