While I kept busy dusting the gift shop’s jewelry display or refolding the souvenir sweatshirts, Ally lounged behind the coffee bar, made herself chocolate milkshakes and read to me from the personals. She claimed that she was helping me find a boyfriend, but I suspected that she just enjoyed rubbing it in: she had one and I didn’t.
It was fall of 2005, my last semester in college and I was working in the gift/coffee shop of the Mohonk Mountain Resort in Upstate New York.
“OK, here’s one,” she announced loudly, launching into a description of a single, white, middle-aged man whose interests detoured into the weird fetish realm. They always did. I can’t remember now what I said in response. More than likely I rolled my eyes, and said something like: “Ew, no way. He’s way too old!”
That was when I noticed him. The elderly man waiting patiently in front of the coffee bar. Embarrassed that he’d just overheard our conversation, I smiled apologetically, then realized I knew him.
“Oh, hi!” I exclaimed in surprise. “How have you been?”
He blinked at me, smiling widely. “I’ve been good,” he said slowly. He was tall, appeared to be in his late sixties and had gray hair that had been combed flat against his head. He looked very familiar but I couldn’t pinpoint where I’d met him.
I figured that he probably worked with my dad who managed an office in New York City only a couple of hours away. It seemed reasonable to assume that this man had probably driven up from the city for a weekend getaway. The resort was a popular destination for New Yorkers that time of year, when all of the trees around the lake erupted orange and red.
“It’s been a while…” I said in hopes that this would prompt him to respond with a “Oh, yes. Not since the company Christmas party last year, wasn’t it?”
I imagined that we’d probably sat next to one another on a sofa, balancing plates of rice pilaf and turkey on our knees as we chattered awkwardly about my psychology classes or his Cocker Spaniel. If only I could remember his name.
He didn’t take the bait though and instead just smiled that same jack-o-lantern grin and answered vaguely, “Yes. It has.” He gave me an odd look and then moved forward to study the menu.
“What can I get you?” I asked, as I hurried behind the counter. I can’t remember now what he ordered. Maybe it was a cappuccino. Or maybe a latte. I remember feeling relieved to have something to do and quickly busied myself with measuring the espresso and rooting around in the fridge for cream.
“I talked to my dad yesterday,” I volunteered. “He told me that he just got back from South Africa. He’s so lucky. Always traveling.”
“Hmm,” he said.
I was too rattled to pay much attention and was grateful that my back was turned so he couldn’t see I was blushing.
Why wasn’t he saying anything? He didn’t seem interested in talking to me at all, which just made me even more nervous. I prattled on about my upcoming graduation in attempt to plow over the awkwardness and didn’t stop monologuing until after I’d steamed the milk and carefully poured it into the espresso.
“Well, I’ll make sure to tell my dad I saw you,” I said as I handed him his drink.
“Alright.” He nodded and took his cup. He smiled again, looking distracted. “Have a good day.” And then he hurried out the gift shop door, like he’d just gotten a whiff of rotten eggs. I stared after him. What a strange man.
Then Ally was at my side again. “What were you saying to Alan Alda?”
I frowned. That name sounded familiar. “Who?”
“That guy you were flirting with? That was Alan Alda. The guy from M*A*S*H.” She smirked and leaned back on the counter, looking triumphant.
I looked at her blankly and tried to put together the image of the person I thought was my dad’s friend, with what little I knew about that ’70s sitcom about the Korean war.
“Look,” Ally reached over the counter and grabbed one of the books I’d carefully arranged in a display only the day before. She held it up in front of my face. A photo of my dad’s friend shined from the cover.Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned
was the title. And underneath that was the author’s name, Alan Alda.
“Oh, my God. I thought he was my dad’s friend.”
My first actual conversation with a living, breathing celebrity and I’d just humiliated myself by mistaking a five-time Emmy award winner and star of The West Wing and The Aviator for my dad’s company accountant. “He probably thought I was crazy.”
“No, he’s probably used to it.” Ally said in a rare show of sympathy. Then, true to form, “Watch, next time Brad Pitt will walk in and you’ll think he’s your mailman.”