Monday, January 27, 2014

My Dinner with Leonardo

Plans for my dinner with Leonardo, and yes, I mean Leonardo DiCaprio (I couldn't very well mean the only other "Leonardo" we all know since has been dead for about 500 years) started a couple of months ago.  My birthday was this last weekend and I decided that my daughter and I would celebrate our January birthdays together in New York City.  (She just turned 16 and I am a little more than twice that old...)  Leo's people in the meantime were seeing what they could  do to get him into town at the same time.

As you can imagine, arrangements for this kind of thing  involving an international superstar and all (I don't mean me, silly!) are a tricky business.  It's amazing when you stop to think about it that we managed to pull it off at all, but we did!  Leo, my daughter, and I got together at 8 PM on 49th Street and had a fabulous time.

Of course, we did have to make a few compromises.   One little impediment was the crowd.  (He is Leonardo Di Caprio so that was to be expected).  We also had to forego the table, food, drinks, conversation, and eye contact.  Another little issue was that Leo had no pre-knowledge that my daughter and I were going to be meeting him that night,  or even of our existence.  Actually, we didn't know before he walked out on stage at Studio 8H at NBC that he was going to show up either.  Of course, he knows us now!  At least he might recognize us again if he could see to the back row where we were sitting, yelling for him when he made that cameo appearance during Jonah Hill's monologue on Saturday Night Live.  Still, it was so great meeting to be in the same building with him!  Of course, since I'm married and have kids and everything we had to leave it there.  What a great memory we forged, though.  We'll always have Studio 8H, won't we Leo?

Here's a YouTube video of our special moment.  (Leo looks pretty into Jonah Hill here but if you follow his eyes, he's looking up at the back to near where we were sitting):

The Way We Were

I was one of those tragic 8th-graders who could sing the words to all of the songs from Gilda Radner's one-woman show (I can still do "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals" and "Goodbye Saccharine").  I didn't maintain that same level of devotion/interest in SNL from Gilda's era to this weekend, but I've always kept on eye on the show.  When it dawned on me (after I had made hotel reservations in midtown for a Saturday night) that they might be doing a show while we were there, I started investigating the possibilities.

Please Stand By

In case you are wondering, there are three ways you can get in to see SNL:  be a VIP who knows someone (I didn't know Leo yet), win a ticket lottery that you can enter via email once a year, or  wait in line on the morning of a show for a standby number.  This number might allow you to go in if enough regular ticket holders or VIPS fail to show (you have to choose the dress rehearsal or live taping - we went with the DR because I knew I would be exhausted by 11:30).

The standby numbers (NOT tickets, mind you) are handed out beginning at 7 AM on the day of the show.  Lines sometimes form days ahead of time(I Googled "SNL Standby" before we made up our minds - there are several good blog posts about it if you're interested).  I consulted my daughter (she's a big fan of the show with designs on a job there someday) and she was game, so I decided we would add Friday night to the trip and hope for the best.

I wonder if you heard about that polar vortex thing in New York?  I had, and I was prepared with multiple layers of performance ski gear, a pair of hikers' chairs (they weigh less than two pounds and cost $89 a piece.  I had to buy them because I knew I couldn't stand for hours and I also couldn't shlep the usual beach gear down on the train and through Manhattan).

As I sat in the freezing pre-dawn cold under my tarp and sleeping bag on my $89 chair, I tried to calculate what someone would have to pay me to do any such thing.  I couldn't come up with a figure.  I had shelled out almost $400 for the extra night in the hotel room and chairs and then there was the sheer suffering of rising at 4 AM to sit with the garbage on a freezing sidewalk for three and half hours.  Our investment was, I reckoned, somewhere between $400 and beyond price.  And then, I kept reminding myself and my daughter, when we got our numbers (49 and 50) at 7:30 that morning, all we got was a chance to come back and wait that night to see if we had lined up early enough to get into the show.

Well, that and we had made friends and bonded a little in the arctic dark with our line-mates.

We had a fun little reunion with them all, inside this time, under the NBC Studios Marquee on 39th Street at 7 PM that night.  We were put in a velvet-roped chute, well separated from the privileged actual ticket holders.  We were lined up by standby number, politely but firmly, by charismatic grey-suited NBC pages.

It was surprising how our line mates looked different (I mean "better") without their hats, coats, and misery.  We lit up at the sight on one another. The woman behind us, who had morphed from a Christmas-tree shaped being into something like a ballerina, said she would never forget her standby number,  We laughed.  "It's like your SAT score, right?"  Her date showed up, also transformed from human yurt (pointed hat with ear flaps) to popinjay (bow tie, slicked down hair).  His number was one higher than the ballerina's.  When the pages started moving us out of our chute, he was cut off at one point.  It looked like maybe the ballerina might be the last standby to get a seat.  There was this terrible Sophie's Choice moment as we looked back at him, stranded, as we were moved through security. I was really happy to see that, in the end, he made it too.

About the Show

You know, it actually was amazing.  You can see it on Youtube of or wherever if you missed it. I didn't really know who Jonah Hill was, though I recognized his face (someone at work asked me who was hosting that night and all I could come up with was "Joshua Bell").  I won't forget him now, though.

The show was really funny from start to finish and watching the cameras and the floor people do their thing was a revelation.  The WORK, I thought.  What a lot of WORK.  Of course it also featured that Leonardo moment, which will probably go down in SNL history.  (Remember when Barbra Streisand jumped out of the wings to surprise Linda Richman?  I do.  I also heard Paul McCartney interviewed once about that offer Lorne Michaels made in 1976 to give the Beatles $3,000 to reunite on the show - he and John almost went down... Wouldn't that have been great?)  

The rest of the trip was filled with fabulous New York moments - several excellent meals, all that.  We didn't get to see Leo again, but who knows.  Probably he'll be in touch after he reads this blog post to invite me to dinner.  Maybe I'll enter that lottery next year.  Ta for now.

Just after the magic - my 16-year-old and others, still in the glow...