Close Encounters of the Kosher Kind

Archive for February, 2011

Close Encounters of the Kosher Kind

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

I work on a movie lot. Those of you who don’t probably envision it as one nonstop MGM-type glamourganza – hundreds of extras in black tie and tails doing the Lindy down the street, while gladiators and nuns hang around outside soundstages, smoking Chesterfields and reading the racing form.

It’s pretty much never like that, although one sixty year old grip did point out the area of the old Love Boat stage where everybody used to do coke. Other than the occasional outdoor shoot by a Modern Family or House, or a Tom Cruise or Robert DeNiro whizzing by in an electric golf cart driven by a nervous p.a. (which reminds me of one of my co-workers, Jason, who, years ago as a p.a., was driving John Goodman to the Roseanne set, when John politely suggested, “Could you maybe quit driving like a f***ing moron?”), it’s pretty much like the campus of any large company across America. That is, in an effort to avoid any pesky downtime while you attend to your personal necds, they offer a wide range of onsite services, including dining.

And while the restaurants here on the lot are actually quite good, there is the rare occasion when my co-workers and I can actually spare the time to flee the premises.

When we do go out, usually to celebrate someone’s birthday or adult circumcision (don’t ask), we go to one of the large number of establishments that dot the boulevard in front of the lot. One such restaurant is a place called The Milky Way. And, until recently, I’d never been there. For a reason.

It’s owned by a billionaire’s mother.

I’d been invited by a co-worker from another department to go to this restaurant numerous times, and I kept stalling. After all, “celebrity”-owned restaurants can be notoriously bad, famous more for their owners and their hilariously absurd prices than for the food or service. I fully expected the famous mother – if she was there at all – to whisk by in a bejeweled gown as gay minions fanned out behind her, barking orders on Madonna headsets and instructing diners not to look her in the eye.

But after much hounding by my co-worker, I finally relented. And to my great surprise (and a wildly inappropriate level of delight from my co-worker), I was WRONG.

The place could not have been more homey. A hodgepodge of dark pleather booths, carpeting, oak trim that has seen better days, and memorabilia from Steven Spielberg’s movie empire, The Milky Way is a kosher diner that is, to put it kindly, unassuming.

And the food is surprisingly good, and ridiculously reasonable, which, given that you may, at any time, spot a superstar or two, makes it downright delicious.

Most surprising of all, though, was the owner. Leah Spielberg, Steven’s mother, was a total freaking delight. This tiny, 91-year-old woman who could buy and sell me a hundred times over, greeted everyone in our group like prodigal sons and daughters. (Wait, she’s Jewish, do they believe in that story?) She hugged us, flirted with us, and made us feel as if we were the most important people in the room – which, given that Steven Spielberg and Sid Sheinberg (former head of Universal Studios) were dining two booths away, was quite possibly not true.

Sure, you could argue that when one of your offspring is the most successful director of all time, you don’t have a lot to be stressed out about. I mean, the story goes that when the landlord of the building that houses The Milky Way was gonna sell it (meaning Leah would lose her restaurant), Spielberg just wrote a check and bought the whole block.

But come on, she’s NINETY-ONE. She could lie around on a chaise made of platinum and puppies and count her son’s money. But there she is, every day, charming the patrons and chatting up her admirers with a twinkle in her eye.

I guess I should reserve judgment on celebrity restaurants. Sure, most of them will still be obnoxious and overpriced. But every once in a while, maybe I’ll stumble onto another Milky Way.

Although I’m sure the owner won’t be as hot.

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Driving Myself Crazy – Part 2

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

I was driving to work the other day, enjoying the beauty of a sunny Southern California winter morning; admiring the leafy trees and cloudless blue sky and silently thanking God for not having to live in the snow bomb belt, when some numbnuts in a BMW ruined everything.

Obviously having carefully contemplated what jackhole move would get him the most bang for the buck, he decided to cut me off, and then SLAM on his brakes so he could make an ILLEGAL left turn, nearly taking out an old Chinese woman crossing at the light.

As I skidded into the opposite lane to avoid turning his car into a 2,000 pound origami, I screamed like a girl, awaiting my untimely, fiery death as my car collided with the semi of natural gas that I was certain was waiting for me in the other lane.

Miraculously, there was no one there, and I swerved safely around the BMW.

“You stupid FREAK!” I hollered with all the righteous indignation I could muster, ignoring my own advice about bad behavior within the “work radius”, as the BMW roared off down the street.

Why, I asked myself as I pulled up to the next stoplight, still shaking, do people do stuff like this? It’s obviously a calculated attempt by [your Higher Power goes here] to transform me from the calm, centered, patient and forgiving man that I am (some would dispute this, but screw them) into a raving lunatic, capable of following someone home to demand, as they stand shaking in their driveway, who made them the Designated Douche. (Okay, I don’t really do that, but I’ve thought about it.)

As I continued the remaining mile or so to my office, contemplating the confrontation I would love to have had with this idiot, I pulled up to the stoplight in front of where I work.

And the BMW was in the turn lane, two cars in front of me.

Delirious with my good fortune, and still boiling mad, I followed him into the parking garage, wondering all the while if he realized that the car now immediately behind him was the person he had wronged only five minutes earlier.

When we got out of our cars, my fists were clenched. “Be calm,” I reminded myself. There’s every chance that this moron is above me on the food chain, in which case challenging him to a duel would be, shall we say, ill-advised.

The driver in question was a thirtysomething guy I knew from another department. He’s always been very warm and friendly, which made his jerkwad behavior that much more mystifying. But then, for my money, you see the true mettle of a man when he gets behind the wheel.

I strode quickly to catch up with him at the elevator. It was just the two of us. PERFECT.

“Good morning,” I said with a steely edge, barely able to conceal my anger.

“Good morning,” he replied, a slight tremble in his voice. I could see from the odd, uncomfortable look on his face that he must have realized what he had done – not only to a fellow employee, but to a sort-of friend. His face crumpled up a bit, almost as if he were going to cry.

Wow. This was so not the reaction I had expected. I figured he might give me an awkward smile, maybe mumble a quick apology. But tears? My look of disdain and judgment is more impactful than I thought. I must remember how incredibly powerful I am.

My heart began to soften. “It’s okay,” I said with a smile. “This stuff happens to lots of people. Well, not me, but -”

He gave me an odd look. “Did Jenna [not her real name] tell you?”

What did Jenna have to do with it?

“Well, nobody needed to tell me, I mean, I was –“

“It’s a little scary,” he said quietly.

“Yeah,” I said with a chuckle, “for everybody. Especially me. And that old Chinese woman.”

He cocked his head. “Wait, what are you talking about?”

I cocked my head. “What are you talking about?”

“I, um, have this phone call this morning. About a cancer thing.”

All the air went out of the elevator.

“Oh,” I finally stammered, “I was talking about…never mind. What’s going on?”

We got off the elevator and talked quietly for several more minutes. I shared the story of a friend’s wife who had gone through the same thing, actually been diagnosed, and been in complete remission for years. As we parted ways, I wished him well.

And I wondered if maybe I should consider dialing down the snap judgments to other people’s bad manners. Because, let’s face it, I don’t always know what’s going on in their lives.

Although they really should be wearing a sign.

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