Monday, August 6, 2012

Gretzky’s Flirtinis

Vanessa and I had tickets to see Avenue Q on Broadway in a couple hours and had time to kill at our hotel bar in Times Square before heading out into the freak March blizzard.

Our hotel was directly upstairs from a McDonald’s that happened to be the site of a Winter Olympics promotion that day, but we were unaware anything out of the ordinary was happening below us.

We were just starting in on our first Flirtinis when two gentlemen sat down next to us. The one closest to us was already hammered. His mate on the other side was much taller and exuded confidence and charisma that was palpable even when looking at him with a mere sideways glance.

He was wearing a huge flashy ring that matched his flashy unusually white teeth. It didn’t take me long to figure out who he was.

Vanessa leaned toward me and asked with clenched teeth, “Is that Wayne Gretzky?”
“Yep,” I said casually.

We played it cool for a few minutes, while inside I was screaming, “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!” I’m a lifelong Kings’ fan, and this was like the jackpot of celebrity sightings (more interesting than seeing David Duchovny at Gobo and Ethan Hawke getting on the subway, both during that same week). 

Soon Wayne’s buddy reached over to shake hands with Vanessa; this prompted Wayne to shake my hand and say, “Hi, I’m Wayne.”

The Pepper Shuffle

In June 1995, we rescued Vanessa from Small Town America and brought her back to Southern California. Her family had moved a few years earlier.

The morning Operation Liberation began, our buddy Slim picked me up in his new silver F150 truck. It notably lacked A/C and power windows, and did not have much room—just a bench seat that held three, if the middle person didn’t mind the stick shift jamming into her leg.

We planned to drive through the desert heat of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah, for a total of four days there and back with no air conditioning. Only young people do that kind of stupid shit.

But, we were excited to have our trio complete again after three years of separation. Vanessa was elated to see us. Venturing out for an evening of dancing and cocktails when you haven’t seen your friends in a long time can be a recipe for disaster when you’re young, and the night we got into town was no exception. We said goodbye to her folks and her fourteen-year-old brother early and headed to Peppers, the local dance club.

It was classic rock Thursday night and a local guy was teaching the Pepper Shuffle to cowboys. The real name of this tubby, balding man was irrelevant because he looked exactly like Newman from Seinfeld. And he was dancing. With a headset. Like Britney Spears. High-larious.

The ladies on the wood floor had feathered eighties hair; the men wore ten-gallon hats and leather boots, and here we were, out-of-place So. Cal. kids following Newman’s steps with all the gusto of a Broadway act on opening night.

“One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. Riiigghht. Lefffttt. Bump to the corner! Bump to the back!” we yelled along with Newman on his microphone.

Vanessa and I shook our booties, clapped our hands, and generally embarrassed our male companion completely. The waitress brought him free cokes and kept saying, “I’m so sorry” every time she walked by.

After about four or five whiskey sours, Vanessa decided it was a swell idea to start drinking martinis. Conversely, my internal drinking alarm went off. I stopped while my friend forged ahead, unfazed by our requests to “slow down.” She was impervious to alcohol because she was 21, damn it!