Sunday, September 17, 2006

Blowhards, Butt Gravy and Other Brushes With Fame

A few weeks ago, my wife was watching that program with the Malibu real estate agents, Million Dollar Listing. I realized that I knew one of the agents. I couldn't place where I knew him until I googled him. It was Scotty Brown, who was a barfly at the Gingerman, in Chicago, around the same time I was. We both knew people in the punk rock scene in Chicago, and so our paths crossed once in a while. I remembered that he was a big, obnoxious blowhard, who always had to top everything everyone said. I watched the program for a few minutes and realized that nothing had changed-- he's still a big obnoxious blowhard.

I was thinking about celebrity encounters I've had. Since I spent a lot of my twenties and thirties working in restaurants and hanging in clubs, I had a few of these. I discovered that Ed, one of my drinking buddies at the Hopleaf, was Ed Holstein, who with his brother Fred owned Holstein's and Somebody Else's Troubles, a couple of great folk clubs in the 70's and 80's. Very nice guy. I waited on Bill Kurtis-- a very nice guy. I waited on Tom Thayer of the 1985 Superbowl Bears-- he's an enormous guy, and also very nice. Television personality Bill Campbell, a great guy, and Sportcaster Jim Rose, who is a big fucking prick. More on that later.

I was in Martyr's for Ulele's last show and saw a couple knew I recognized but couldn't place until later. It was Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz. He is tiny, and she is even smaller.

But of all the celebrity encounters I've had, my favorite was with Butt Gravy.

Back in the early nineties, Spin magazine had a contest for the worst band in America. The band Butt Gravy came in second place. At the time, I was working at Nida's (or N.N. Smokehouse, if the owner was fighting with his wife that week) a popular rib place on the north side of Chicago that was not far from the Metro, where all the "college radio" type bands played back then. I was waiting on a table of scruffy slacker-types, and noticed one was wearing a "Butt Gravy" t-shirt. "Second worst band in America!" I said, pointing to the shirt. "Where did you get the shirt?"

"We ARE Butt Gravy!"

"Cool!" I replied. "Second worst band in America!"

"Yeah, you should come see us!"

"Um, yeah....."

My worst series of celebrity encounters was with Chicago sportscaster Jim Rose. His tv persona is very polished. In person, he's a rude moron. Twenty years ago, I was working at a horrible chain restaurant on Michigan Avenue (hint-- it's the one Micheal Jordan met his wife at) and Rose would come in frequently-- and always end up in my section. It became a running joke among the waiters and hosts. And of course, he was, every single time, a jagoff.

One time in particular was even more memorable. He came in with a guy who I'm guessing was an athelete. The guy he was having dinner with was African-American and was, unlike him, a gentleman. They both ordered steaks. His friend ordered his steak medium rare, which I took note of-- most African Americans, and in fact most people of southern ancestry, white or black, tend to have steaks and burgers well done.

Well, it got busy, and of course the cooks neglected to put the "temp sticks" in-- the little plastic sticks that indicate how the steak was cooked. I tried to guess which one was his (he and his friend had gotten the same side dish, so that didn't help me) and I guessed wrong.

Rose cut into the steak and saw red, literally and metaphorically. He grabbed his plate and went back into the kitchen and started screaming at the cooks. It was ugly.

What he didn't know was that Rich, the the big black broil cook who'd cooked his steak, was on parole for manslaughter. He'd killed someone. And here was this Buppie was screaming at him.

In the meantime, the restaurant had gone silent with everybody observing this ugly scene. If he'd have told me when I went back a moment later to check on them, it would have gotten taken care of quickly and quietly. Now, here he was, standing there looking like the asshole that he was.

A manager quickly swooped in and took care of it. He comped the meal. I felt bad for one reason: his friend quietly ate the overcooked steak that was meant for Rose. I myself consider medium rare overcooked, and well done is inedible. Not only did he have to be seen with this major-league dickhead, but he had to eat the shitty steak meant for Jim Rose.

The next time Jim Rose came in, they made sure not to seat him in my section.

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