I got an invitation for a New York party. I thought that was a long way to go until, reading on, I realized that it was in Rancho Santa Fe. There's always great food and wine at the parties there, though the wine would cause me slight embarrassment (more on that later).The party was for Laura Simon, who was turning 100.
I arrived at the gated community an hour late. All the guests were seated and eating when I walked in. It was kosher food, and the Jewish foods that I hate. (My grandmother is rolling in her grave.) I walked to the bar, poured myself a drink, and scanned the room for a place to sit. I saw a lot of yarmulkes, and a few skin yarmulkes -- bald spots. There were rabbis. There wasn't an available seat at the table, so I sipped my wine and watched the two musicians play.
An attractive blonde came over to get a drink. We made small talk. I told her I was from the Reader, and she told me she liked it when the Reader made fun of Rancho Santa Fe residents. She invited me to sit at her table. When I mentioned the rich people at Rancho Santa Fe parties, she said, "Yeah, well, you've already had your first faux pas. You poured your wine in the wrong glass." She grabbed a wine glass and poured me another. We headed to her table, where I met her husband. They told me that they were neighbors of Laura's.
I discussed writing with a friendly woman sitting next to me. When she got up to say a few words, she mentioned her husband, Don Harrison. I knew there was a Donald Harrison who had written for Jewish publications in town, and I often wondered if he was the father of a girl I dated in the early '90s. When she sat down, I asked her if she had a daughter named Sandi. It turned out that the Harrisons were Sandi's parents. I didn't want to ask too many questions about her, because I thought it would be awkward for them to talk about Sandi with one of her old boyfriends.
As I looked for a fork, one woman said, "They ran out of forks, but I'm done with mine. You can use it." She washed her fork in the sink for me. The food I tried wasn't as bad as I remembered Jewish food being. (My grandmother can stop rolling.)
It was the cake I was looking forward to -- it was huge. It had to be to hold 100 candles. I heard the usual birthday-candle jokes. One person talked about it being a fire hazard. Another said, "This cake really lights up the room!" Another person said, "There is no possible way she'll blow out the candles." She did. It took her a few tries, as it was difficult for her to lean over the big cake, but she did it.
The people who got up to speak about Laura had interesting and funny things to say. Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin, who is in his early 90s, laughed about finally being invited to a party in Rancho Santa Fe. He then complained about having only one minute to speak. He told a story about seeing Woodrow Wilson at a train station in Oceanside.
It's interesting when older people talk about historic events. Laura mentioned hearing the news of the Titanic sinking. She said she had to ask her mother what an ocean liner was.
Laura's son, Mayo Simon, had some touching things to say. He's an accomplished playwright from New York, who has written for Broadway and the movies. A guy at the party told me that Simon wrote Judy Garland's final movie, I Could Go On Singing. He also co-wrote the science-fiction film Westworld. I was curious if he was on the set with James Brolin and Yul Brynner or if the writer just turns in the script and is done with it, but I never got a chance to ask him that. I also would liked to have asked him if he was satisfied with how his film Marooned turned out, and what he thought of the late Gregory Peck's (a San Diegan) performance in it. (Marooned also starred Gene Hackman in one of his first roles.)
I wanted to discuss movies with Simon, but thought it might be tacky when the other guests were approaching him to tell him how lovely his mother was.
I also thought about discussing with him screenplays I've written, but remembered how I feel when people approach me at parties to pitch story ideas for the Reader . I decided against it. Besides, Simon's 100-year-old mother was shopping a book she wrote called I Am Still Here. I'm sure he would be more concerned with helping her find a publisher than pointing me in the right direction.
Laura's great-granddaughter got up and spoke. She flew in from art school in New York, and got teary eyed as she spoke, which had the rest of us in tears. There's an 80-year age difference between Laura and her.
Two high-school students were at the party to show a documentary that they made about Laura. It was fun listening to her talk about her life in it. Working at age 13, earning $6 a week; being married for 82 years. And to think, I got tired of my last girlfriend after a month!
The blonde neighbor who had approached me earlier at the party would occasionally smile at me or come over to make sure I was enjoying myself. When she told me she was from Jersey, I was surprised; I didn't notice an accent.
A rabbi talked and joked. I wondered why the rabbis and priests I've seen at weddings try to be funny. They rarely are. Yet everyone gives them courtesy laughs.
As I was leaving, Mrs. Harrison handed me her daughter's e-mail address. That was nice of her. I drove away wondering if I should e-mail Sandi to say hello, and how to do it without coming across as a pathetic ex-boyfriend pining for the past.
Crash your party? Call 619-235-3000 x421 and leave an invitation for Josh Board.