Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Crooner and a Gentleman

When the news reached me that Andy Williams had died a week or so ago, I was immediately transported back to a steamy, New York Sunday in July, 1986. To be exact, to the Sunday before the 4th of July when the newly re-furbished Statue of Liberty was due to be dedicated. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and in an instant I was 26 years younger, remembering.

In New York working on television production for my client, a major tel-e-com company, I had a rare Sunday between shooting the commercials and the editing; a whole day all to myself in a city that I loved to visit, but in which I probably would not do well living. My plan was to shop. But first, I intended to treat myself to brunch at one of my favorite New York landmarks: Harry Cipriani in the Sherry Netherlander Hotel. It sits just across from the Plaza Hotel at the corner of Fifth Avenue between 59th and 60th, just off Central Park. When in New York I always make one visit to Harry Cipriani.

I first found it as a seventeen-year-old college student. As a naïve country girl with big dreams, I was probably ridiculously-dressed in too-short mod clothes and able to afford only a cup of black coffee. As a retail assistant buyer I bought desert there; sharing a cheap hotel room with three other poor assistant buyers. As an advertising executive, I could afford to take my clients there; although only a few had my taste for international shoulder-rubbing. You see, Harry Cipriani (whose namesake is the legendary gathering spot, Harry's Bar, in Venice, Italy), is a gathering spot for foreign dignitaries, diplomatic expats and their families, and politicians. I have never not seen a news-maker there. I once walked in to the crowded eatery and was seated at table next to New York Mayor Mario Cuomo.

But this memory is about another moment in this legendary place.

On that steamy, blue-sky Sunday morning I walked in the door to a quieter restaurant looking as chic as I could mange: wearing a white dress, strappy espadrilles, a white, teal and yellow print jacket and a teal Charles Jordan belt. How do I remember? Because of what happened next. A man who had been sitting at the premier position in the restaurant...a round table set back against the padded banquet seats below the mirrors (which is where Mayor Cuomo had been sitting on my last visit), rose and came toward me. He was dressed impeccably, white silk handkerchief in the breast pocket of his perfectly-cut cashmere suit, hair coiffed. Hand-extended, he was walking directly toward me. I resisted the urge to turn around and look to see who had walked in behind me.

When Andy Williams extends his hand, you shake it.

His smile was brilliant, his eyes warm, and he wasn't as tall as he appeared on his TV shows. He welcomed me graciously, leading me toward his table. I realized instantly that he had mistaken me for someone else. With only a modicum of sputtering, I explained that I was not who he thought I was. We laughed. The waiter assumed that I must be “someone” and seated me alone at a small table right next to him. When the gorgeous woman and her entourage for whom he had been waiting entered, I was profoundly flattered to have been mistaken for her.

By the end of our meals, comments had passed between their table and mine, laughter over the mistaken identity had been shared, Andy Williams had sent over dessert and invited me to the table. When I attempted to pay my bill I was not allowed to do so. By the time I reluctantly left the table, I had been invited to be his guest at the 4th of July festivities at the Statue of Liberty, where he was to be one of the musical headliners. We would wrap up production by the third and I had a flight out of Laguardia Airport that evening, back to a house already filling with out-of-town guests. I had to decline, practically kicking myself under the table while doing so.

Andy Williams rose and shook my hand my hand in farewell; always the crooner, always a gentleman. I floated out the door of that magical place into the summer sunshine. When I want to remember, I close my eyes.

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