10 July 2011

Rhapsody in blue

The funny thing about Southern California, the Los Angeles area in particular, is that it's not hard to run into famous people. They are everywhere: at McDonald's, the grocery, the beach, a restaurant, outside a hotel. You don't even have to go to a trendy club; I used to see a well-known author at Dupar's quite regularly.

And of course, for years, I worked at Big Entertainment Company, where famous people of all sorts swarmed. Long before I got there, however, I'd developed some hard and fast rules about dealing with such people: those who are working (book signings, record release parties, otherwise engaged in business) are fair game; those who are not working are engaged in their private lives and are to be left alone. It's a system that's worked well for me, though I do speak when spoken to. Usually. If I can make my voice work.

My kids seem to be largely unaffected by the whole celebrity thing for the most part. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that we watch very little television, and they don't listen to any of the music aimed at their generation, so they could, for example, walk past the entire cast of Glee, and never know the difference. I can tell you that the daughter would be out cold if she ever saw David Tennant or Johnny Depp, and the son would have the same reaction to Liv Tyler or Alyson Hannigan. Kids and their crushes (as I said before, the gulf between 14 and 40 is often rather narrow...)!

The TV shows the daughter generally watches revolve around animals, and there are two of which she is quite fond: one about cats and cat breeds, the other about dogs and dog breeds.

And so it transpired that when we were planning the New York trip, the daughter said she wanted to go to the Algonquin Hotel. I was mildly puzzled given that I knew she hadn't read Dorothy Parker.

"Ok," I told her. "But why?"

"Matilda," she said firmly.

"Erm, who is Matilda?" I inquired. I wondered if it was another Eloise, though I didn't know how any character from a children's story could have escaped my notice.

"She is a cat," the daughter replied in her patented matter-of-fact daughter tone. "She works at the Algonquin."

It transpired that the cat TV show had featured a segment on working cats. I used to know several bookstore cats (and a few dogs), but had not heard of one at a hotel. Nonetheless, I promised the daughter we'd have a meal at the Algonquin and lie in wait for Matilda.

(It speaks volumes about the daughter that she wanted to see a cat, and would never have looked twice at any of the human commentators on this show. Then again, a well-known dog trainer with a popular TV show made an appearance in our neighborhood a few summers ago, and our response was to wonder why all the neighbors were out raising a ruckus. We can be low-key to the point of inert.)

On our second day in New York, I looked at my watch and determined we had enough time for lunch at the Algonquin, which happened to be nearby, before we needed to head off to our matinee of Wicked. I hoped the place wouldn't be busy, and it wasn't. We were seated right away, but not before the daughter spied an empty cat bed.

"It was near the door," she hissed at me, quivering with excitement. "Didn't you see it?"

I had to confess that I had not, as I was trying to assure myself that I wasn't dragging a minor into the hotel bar, a much greater concern to me.

After we gave our server our order, I told the daughter that I needed to visit the Ladies, and I would keep an eye out for her cat. The Algonquin lobby is lovely, but quite small, so it was not difficult to spot the large furry bundle curled up on the luggage cart, giving me a very officious fish eye. When I returned to the table, I told the daughter of my find, and she immediately requested directions to the Ladies, and vanished.

Our server, a very lovely man named Chuck, returned to fill our drinks, and he asked if we were visiting New York, and I told him that yes, the trip was a treat to celebrate the daughter's triumph over middle school. He wondered how we'd come to find out about the hotel, and I explained that I was there for the sake of literary history and the daughter was there to see Matilda.

"Ah," he laughed. "Our cat."

The daughter returned, disappointed. Matilda had moved elsewhere in that brief span.

We were enjoying our lunch when finally the daughter squeaked, "Mommy! I saw her!"

Matilda had gone skittering by the chairs in the lobby. The daughter was so intent on her quarry that she forgot her quesadilla.

"Finish your lunch," I told her quietly, "Then you can talk to her."

"Okay," the daughter replied, balancing a forkful while her eyes darted around the room.

A busser came around, and noting the daughter's watchful face, said, "Oh, that's the new Matilda. The old one retired. This one is...rambunctious."

And he told us how the cat had been mysteriously located on the 10th floor of the hotel.

It wasn't long before the daughter could no longer stand the wait. She told me she was full, and looked beseechingly at the spot where she'd last seen the cat. I excused her and settled the check, then collected our belongings. I found the daughter crouched on the floor holding her hand out to a totally disinterested Matilda. Usually, the daughter is a cat magnet, and all the little kitties come running to greet her, here at home, in Norway, in Iceland. Matilda, however, could not be persuaded to so much as look her direction.

After a few moments, the daughter, a bit hurt, gave up on her quest to speak with Matilda, who stalked off toward the bellman's desk.

I turned back as we exited, and Matilda sat down with her back very determinedly turned toward us.

"I'm sorry that she wouldn't play with you," I told the daughter who was wearing a little frown.

"Hmph," she replied, clearly disappointed with her failure to interest a celebrity.

Go listen to some good music: "Rhapsody in Blue" from the album Gershwin--Greatest Hits by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Earl Wild, Pasquale Cardillo. Before anyone gets riled: My children have very good manners with animals that are strangers to them, and the daughter's behaviour with Matilda was impeccable. She would not be allowed to behave otherwise. Also, I do not fault the cat for being a cat. And for the joy of it: I have been going on for weeks now about how nice the Round Table Room's staff was, and how wonderful our server was. The son even commented that "you keep talking about this guy." Chuck was a delight: perfect employee and wonderful raconteur. And I've just discovered he has his own page on the Algonquin's site, and is quite properly a celebrity in his own right.

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