Last Wednesday I was eating breakfast at The Regency (“Home of the Power Breakfast”) Hotel in New York. At the next table was a bald, middle-aged man in glasses, in a dark gray T-shirt and black shirt jacket reading the New York Times.
“Larry! “ I said.
He didn’t look up.
He looked up.
I smiled and leant towards him, my hand outstretched.
“Larry! Peter Rosengard! Remember me? We met at Claridge’s in London about 18 months ago. It was at breakfast as well. You were with your wife and children, your first time in London. I came up to your table and introduced myself. Peter Rosengard. The life insurance salesman?”
He gave me the “Larry ‘I don’t believe this is happening again. You bugged me at breakfast in London and now you’re doing it to me again at breakfast in NY. I am being stalked internationally at breakfast by a life insurance salesman’ look.
I didn’t take it personally.
“Yes! Hah! Yes! I do remember you now. Hah!”
He took my hand.
“So what are you doing here in New York?” he asked.
“Larry, I’m with my 12-year-old daughter Lily. I am taking her to her camp in Canada.”
“Hah! Me too,” he said. “I’ve got a 12-year-old too. I just put her on a plane to camp too!”
“Larry, was that really your first time in London?” I said.
“I don’t like to travel,” he said. You know, my wife and I split up just after that trip.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said.
No, it’s… you know… it’s… OK,” he said.
“Well, congratulations then. I know the feeling,” I said.
“How many times have you been married?” he asked.
“Twice.” I said.
“Do you know what I said at my last wedding Larry? “
“No. What did you say ? “
“I said: ‘Thank you for coming from all over the world. It is a very important day. A man only gets married five or six times in his life’.
And her parents didn’t find that funny.”
“What did your wife think about it?
“She wasn’t crazy about it either. So, are your parents alive Larry?”
“ My father’s 97,” he said.” My mother’s 93. They live in Florida.”
“That’s lovely, Larry,” I said. “My dad’s 93; mum’s 86. We are both very lucky to have our parents alive, aren’t we?”
“We certainly are,” he said.
“What did your father do Larry?”
“He was in the garment business.”
“ How old are you Larry? “
I am 61 too!” I said.. “December 11, 1946. When were you born?”
“1947 — July,” he said.
“July? Let me be the last person to wish you happy birthday Larry. I mean, for this year, not the last one ever. What I mean is, Larry, I hope you have lots of other birthdays in the future, for many years to come.”
“ Listen Larry, you are not going to believe this, but I was thinking of you last night at dinner.”
“A distant cousin, Jake, took us out for dinner with his wife and son and he insisted on paying the bill. I thanked him and just then I remembered your show where you got in a big row with your friend’s wife.
Remember? He had just bought you dinner and she went nuts because you’d only thanked him and not her. And I hadn’t thanked Jake’s wife so I was waiting for her to get angry.”
“And did she?” Larry asked.
“No.” I said. “She didn’t. But do you want to know the really incredible thing that actually happened during the meal Larry?”
“Well, Jake`s wife, Jing, is Chinese. I mean really Chinese. She comes from China.
“OK, she’s been here for 15 years. She must be in her early 40s. And I was, you know, showing an interest in her life, and she was telling me she was born in Beijing, her father was in the army… ‘A spy,’ Jake said.
“Anyway when she was 10, the family was shipped out to a farm in the countryside for ‘re-education.’
“I said to Jing: ‘This must have been during the Cultural Revolution.’
“Yes,” she said.
“Wow!” I said. “Thousands of innocent people were killed at that time, weren’t they?”
“I guess so.” She said.
“That was The Red Guards period, wasn’t it?”
“Yes.” she said.
“So what happened later?”
“I was a Red Guard,” she said.
“You were a Red Guard?” I said.
Jake looked at her.” You were a Red Guard?” he said. “You never told me that. How come you forgot to mention that tiny detail Jing?”
“I was only following orders.” She said.
“You were a Red Guard?” I said “Didn’t they throw people out of 10-storey windows?”
“It wasn’t the Holocaust,” she shouted.
“‘I never mentioned the Holocaust!’ I said.” ‘Who mentioned the Holocaust?’”
“‘Did I mention the Holocaust?’ I asked my daughter.
“No Daddy, you never mentioned the Holocaust.”
“Unbelievable! My cousin Jake had no idea that his wife, the mother of his seven-year-old son Theo, who had played video games through the entire dinner, his wife, who is a marketing executive in the rag trade in Manhattan,was a Red Guard. I must say Larry, it put a bit of a downer on the desserts. ”
“Incredible!” Larry said. “And her husband hadn’t known a thing?”
“Not a thing.” I said.
He got out his black notebook from his inside jacket pocket, and started writing. “I might use this idea,” he said.
I suddenly remembered I knew someone in LA. “Do you know Lee Pernes?” I asked.
“Lee Pernes ? Sure I know Lee. Do you know Lee?”
“Yes, I know Lee.” I said. “I met him through Morty.”
“You know Morty?”
“Yes, I know Morty,” I said.
“Hah!” he said. He leant forward across the table towards me. “Let me tell you a story about Lee. About 18 years ago. I’d invited Lee to play a game of golf at my country club in LA. It was pretty, pretty,pretty strict. Formal, with the dress code.
“Anyway, so Lee turns up and he’s wearing shorts. But I could see right off, right away, they were too too short shorts. You know what I mean ?”
“The shorts were too short?” I said.
“Exactly. They were too too short shorts,” he said.
“Hah!” I said.
“So they said to him, they said to Lee, he couldn’t come in, his shorts were too short. They had a measure, and they measured them. They were at least an inch too short. So you know what?”
“What?” I said.
“Lee had to turn round and drive 20 miles home and change and come back in longer shorts. And that’s what happened.”
He sat back in his chair.
“What do think of that?” he said?”
“ Incredible,” I said.
“So do you still see Lee?” I asked.
“Aaah!. You know, not a lot. But you know, we run into each other now and then.”
Larry looked at his watch.
“ Well, got to catch my flight back to LA,” he said. He stood up.
I handed him my card. “Next time you’re in London, Larry, give me a call. We can have breakfast.” I said. “What’s the best number to reach you at if ever I am in LA?”
“ Call HBO,” Larry said.
I didn’t take it personally.
Copyright Peter Rosengard 2008.