Tuesday, November 18, 2008

At last...

I was a hostess at a Chinese restaurant my senior year in high school that, in its heyday twenty years before, used to get a lot of celebrity customers. There were pictures of the owner with Jack Lemmon and Bill Clinton and a bunch of other famous people all over the walls of the entrance.

My job was easy. Eat as many fortune cookies as I wanted and consume gallons of free Sprite every night. Oh, and seat people. You got five people? You get a five seat table. You got two people? You get a two seat table. It worked pretty well and whoever thought of that system should have gotten a raise or maybe free steamed rice plus free fortune cookies.

Except there was one time it didn't work, and it was this lady and her two sons who came in and always wanted a five people table. But there were only THREE of them. She was a pretty lady (large, though--she didn't back away from the egg rolls), light-skinned black, what the old folks call cafe au lait. I would always gently suggest a smaller table (I don't know why because they always came mid-week when it wasn't busy anyway but I'm uptight like that, shut up, Amy), but they just smiled and took their same table they always did.

One night when they were leaving, the lady says, "I'll bring you one of my pictures to put on your wall of fame," and I smiled blankly and nodded, anxious not to disturb the crazy lady, because why would I put her picture on the wall when she didn't even understand about five people tables? I think she saw through it, though, because the next week when she came, she said, "You watching President Clinton's inauguration?" (This was the first one, because I'm old.)

And I said, "Yes" because I had Bush vs. Dukakis debates in middle school for fun (because I'm old), so of course I was watching the inauguration. (See yesterday's post about nerd juice).

She said, "Okay, well, look for me, because I'm singing."

I said, all perkily, "Oh, are you in a choir?" because that's why any large black lady would be singing at the inauguration, right? (I'm so embarrassed by that question now).

She said, "You just watch on Friday night and you'll see me sing."

I rushed home after my shift that night and made my dad turn off Star Trek and switch it to the inaugural coverage. I said one of our customers was going to be singing that night, maybe in a gospel choir. We watched for about a half an hour, and then, the lights went low, a single spotlight came on and lit up my customer in a magnificent white gown as the emcee announced..."Etta James!"

Aaaagh! I knew who Etta James was. I just didn't know that's who was sitting at my table once a week, who I'd been trying to move to another table every time. And you may think you don't know Etta James, but you do. Oh, yes, you do. Beyonce is playing her in a movie coming out soon.

Check out the clip below (just wait for the first two words of the song. You definitely know it).

Etta Freaking James!

After that, it was, "Hey, Ms. James. It's good to see you, Ms. James. Why don't you come sit at the five people table, Ms. James?"

Coolest celebrity sighting EVER. Although you guys probably all want to hear about the Affleck/Damon limo disaster, so that'll be tomorrow. But I leave you with two words.

Etta. James.


Annette Lyon said...

Etta! James! Cool!

I totally wouldn't have known her in person either. (But yes, I recognize the song. Absolutely.)

Mina said...

Annette wrote exactly what I was going to write. Except that I wasn't going to put and extra exclamation point after Etta.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

that's great. And she probably actually loved that you didn't know who she was.

Nancy said...

Super de duper!

Becky said...

So he's not a celebrity, but I was at the cannery last weekend and one of the Stake Presidency was there. He asked me my name, so I asked him his. He told me, and I was all, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! I knew that!

Maybe it was the hair net that threw me. :)

*MARY* said...

I don't get it. Celebrities always say they are just normal people and want to be treated that way, and yet they don't sit at tables properly suited to the number in their party.

Anyway, was she a good tipper?

Heather of the EO said...

Shut up. I totally wouldn't have known either. out of context and all that.

Kristina P. said...

Very cool! I wouldn't have recognized her either. :(

Kimberly said...

I'm a huge fan of her music but I'd no idea what she looked like either. Wow!

Alison Wonderland said...

So cool! I wouldn't have known her by sight but I know the name and you'd have to live in a bubble not to know the song. So so cool!

MoziEsmé said...

How funny! And what an awesome lady.

Anonymous said...

I got confused when you said the restaurant was in its heyday 20 years ago and then mentioned the photos of Bill Clinton -- I'm *pretty* sure he was famous less than 20 years ago. Right? Right? Help me out here.

The "In a choir?" question is SO. CLASSIC. But if she really wanted to be recognized, she should have sung for you. Right there in the restaurant.