You know celebrity is an interesting thing. Why are we so interested in their lives, what they wear, who they sleep with? What gives them their “power?” I mean you have to admit we live in a celebrity obsessed culture. Just look at the J-Lo/Affleck shitstorm.
John Cleese posited an explanation in his television special The Human Face. Basically he said we are designed by evolution to live in small groups, numbering five hundred or so. In our not too distant insular agrarian past we knew every one around us. Famous people in the village were those that had accomplished something. They were warriors, healers, prophets, and kings. Everyone knew their face.
Now we live in megalopolises numbering tens of millions of people. The endless procession of faces we see everyday are, for the most part, anonymous, with out a name or story attached to them. We feel a profound lack of connection to the swirl of humanity that besets us.
But we all know who Brad Pitt is.
He is just a guy who works in the movies but many of us know more about him than about our next door neighbor. We may not know squat about the guy sitting next to us on the subway but we will both know who Brad is. That, in a funny way, connects us. Cleese is basically saying that celebrities, by the virtue of their being seen in the media, fulfill a basic human longing for connection in the global village. We all know them and, by that, they connect us to each other. They cut through the anonymity. That’s what gives them power.
Of course that perceived power is all out of whack when compared against reality. A celebrity, if he or she is smart, realizes that people recognize their persona, their act, and not them. They realize fame is fickle and try and stay grounded in the real day to day experience we all inhabit. They know they are not warriors, prophets and kings – just people whose job puts their faces on the screen. Those who believe their own PR end up in trouble. Think Elvis. Think Michael Jackson. Think, gulp! – OJ.
So what does all this have to do with waiting tables? I’ll tell you why.
In our boffo box office culture, normal everyday folks are so caught up in celebrity obsession they start feeling entitled to star treatment. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in a restaurant.
I cannot tell you how many times patrons walk in on a busy Saturday night without a reservation and demand the best table. When they don’t get it I hear the most tired of protestations, “Do you know who I am?” Usually they’re a minor so and so with an equally minor company. They are part of the great huddled masses. Just like me.
Let’s not mention the outrageous food requests, finger snapping, obnoxious comments and other sundry bad behaviors here. I’ll save those stories for later. Suffice to say people who are not famous like to make the wait staff think they are.
So how do real movie stars act when they go out to eat?
One busy Monday night we are crazy busy. The door chimes, I look up and Alec Baldwin is standing in the doorway. Holy Shit.
He is with his brother Steven Baldwin, significant others in tow. First off let me tell you Alec really is a handsome devil. It’s a cliché, I know, but he is a lot taller in person than on screen. Alas, we have only one table; between the ladies room and the kitchen next to the register. It’s the worst table in the house. Alec, ever polite, takes it happily. He orders off the menu, says please and thank you, tips well, and thanks the kitchen staff on the way out. He is a perfect gentleman. This guy has his head on straight.
I also have had the pleasure of waiting on: Rich Little, Rosie O’Donnell, Bjork, Meryl Streep, William Hurt., Larry Mullen (from U2), Ellen Burstyn, Barry Bostwick, Alan Ruck, Joseph Bologna, Jack Klugman, Toni Morrison, William Baldwin, Judith Regan, and a bunch of notables whose names escape me.
You know what? Not one of them acted like an asshole. They were all well mannered, polite, and didn’t put on airs. I know other waiters have celebrity horror stories but not me.
So basically my long winded post comes down to this. If these “famous people” can eat in my restaurant without being an entitled obnoxious prick why can’t you? Don’t get caught up in the seduction of celebrity. It’s an illusion. Just be happy to be you.
Now shut the fuck up and eat your food.
God I hope OJ doesn’t read this.