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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Croque Monsieur

The other day I decided to blow my budget and have a nice lunch and get a much needed manicure/pedicure. I headed over to Nails Noble at 28th & Park. It is my favorite nail place; moderately priced, pleasant atmosphere, and excellent work. I figured Les Halles would be good for lunch, since it is next to the nail place and the Steak Frites is $17.50. I sat at the bar. The last time I sat in that exact spot was the first day I temped at Variety in the early 90's. The Editorial Director had fired a temp the day before and I got the call from Human Resources at the publishing company to be the emergency fill-in for the rest of the assignment. I was to act as his interim assistant while one of his assistants was on maternity leave. HR warned me that this was an important man and he demanded excellence at all times. On my first day, his other assistant was coming in later in the afternoon, so I was on my own that morning. I had to check this titan's appointment book to confirm his lunch appointment.

The lunch was with Kurt Andersen. I recognized the name since he was at that time the co-founder of the satirical monthly, Spy Magazine.  I was surprised that Kurt answered his own phone but then he explained that his assistant was out that day and somehow he didn't know about this lunch. Of course he accepted and he was quite excited that the Editor of Variety wanted to have lunch with him. I told the powerful Editor that his lunch with Kurt Anderson was set. One accomplishment down. Maybe this assignment wouldn't be so scary after all.

The Editor left for his lunch date at Da Umberto, a great little Italian restaurant on West 17th Street, and soon after his other assistant arrived. She asked me if I had confirmed the lunch. She looked in the book and gasped. She said that it was the wrong Kurt Anderson. There was another Kurt Anderson, the one with the letter "C" as his first initial who worked at Hearst. He was the one who was supposed to be having lunch with the Editor. I was stunned. What are the chances that there are two men named Kurt Anderson that are both in publishing in New York and in the Editor's Rolodex? I wanted to run out at that moment but this woman begged me to stay to help her figure out what to do. She said it was her fault. She should have double checked the phone number to see if it matched the correct Mr. Anderson. I immediately suggested we blame it on the temp that got fired. She loved that idea. So that was that, he would be having lunch with Kurt Anderson from Spy instead of Curt Anderson from Hearst. These things happen.

Then it occurred to me that the Kurt I spoke with didn't know about the lunch. Could it be that both Mr. Andersons would show up? I called Da Umberto and asked how many people were in the Editor's party? When the person on the phone said, "three" I decided to high tail out of there for a couple of drinks. But before I left, I alerted his assistant that her boss was having lunch with two Mr. Andersons. I couldn't help but act out what probably happened at the restaurant. I pictured the Maitre'D going over to the Editor's table and saying, "your guest, Kurt Anderson is here, sir." And then a few minutes later going over to the table again saying, "your guest, Curt Anderson is here, sir." Suddenly, his assistant broke out into laughter and the two of us became fast friends. Finally I composed myself and headed over to Les Halles where I sat for a couple of hours gulping glasses of Cotes Du Rhone. I considered never going back to finish the assignment. But I got up enough courage and returned to see how the blunder would play out. I stepped into the elevator and there was the Editor. I felt a reserve come upon me and boldly looked him straight in the face. I was ready for the confrontation. But instead of berating me for his awkward lunch date, he complimented me on my hat. The wine I had inhaled prompted me to ask, "how was lunch?" He responded, "actually, very interesting." He never mentioned about it neither to me or his other assistant. Powerful people are unpredictable; that's how they keep others off guard. Here we expected him to come back yelling and he accepted it with ease.

Now years later I am back in the spot at the bar amusing myself with memories of that day and ordering a Croque Monsieur instead of the Steak Frites. It's been a long time since I had Croque Monsieur, that gooey French white bread sandwich with the ham between the slices and the melted cheese on top. I felt compelled to have it. I confirmed with the bartender that the Croque Monsieur was indeed the sandwich I wanted, not the other one with the added egg on top. When the Croque arrived, I ate half of it. Whenever I order something really fattening I eat half of it - a diet I've adopted from the film "Analyze This" where a mob guy asks another mob guy what would be less fattening then a sandwich and his buddy says, "a half a sandwich." I finished lunch and it was time for a luxurious pampering session.

I popped into the nail place and picked my nail color and just as I was getting into the pedicure seat, I heard someone say my name. An ex-coworker who had recently been laid off was sitting in the next chair. There went my quiet time. I told her I was next door having Croque Monsieur. She looked like she saw a ghost when I mentioned it.  "Croque Monsieur? I can't believe it," she said. "I was talking about Croque Monsieur a few minutes ago. I had lunch with a friend who was in Paris and she brought up this whole story about Croque Monsieur. I never thought about Croque Monsieur in like ten years. So when we were talking about Monsieur you were eating it next door?"

She then went on to say that she is not a spiritual person but this was weird about the Croque and maybe it is a sign that she was supposed to bump into me today. The conversation went on about job interviews and how she was going to handle being unemployed. We talked about when she looks back on this summer, she can either remember it as a good one where she was able to spend time with friends and her beloved nieces or she could look at this summer as one where she missed those opportunities because she was too worried about getting a new job. She stayed even after her nails dried and sat with me at the manicure station. It was getting time for her to leave and when she proceeded to get up from her chair it wheeled backwards off the edge of the platform. There was a loud crashing noise and everything stopped. She was going down. I didn't move an inch. My body stayed straight forward with my nails perfectly placed on the manicure table. I only moved my head to the side when I heard the commotion and watched with horror as she was scrambling to save herself down there. Luckily there was a railing nearby that my colleague grabbed. She caught herself about an inch away from disaster. Within seconds one of the manicurists came to her aid. Once she got up I could see that she was embarrassed since her face was scarlet and she had the attention of everyone in the salon. She so yearned for the meaning of bumping into me that day and all I could do aside from protecting my newly applied orangey red nail polish was think "It's a good thing I ordered the Monsieur for lunch instead of the Croque Madame!

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