A Birthday in Hollywood
Dark haired Sarah was running down an elegant, quiet Hollywood back street near a major movie studio in a subdued and reserved corner of the movie making community--no ugly movie production wardrobe trailers ever profaned this hidden street.
While running, she was trying to remember the European word for, “Good Evening.”
Her wobbly scuffed high heels were clacking in an unseemly way in the street’s austere silence, but her Hermann liked her in high heels--but it was hard to hurry in them. Sarah wanted to please Hermann tonight, everything’s gotta be perfectly right and perfect, she thought. She hoped he didn’t get here already before her, this restaurant was so near “the lot.”
Ah, there, must be getting close, there was that Europe cooking smell, this must be it, and this here large, dark-tinted, no-sign front window, except for: let's see, well, up there’s the right goldlettered number over the door—same written address numbers magic markered on her hand, she checked them in the bluish LED flashes of a passing Lamborghini’s headlights and then she grabbed the large wooden door’s cool carved door handle, feeling its chilly whorls of churchy brass carving, very European, gotta be it--but she first stopped, made The Sign of the Cross reverently, said a short success prayer; and then standing herself straighter pulled it open—it was French she was trying to remember, “Bon” something; and now only part in the door, she looked down--her blouse—‘ooh, out in front—tuck it back in,’ her bobbling breasts in running had pulled it out, and better brush back her wild hair, she whooshed the heavy door all the way open and—oooh—there was that wonderful feeling! the goose bumpily thrill on her arms, even thought she kept herself decorously erect, she was brimming over with quivers, thinking, ‘what fun this is gonna be for Hermann.’
Sarah was always doing stuff for somebody and this little goose bumpily always came.
Do unto others that which they had forgotten or didn’t know how to do unto themselves.
The wooden door was now whooshing shut behind her—oh, what a glorious smell…some-kind-of-Eyetalian, French, Spanish spicy aroma--truffles, basil. Her breathing was loud now in this inside silence only broken by very low murmurs, gotta breathe hard quieter.
Yes, this is it, lots of people eating with miniature chews because moving their jaws too much would be bad manners; this has gotta be it, one of those exclusive, no-name-on-the-outside restaurants Hermann told her about, only rich movie people came here—so what about her last week’s reservation? Every table looked already taken?
Languidly these diner's slitted eyes were rising from their oval lavender plates covered with magazine food—super classy arty food: streaks of some yellow, mustardish cream, Technicolor bright, beansy vegetationals, and some brownish objects on’em, maybe used-to-be meat.
Arriving long plates were being sliden onto no-creases, lighter-purple tablecloths, and then were disappeared microseconds after the heavy, softly-clinking, sterling silver forks had only part emptied them, quickly sliden away by vested and bowtied waiters who communicated only by finger signs and swallowed whispers.
‘Oh,’ she thought, totally stoked, ‘this is so totally high-class, but me, I gotta look weird waiting up here,’ Sarah’s worried fingers were discovering little white blouse bits still sticking out, tucking them back into her black skirt.
But where was her reserved table in this bunch of flickering, chimneyed table candles--all taken? I got the address right?--she looked quickly down again at the number written on her palm skin, but quickly closed her hand to hide the black number. There was not a single vacant table among these white mustaches, dinner jackets, barely moving in the little candle penumbras, dim funeral parlorish forms of barely animate diners, mouse murmuring through compressed lips—everybody wearing black bowties, naked back black dresses.
She must keep her hand closed until she washed it off.
No maĒtre d' yet, she thought, and me up here with my hair just out of curlers that I didn’t have time—oh, oh--a terrible fear suddenly struck her--she shook her head slightly, testing, sometimes in hurried dressing she left curlers in--now she shook her head: ‘you could tell if one was still up there by the weight—and if one was left still in, she’d just have to back herself right back out—‘no, nothing still in up there.’ But flyey hairwisps were probably still sticking out--she knew she was a bit blousy and a trifle plump--oh I hope, she thought, I didn't call too long ago so they just forgot, or maybe Hermann already came and left?
She shifted from one foot to another, these high heels hurt her beginning bunions—the shifting drawing the gaze of several sedate masticators.
Ah, at last she remembered, Bon Jour was it, the French she wanted.
She swallowed, smiled, nodding to any eyes that met hers.
No one nodded back.
She wanted to ask somebody if...but their communal gaze only barely touched hers and then glazed quickly back into that inward, splendidly vacuous, very Californish, I’m-not-here look: peering intently, with a little rising panic down inside themselves, at those vast halls of empty inner space.
But, look back there, way in back, next to that man on the telephone, that dark place, what was that? That darkened alcove back there.
‘Oh, my sad Hermann,’ she thought, ‘have I spoiled it? if this is the right place please let them remember my reservation, Hermann needs feeling special; it’s just happiness he's never had in his life.’
Although Hermann was the grandson of a severe Nazi general, Sarah was sure he had a mine of personal spiritual gold inside just waiting her appreciation.
Sarah smiled at a boney faced, deeply wrinkled, scowling old woman sitting at a single small table here upfront, with heavily powered, taxidermied wrinkles. The smilee didn’t smile back. Sarah murmured a prayer, “Let the Holy Ghost show her a happier way.”
‘Well,’ Sarah was concluding, ‘no maĒtre d' because no tables; her shoulders ached with mounting tension—reservation must have been forgotten—my fault for calling too early and now Hermann, who didn’t really even want to… .’
Suddenly that dark suited telephoning man in the rear turned round, saw her, smiled while flipping a wall switch. The little dark alcove brightened, as though from a wandering sunbeam.
Slowly an interior golden halo was arising, softly touching a quaint little table raised slightly above the rest, shyly revealing its curved legs, modestly protruding just below its little lavender tablecloth, carved curving legs, an exquisitely laden little table, clearly a place of honor up on the enclosed dais, glinting with the argent gleams of a silver service.
—‘and, thank you Lord--here he came, the light-switch-flipper with magisterial strides, maybe he’s even the maĒtre d', Michelangelo?’
Michelangelo, was the name of a Pope? but for Sarah it was a phone voice, a wonderful European accent too long ago, way last week that took her reservation, so her heart began thudding with restored hope—it was always like this when one of her surprises was about to surprise, her mouth was dry.
She pointed at him with raised interrogatory eyebrows and mouthing, with exaggerated lip movements, ‘Michel Angelo’? maĒtre d' Michelangelo silently acknowledged with a nod and smile.
Oh, she thought, so could that really be it up there? the still brightening alcove, was that really hers? its rising soft illumination, its rounded Europe-type little ceilinglet with little fattybellied puti, tousle haired urchins presenting to the viewer their chubby-fingered floppy flowers.
Extremely cool, if it is, thought Sarah, trembly—but maybe Michael Angelo could still say to her, ‘whom are you to have this most beautiful of all of our tables?’ I gotta show him by remembering, what was it, Bon soir? or Bon jour? gotta sound elegant? she had taken French in high school.
“Bon soir,” she whispered tentatively on sudden inspiration as he neared--oh, mistake!—Michel Angelo was clearly Eyetalian, what was she thinking of?
“Buona sera,” he whispered back, “I am Michelangelo,” with a delightfully Europe accent, totally suave, cooly perfect, “Saarah Soden?”
"Yes, oh yes, it was me phoning, so long ago; I'm so sorry it was--I'm afraid all the way back last Thursday or Wednesday--is that…?" and she half-pointed, hardly daring at the glowing alcove, nodding a hopeful yes at Michelangelo? She must say his name altogether in one swell foop.
Oh, it was! A murmur of tearful relief escaped her as she stood there, enjoying the little table's elegant beauty and then, with little looks back at Miguelangelo—Miguel or Michel? She was cautiously approaching the table herself, through the other inhabited tables--her little one up there was become a delicate fawn timidly nestling in its alcovian corner—look at it, sparkling with tiny little glints of its deeply patterned silver plate, every kind of midget butterknife, soup spoon, a full service just like Sarah dreamed it; and, rising above all, perching in their cut crystal goblets were violaceous napkins, two tall, unlit, mauve candles in squat, Europeany, silver candelabras, on the backs of fat-bellied bumply toads cast in precious metal, covered with toadish tubercules, and silver kids standing on the backs of the toads holding the candles up.
It was out of Hermann's stories, this total classiness—stories of famous but unknown-to-everybody Hollywood hidden places—she’d found this one in a library book—Hermann had shown her pictures of movie insiders hobnobing, industry royalty--he will love this place.
She took a deep breath of relief, smiling to Michel-angelo and whispering, "How wonderful is this? too totally perfect."
Diners were covertly watching her.
"Oh Miguelangelo," she finally said putting his names together, smiling familiarly up at him, her old friend of at least 20 seconds—but this too caused bits of muted murmurs from the other diners--"who was this woman, obviously from Bakersfield or Minnesota, getting so familiar with Michelangelo?” a very erect quiet man in his Italianate dark suit, with a violet silk tie and amethyst tie pin, matching the restaurant’s napkins and tablecloths and plates, Sarah whispered on, "Miguelangelo, if, when you bring it in," now they were within hearing distance of the little table, whispering, "put it just right here, it’ll make Hermann so totally stoked and, please, let it come first. Oh, it’ll be such a total glory."
Sarah stamped her foot, a short stamp of subdued exuberance. Her already pinking cheeks now flaming up to bright red, "just know it's gonna be too perfect Miguelangelo!"
Michelangelo whispered, "I'm sure eet will."
Oh—zoowee-what a super goose bumply--but she stopped—caught herself getting so bubblingly over delighted, and remembering too well what happened on such occasions from the unendurable anticipation, that her bladder would do an uncool, absolutely unmentionable thing.
Michelangelo said, "What-eh time will de gentlemen be arriving?"
"Oh, right now" whispered Sarah, "but please, Miguel, where is the…the…you know," she was tentatively backing away, uncomfortable but not wanting to lose sight of her treasure, repeating, "where is the…" more urgently, pointing to different room corners, not wanting to say the vulgar word so out of place…Michelangelo pointed down the hall for her.
Sarah paused at the hall corner for a last table glimpse, making a thumb and first finger “o” of delight in the air, dancing a shuffling, mini-happy dance and rushed off, chuckling herself out of sight.
Creak went a hidden restroom door down the hall.
A time passed.
Creak again, Sarah returned, still smoothing her black hair, dress straightening, but now with freshly reapplied, very red lipstick, and the uncontainable, bumpily, joyish, almost scared feeling was making a thrill lump somewhere in her…oh, in her chest, throat, someplace--oh, thank you God, she was even starting to run to the large wooden front door, but no—please stop, she admonished herself, please don't do nothing unelegant, straightening up her back—it was not, remembering her high school French, comme il faut—gotta be cool, with a self-shushing finger in front of her red lips, she proceeded more sedately.
There were quiet chuckles amongst the eaters, but the old taxidermist near the door merely glared up as Sarah went by; Sarah was making it unbearable in here, the joy level was downright perilous—pandemic happy contagion mercilessly inoculating even these morbidly encapsulalted, terminally sour bystanders.
Sarah rewhooshed open the unmarked front door, stuck her head out for a minipeek but yanked it back in very quickly, her smile larger than her face--taking several steps backward--whispering loudly, "he's coming. Oh, he found it… .”
Everyone paused in mid-chew and waited with her.
Whoosh, a short fussy man, looking down, shouldered open the heavy door, his weary face slumping, gazing at the grapejuice colored carpet, hands jammed in baggy pockets, rather paunchy, who could this be? wearing a wrinkled blue suit and wilted tie, forehead furrowed with irritation—and then, only part in… .
"Herma-n-n-n-n,” Sarah shrieked, springing her surprise.
He froze athwart the doorstep, his eyebrows up in astonishment—amazed at finding Sarah right up here in ambush. He glanced past her and—oh, no! he recognized a famous producer, a director and gasped, quickly averting his eyes to keep from being recognized, rapidly reversing, "Sarah? Shhh!” he whispered, pulling her backward with him, “you didn't tell me, I'm not dressed--I can't... ."
But she gently captured him with a hug, pulled him back in, whoosh went the door back behind him, “Herma-a-a-n,” here she sweetly paused, cocking her head tenderly to one side, “Happy birthday, sweetheart.”
Such a sweet endearment as would tenderize the heart of a serial mass murderer, cannibal child torturer from this angelically radiant woman, shining her fierce little Sarah lovesun of joy into the gloom Hermann's reticence, she mercilessly went on, “this’s very special and just for you my dearest sweetheart,” ugh, how déclassé, thought the numb surrounding masticators, didn’t this unfortunate woman realize that such corrrrny, unimaginative, unclassy, p.d.a., fearlessly declared, had long since become uncool here in airkissing Hollywood, even in front, or especially in front of cameras, and more especially before these extremely with it, quintessentially cool, unimpactable men with $500 haircuts, themselves full of issues, wearing $800/dram Japanese fragrance, and their bling covered trophy wives with painfully expensive wax jobs on tanning salon pimpled thighs.
But this disruptive joy blazing from brilliant Sarah was causing these sad, self-obsessed souls to suddenly be…uncomfortable, but perhaps even a microinfinitesmal warmed? Of course there must always be maintained this essential protective alienation in California life otherwise we might come to the catastrophe of affection, joy, feelings?
Of course that boney scowling woman sitting alone up front here, was out of danger, with her case-hardened soul, now maliciously scrutinizing Sarah for the inevitable Hollywood phoniness.
But even this scowler’s indifference was in danger—perhaps a dust mote had got into her eye? Some fierce, joyful, pathogen of pernicious tenderness was penetrating the woman’s skeptical armor of years--there were sudden tiny drops in her wrinkled old eyes—what in the world could those annoying, unfamiliar things be? not tears?...onto those thirsty taxidermied wrinkles, dry for decades? her blue lips twitching to regain control.
But Hermann was still edging backwards, only embarrassed and terrified, hissing, "Sarah, this is one of those places I told you about, we can't... ." twitching little quiver-lipped smiles around to what he fancied were annoyed film Industry aristocracy, backing himself and Sarah up, pushing open the front door again, whispering, “sweetheart," as Michelangelo approached, "only very importatnt film execs can ever come here, sweetheart; stars, don't you know you gotta have a reservation months in advance? Know somebody, bribe the maĒtre d'? sweety—can't just come off the street? sides I'm just a P.A., a production assistant."
"Right dees way sir, per piacere," Michelangelo's experienced eye had seen the need for intervention as Hermann’s considerable butt was already pushing back open the big wooden door—“Your table ees up here.”
All of this had drawn 20 sets of Industry eyes on him so now, embarrassed or not, Hermann had to follow, but saying to Michelangelo, “We don’t have a…” then aside to her whispering, "Sarah, does he think that you have… ?”
But intrepid Sarah was not releasing him—Hermann was sure he’d never work again.
She whispered with a little chirp of delight, "Sweetheart, look up there, see? In that little place, our precious reserved table's just waiting for us," and squeezed his arm--this was the crucial moment, "please Hermy," pressing herself very close, her warm bosoms, hugging him," everybody here just admires you stud," this always gave him confidence, "it's your special birthday, this is your glory time big man," stroking Hermann's hair, "you deserve this," then stepping right up to the little table—the whole room could see her--looking very tenderly, deeply in his eyes, soothing his fearful displeasure, "Happy birthday Herma-a-a-n,” elongating the syllable.
She went on, "just for us, Hermy; isn't it adorable? Let's--can we sit down? Everybody’s," here she made a sweeping gesture including the onlookers, "just happy for you sweetheart."
Hermann said, "How’d you get a reservation?"
"I know,” Sarah said, “it's just all of a sudden sweetheart and a scary surprise, but this is a good, sweet surprise Hermy," Sarah's brave smile sun immediately sprang out again and the goosebumply feeling returned in full force while Michelangelo pulled out a welcoming chair for him, simultaneously whisking a up butterflyfolded napkin from a table goblet which he presented like an award to Hermann Guderian.
All he could do was sit.
Hermann, the grandson of an authoritarian Nazi war general, sat.
When Michelangelo was gone Hermann hissed through unmoving, lips, leaning forwards,
teeth together, as sweet Sarah was now caressing him gently with her knee under the table, he said, "this place costs a fortune," his eyebrows were smashing together a small centergroup of forehead wrinkles in a furious frown.
But Sarah only said, "Isn't it beautiful? Don’t worry sweetheart; we'll just have a good time."
"I gotta worry,” Hemann said with a stone face. Her hand was reaching across to him, "Don't you realize, Sarah,” he said to the hand, “it looks like me, just a P.A, don’t know my place and am putting on airs coming here to their restaurant, there’s a hierarchy in Hollywood," sliding his hand inconspicuously away, "coming to one of their places? Sarah, you gotta keep a very low profile," his eyes were kept thrust submissively down.
"But everyone knows it's your day, Hermy, you deserve a wonderful birthday, everybody does," she was smoothing worry wrinkles out of the linen tablecloth, as she hoped to smooth out Hermann's worried forehead.
He whispered, "Do you even realize who's in here? Good golly, that blond guy over at that table?"
Without looking at that blond guy, "He gets $30 million a picture. We'll just sneak out," Hermann was taking stuttering breaths.
“But Hermy, isn’t our table beautiful at least," Sarah said with a little soothing laugh.
"Don’t order,” said Herman, "gotta leave, I’ll give him, that oily maĒtre d', a tip and we’ll get the hell out. I'll leave some money," he was fishing out his very overloaded wallet, “probably should be at least twenty. Maybe even more, entrées in here cost over $150 I think. I just hope that no one notices that... ."
But there was singing starting someplace, the already the dim lights dimmed further.
Waiters suddenly emerged from out the kitchen? tall dignified Michelangelo and two others: "Happy birthday to you," began the first out, a little, fat, balding waiter in front of the procession in a high falsetto, "Happy birthday to you," and then a redhaired younger waiter with a deep basso voice and bow tie, wearing a black waiter’s vest; and--oh no! What were they doing? Not coming this way?
"Happy birthday dear Her-r-r-r-r-mann," all three harmonizing; and, holding at the center of their joyful little group, a royal birthday cake lit with many red candles, fit for Steven Spielberg with lavender bunting and gay flowers, exquisitely enthroned on a brilliantly flowered platter, slowly advancing in the warm shifting lights of its dozens of dancing little candles, that were casting a roseate glow of happiness.
All the distinguished diners were now murmuring, "Beautiful," in spite of themselves.
“It’s for you Hermann,” she whispered.
Hermann jumped up, his eyes spread in horror, hissing down at Sarah, "You silly, silly woman. You’ve ruined me."
And dashed out through the tables of wondering diners, keeping his head low, whooshing open the large wooden door, leaving Sarah alone here in her special little ornate alcove at her special table with her splendid cake.
Michelangelo first stopped singing, then fat Rubens, but the last and youngest, bowtied Raphaelo persisted, still just looking down at his lovely cake, boyishly enjoying being a joyful messenger.
Michelangelo touched his shoulder.
No forks or glasses clinked in all the restaurant.
Many heads now turned back to Sarah, to her dropping tears streaking through the wavering birthday candlelight. One tear took longer, making its way down her nose through her recently applied powder, collecting little fragments, becoming cloudy at it reached her nose end.
But the huge, merry birthday cake remained cheerfully lit on the table, its little red candles dripping birthday wax…for no one.
Suddenly there was movement near the door—from the taxidermied scowler? Still seated alone at the single table? Her name was Mathilde, she rose and walked back through all of the tables up to Sarah abandoned in the alcove, stopping and standing very upright by the weeping, embarrassed Sarah.
She turned round and surveyed all the staring diners—everyone knew from the beginning that this too fragile moment must go wrong, such sappy, sentimental…but the candles persisted from the exquisitely set little table, the dauntless, magic birthday cake candles continued to cast a transforming soft glow on even Mathilde's face; and she--it began slowly--Mathilde's mouth corners were definitely migrating upwards to an unfamiliar posture, her eyes surveying the restaurant talent, for what?
Settling over there on the 30 million dollar star nearby, that blond guy--
Who was already looking with sad concern at Sarah, at Mathilde, with large attentive green eyes.
Smiling Mathilde made a slight, silent, come hither motion to him with her gray, heavily hairpinned head.
A slow reciprocal smile began on the famous young man's broad generous mouth, he touched his chest, meaning me? Mathilde nodded yes.
He nodded and arose--quite tall, with very broad shoulders and a strikingly square jawed face; now walking over to Sarah's table, first checking with old Mathilde again, to see if he understood correctly?
Smiling Mathilde made another slight head gesture, eyebrows raised, downward with her head, pointing with her chin towards Hermann's vacated seat—the celebrity winked at her, sat as instructed and watched Sarah across the lighted cake for a moment.
Sarah's large tearful brown eyes looked up at him, surprised.
He said, ever so softly, as if asking for permission, "No sense letting a good birthday cake go to waste?" He leaned forward, forming his generous lips into a blowing posture, and, foooof, blew out all of the birthday cake candles, "don't worry," the star went on, through the candle smokes, "he'll come around. It's the most beautiful birthday cake anyone ever saw and a cool idea."
Michelangelo, and the others were retreating: but elderly Mathilde called after them, "We need cake plates out here please, about 10 of them," in a cheerful tone she'd not used in years.
"About 10," the young blonde man repeated, counting the house, and laughing, in a wonderfully deep and resonant voice and winked an understanding up at Mathilde.
Sarah just looked at him. The waiters disappeared into the kitchen.
"A birthday is a terrible thing to waste," said wise Mathilde.
The bowtied young waiter quickly reappeared carrying a deep pile, of carefully balanced, slightly tottering stack of lavender plates--this had never been done in the history of the restaurant--clacking within itself, over to Sarah’s table and set them down, bowed slightly and went away.
The blond young man selected a silver knife from Hermann's vacated placesetting, got up and smiled a wide, tanfaced smile down at Sarah--very green penetrating eyes, his large strong hands were now lifting a newly arrived cake plate from the tall stack and plunging the silver knife into the moist white frosting with large red cake writing across it: Happy Birthday Herman.
“Lucky Hermann,” chuckled the young man cutting through the thick, creamy frosting, breaking through little yellow sugar roses with delicate green petals and blue bachelor buttonesque flowers, then neatly balancing the cut cake piece on the cutting knife--no fingers-- and suddenly he flipped it so the piece gracefully lit with a flump on a little lavender plate.
He set this first piece in front of Sarah.
She looked up at him, and said, “But you’re famous… .”
“I hope you won’t hold it against me,” he said laughing and cutting another piece with the same quick, graceful, competent motion, flump into another plate and another piece, whispering to Sarah, "you've spread some joy around tonight, you're wonderful."
Mathilde next saw the fat waiter clearing a table; she seized up two of the cakefilled plates and went over, smiling her unaccustomed smile again, and thunk, thunk, set down the cake filled plates in front of a very serious man wearing a madras cravat and a woman wearing a two or 3 carat wedding ring and a low cut sequined gown revealing an ample chest, who looked up at the arrived cake plates, at Mathilde, then over at Sarah's table, the continuing cake cutting, and the young man.
She smiled the third smile of the evening.
Mathilde ceremoniously walked back for more filled plates. A communal murmur started growing—more smiles--and, when much cake had disappeared into the many more plates that had come out of the kitchen and been distributed, the first woman with the large diamond and sequins? She rose with slightly moist eyes and a sweet, broad, joyful smile, began singing in a beautiful contralto, "Happy birthday to you," the man at the table rose alongside and joined her in a resonant baritone and raised a grass to Sarah, Mathilde and the blonde young man.
Some of the more adventurous diners one by one joined more quietly in the chorus.
“Happy birthday to you.”
© Pierrino Mascarino